My African Twitter: Social Media and Its Role in the Emergence of African Economies

By | June 30, 2015

Social Media Day 2015 is as good a day as any to finally get around to completing this post I’ve been meaning to write for almost half a year now. It is based on my personal experience and observations, supported by a few relevant links.

African Twitter is unlike any social media I’ve experienced. In less than 2 years it has become a significant part of my life. Its a community and a conversation, both real time and asynchronous. Its warm and welcoming and very, very human. Its like going to a convivial office and hanging out with your peeps all rolled into one. And you can’t be serious about doing business in Africa without being a part of it.

The paragraph above may come across as idealistic hyperbole, so I’ll try to break it down into chunks and explain. First is the purely subjective personal experience, followed by the bigger picture of African social media in the business world. Diving deeper into a proper ethnographic study of the African Twitter experience really should be done at some point. At this time, I’m hazarding guesses based on secondary sources and my own experiences. Also, given that my African Twitter timeline is business oriented, my network will reflect this rather than a purely social network.

What distinguishes the African timeline is that the vast majority of people are connected far more closely to each other. Chances are, if you follow someone, then many others that you follow also follow them and vice versa. This seems to be the case regardless of geography and interest area. This could be due to history and demographics – Twitter isn’t as popular across the board as Facebook, for example, and early adopters are more tech savvy than the norm.

This leads to a more or less coherent timeline and conversation stream, closer in experience to a conversation thread in a bulletin board or community weblog.

In my older Twitter handle, with the exception of few social clusters which tend to reflect real world networks and/or LinkedIn connections or pre-existing connections through other, older communities eg. MetaFilter, most people, for the most part, are not connected to each other. Thus, its more fragmented, and for the most part, people are simply pushing out information or links or tweets. That is, its ‘talking at’ the world rather than ‘talking with’ the world. Its rarely an ongoing and coherent stream of conversation the way the African experience is more often than not.

In sum, its far more of a social experience.

From the less personal perspective, there’s already been recognition that Twitter is leading the way to greater integration across the continent – a pan African conversation if you will, as the Nigerians and Kenyans exchange daily tidbits with each other while all keep up with what’s happening on the ground in Burundi or South Africa.

Its an immediate and real time conversation and replies and acknowledgement are part of the etiquette. This applies to corporates of all kinds as well as institutions, utilities and government departments. People talk directly to the airlines or holler for customer service from their mobile service providers.

The African timeline is the everyday manifestation of that old concept of “Markets are conversations”, in a manner that I’ve yet to see in other spaces or geographies. In fact, just yesterday, founder Mark Essien tweeted that his best source for new hires was Twitter, an observation quickly validated by others.

Other startups have seen the value of the social, and social media is big enough business to garner cover stories. Global platforms may not see the potential for monetization – Facebook being a case in point – but the participants most certainly do. Increasingly, social networks provide the opportunity to scale your reach, and thus, your business.

This post is only an appetizer, I’ll come and look more closely at this space. There’s a link between social media use and economic growth I want to explore.

Your thoughts?




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