Why are South African businesses scared of Social Networking?

It struck me today what an uphill battle we’re facing in the new media / web 2.0 / social networking industry. These shiny new communication and engagement tools are an unknown and feared art. What’s more frightening to a business than the phrase “perpetual beta”?

Let’s examine some of the reasons why…

1. Bandwidth.
It’s a mute issue. I’ve heard mutterings of a national bandwidth crisis. What bandwidth crisis? It’s always been sub-standard. The true miracle of South Africa is how we’re managing to innovate on the world stage while operating within the confines of our monopolistic gateway provider.

2. It’s too open.
You can envision the board meeting. Hasty decision needs to get made on a company’s pioneering venture into the brave new world of the web. The cynics raise a concern: what happens when someone posts a complaint or slanderous phase. Why must we have our brands trashed on an open forum?

Whoosh. That’s the sound of understanding as it flies by.

3. It’s too quick
That same board meeting . The cynics rise, stamping their authoritative fist on the oak-paneled table: now what happens when the “kids” come along, turn the complaint into a video and spread it all over the Internet? Why must we have our brands trashed at speed?

Yes, the speed at which information travels in the digital age is frightening. Yet tantalizing? The minimal costs of communication, combined with increased reach and frequency should be viewed as a competitive weapon – not a threat.

4. It’s too shallow
I agree. FaceBook and its brethren are shallow, vacuous holes of valueless communication and excessive poking. FaceBook isn’t going to tuwork turn your business around. Unless business becomes more about the beer you had with your colleagues last night than the simple concept of buy low sell high.

That’s why the future of this medium is in smaller, more manageable and more focused communities. I’m not talking about a FaceBook group. I’m talking about a niche community – where all the stakeholders in the value chain can use the speed, flexibility and functionality of social networking to collaborate on business issues. That’s where it gets exciting.

Niche business networking. Another topic for another time. Check out www.designmind.co.za for a local example of niche networking in play.

If I think about it – we don’t have all the answers. Social Networking is still in the “wild west” phase of adoption. You might just have to take a risk. But trust me here. Would you rather try and control the tone and intent of 100 sales reps engaging with your customers on an off day – or a technology platform where you can aggregate, measure and respond to conversations as they occur?

Social Networking will always mean mixing the good with the bad. It’s how you handle the bad that counts.

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  1. Personal opinion is because its not measurable and it doesn't deliver and most of the Web 2.0 geeks talk a good game and talk theory...

    Unfortunately theory doesn't put the bucks in the bank.

    Social networking is great for building networks of potential customers but there are very few campaigns that translate into real money. These SEO consultants, web gurus and on-line whatchmacallits talk great strategy but they sure as hell don't put money in the clients bank account....

  2. Tend to disagree Mark. If anything, the web in general is the most measurable of all mediums - far more so than the millions of rands clients waste of above the line promotion.

    I think there is a problem where young "web entrepreneurs" smooth talk the ideas and fall down on implementation - but any immature industry would have this issue. This will improve as more successful campaigns are talked about.

    Finally, I think it's important to separate SEO and other watchmacallthems from carefully thought out collaboration or web application strategies. SEO has a particularly bad name. It's slightly intangible and full of excuses. My opinion.

    The Stormhoek Wine Farm case study? Lots of money in the bank. Our architectural network? Very successful in terms of opening channels for sales reps and consultants to pursue.

    I'm sure there are many other case studies - just have to dig a bit.

    The trick, as always, is in the implementation and delivery.

    I'm curious. Your views - because of a bad experience or never really believed in the commercialisation of the platform?

  3. Think we are saying the same thing... well sort of

    I live off on-line publishing so not a bad experience.... Hahaha I HAVE to commercialise it to put $$$ in my bank each month

    I said it a while back on this whole blog awards things - lots of talk and very little in the way of measurable results.

    Your question is "Why are South African Businesses scared of Social Networking" - my answer is that it is because the majority of it is pie in the sky. "Social Networking" isn't going to help you sell more product or gain lots of new customers. One or 2 campaigns maybe but the majority will flop.

    I know of at least 2 instances where some of the "Big name" celebrity bloggers have come into organisations with all the web skills and know how and done bugger all to the bottom line. They talk a good game but they're not marketing or business people and personally I believe that some of these bloggers must stop believing their own hype - they'll get found out when business turns bad.

    The flip side of this is that there are a couple of guys with a lot of know how who put their stuff down, sort out a real goal and produce the goods with their online campaigns.

    The platform has plenty of merit and commercial value but personal opinion is that "Social Networking" is just a buzzword and that anyone who comes into an office promoting "Social Networking" as a way to boost your business should be dropkicked into touch....

    Its not a new concept - Social Networking has been around for ever. It comes down to who you know and how you build the commercial relationship with them.

  4. Nice Post Andy. I've got to say I agree with your point on niche social networking - big fan. What I think some companies are doing is putting their 'big toe in the water' with the existing social networks in order to test the outcomes and make decisions.

    It is frustrating to come up against the issues you address but all it takes is some forward thinking brands to really turn perceptions around - they're out there and will prove to be great case studies.

    It's about realising that customers are chatting about brands anyway so in my opinion why not give them a 'place to boogie' where they can share collective opinions and generate valuable positive and negative brand feedback.

    We'll keep on plugging at it - I'm positive :)

  5. @marc Nail on the head there mate. Social Networking is kinda like the soapbox of the middle ages. People preaching evangelism. The information just moves around quicker.

    It does take a special skill, and considered approach to make these kind of projects work in the enterprise.

    I must say though, in my experience, and we've got a pretty successful web 2 app in at Deloittes. Doesn't really fit into the social networking model - but borders on it with flow of information and notifications as a strategy to create stickiness.... The thing which really turned on 3500 accountants and auditors was the speed of communication. It bred excitement which boosted usage.

    Case study is here if you're interested...


  6. @melissa Yup. Gotta keep the heads down. Quirk's BrandsEye product seems to be a really nice way of measuring "chatter". Although how to leverage that becomes that stuff of some strategic nouse. You heard of it?

    I'd personally be interested in results of your Standard Bank Social Media Press Release... Exactly how measurable it is. Are you in Jozi? Should do coffee.

  7. Yes have heard of BrandsEye - it looks good but still possibly out of reach of some budget-wise.
    Re: the SMPR - feedback was good and we've taken any crit on board. Difficult still in terms of measurability but we've picked up mentions using the standard 'free' tools and responded appropriately.
    Yep - in Jozi, we'll make a plan :)

  8. Now if BrandsEye were doing what they say they can, they'd pick up the little positive reference I left them, wouldn't they?

    Poke poke.


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