Digital communications reconfigures PR approach in Africa
In Africa, the internet is becoming a key communications tool – and for good reason. By totaling more than 388 million internet users (via Internet World Stats), the continent presents significant potential for digital activity development. Today, this platform acts as the first channel of choice for communications and reputation management strategies advocated by PR professionals.
With internet penetration increasing in several markets (Kenya 89%, Mauritius 62% and Morocco 58%), Nigeria has the largest number of internet users (91 million) on the continent. However, while Africa is growing at an average that exceeds the 31% internet penetration rate, observed disparities between countries remain significant. Indeed, the African market is certainly not uniform when it comes to digital potential as some countries remain at the back of the pack with very low rates – such as Niger with 4.3%, Madagascar with 5.1% and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with 6.2%.
In addition to the evident disparity in web access rates, behavioural habits of internet users and their interests on social networks vary from country to country. For example, in Angola, Facebook and Instagram are internet users’ favorite social networks, while, in Nigeria, internet users appear to be more interested in Twitter. The use of social media analysis in Africa is all the more important as these channels continue to grow in prominence. Unlike Western markets, African internet users mainly use the web to connect to social networks that, today, have functions beyond their original designed utility: that of networking. As a result, they become authentic information channels deemed reliable in certain countries.
An alternative to classic channels
In a socio-political context, and in some African countries, we are witnessing a loss of public confidence in traditional information channels (television, print media and radio). The primary source of information has become the “news” shared through social networks, and on which many debates are based. As a result, several African leaders and governments have opened official communications channels on social networks. Rwandan president Paul Kagame, for example, uses his page of more than 750,000 subscribers to share his national and international activities with an average of one publication per day.
Aside from its informative nature, social media is becoming a coveted medium of influence for companies with commercial aims spanning various markets across the continent. Many international brands have opted for communications strategies based on content sharing of new trends and products via mediums such as Instagram or by mobilizing influencers. L’Oréal seems to have tapped into the potential that Instagram presents today for communications campaigns. The brand has recently based part of its communications strategy on the Mizani product line (hair cosmetics) launched in the Ghanaian market. This campaign has involved mobilizing web influencers to create new trends – an approach also recently adopted by the Moroccan cosmetics brand, Yan&One, which was launched a few months ago in the Moroccan market. As a crucial part of the brand’s launch phase, this had included the mobilization of Moroccan fashion bloggers on Instagram, along with fashion professionals and make-up artists, who shared their opinions of the brand experience.
PR approach reconfigured
For companies, it is no longer a simple marketing approach but rather to consider a communications strategy that ensures reputation management. Foreign companies that want to communicate in Africa are more likely to adopt strategies based on reputation management. Considering reputation management when starting a project will allow companies to have optimal control over their image. Reputation management does not have to be directly linked to a crisis situation. Considered upstream, it makes it possible to ensure crisis communications in the best conditions, or, simply, to position the brand by ensuring an excellent reputation in the market.
To a greater extent, and in addition to the simple corporate aspect, reputation management also applies to significant developmental projects. For example, the realization of a major infrastructure initiative in Africa could benefit from social networks to gain local populations’ trust and support. This involves a transparent communications approach to social networks that clearly explains the project’s benefits and regularly shares content that allows the general public to enquire about the project’s state of progress. In the African context, this approach undeniably facilitates communication tailored to the populations’ expectations and ensures a better transparency of governance practices.
By Walid El Alaoui Mrani, Country Manager – Morocco / Digital Communications Director