The Potential for Social Media Marketing in Nigeria

Although Internet penetration in Africa as a whole is still at a low 8.7% (85 million users), growth rates are phenomenal; between 2000 and 2009, internet penetration grew by 1,810%. In Nigeria, in the same period of time, internet penetration grew by almost 12,000%. Internet penetration stood at 16.1% by the end of 2009; there are now almost 24 million Nigerians surfing the web. In fact, 27% of all African internet users are Nigerian. With fibre-optic cables coming online, this growth is expected to continue. But already the internet community in Nigeria exceeds the population size of Ghana; thus, marketers should seize the opportunities opened up by this new medium.

Connectivity remains an issue, however. Wireless connections (71%), mobile devices (30%) and GSM modems (27%) are the most commonly used modes of access. Cable, such as ISDN or DSL, or Vsat remain the exception. Dial up connections are still in use; as are cyber cafes and business centres, which also often make use of dial up connections.

Even without the frequent power cuts, connections tend to be erratic and unstable. Users complain that they spend more time establishing a connection than they do actually surfing the web. Another complaint is the high cost of accessing the internet, especially on mobile devices.

Despite the obstacles, Nigerians are enthusiastic about the internet: 82% connect at least once a day; 25% are connected around the clock. A minimum of two hours is spent surfing the web per day.

Being online has profound effects on users. For one, the internet is perceived as a valuable resource: knowledge, entertainment, opportunity to make friends and expand one’s network, and, last but not least, opening up new career opportunities.

But perhaps more importantly, the internet is perceived as liberation from social norms and strictures; i.e. the internet opens up an opportunity for self-actualisation without fear of censure. Curiously, users are content replacing their offline friends with an ever-growing circle of online friends and connections. In the long run, this will undoubtedly lead to a questioning of social norms that guide and confine social interaction in traditional society – in short, modernisation and cultural change from within.

Slow connections had a definite effect on browser shares. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is used by 51% of the global internet community; in Nigeria, it comes in at just 28%. The leading browser is Mozilla’s Firefox with a share of 45%. Google Chrome attains 20% in Nigeria vis-à-vis just 8% global share. Not only are these alternative browsers faster than Internet Explorer; they can be customised to block out advertising and heavy Flash animations. This, of course, has implications for online marketing, as traditional advertising with banner ads and other adaptations of traditional print advertisements will have limited reach. Online marketing in Nigeria, however, could be rendered effective by embracing the concepts of social media marketing; i.e. initiating a dialogue with members of the online community on popular platforms like Facebook.

Participating in social networking is the single most important activity among Nigerian internet users: 95% are members of one or more social networks. Among these, Facebook is the most important with 93%. Twitter and Linked In achieve 22% each. What is the potential of a social networking strategy for engaging consumers in a dialogue with marketers? To this end, we conducted a Facebook monitoring exercise, recording activities on our private pages for a period of one week.

At first glance, the results are disappointing: the bulk of activities revolves around status updates and announcements. Facebook is used to keep tabs on one’s circle of friends and to enlarge it. Communication then occurs via instant messaging. We found no evidence of Nigerian consumers engaging with brands or corporate entities. A dialogue has not begun. Does that imply that Nigerians do not engage at all?

When Goodluck Jonathan launched his profile on Facebook, the response was overwhelming: more than 100,000 Nigerians have become his fans, posted tens of thousands of comments in response to a mere handful of presidential posts and updates. Collateral Facebook groups have already been established. Other examples of Nigerians engaging can readily be found. As such, Facebook already has become a valuable resource for monitoring the political mood in the country, as we literally hear “the voice of the people.” So, why do we not see a similar development for consumer engagement? The answer seems to be that marketers have not even begun to explore the opportunities of social media marketing.

Giants in the FMCG or telecoms industries may well maintain global corporate profiles and/or brand pages on Facebook; yet, the point would be for companies operating in Nigeria to seek the dialogue with Nigerian consumers. We checked the Facebook presence of Cadbury’s Bournvita, Nestlé’s Milo, Cowbell, Peak Milk, Globacom and MTN. Although MTN maintains a local business page on Facebook, this page suffers from blatant neglect. Globacom’s local business page is more successful in providing content; it, therefore, attracts more fans than MTN’s page. And yet, Globacom has only taken first steps toward social media marketing: official website and social media pages are poorly integrated, as if Globacom management still needed convincing of the potential of social media marketing. The very fact that Nigerian internet users have taken the initiative to establish an unofficial Globacom fan group, however, demonstrates consumers’ readiness to engage.

At this point, it is well worth reiterating that the size of the Nigerian online community is 24 million; thus exceeding the entire population of Ghana or Cameroon; i.e. markets that would not be ignored in traditional marketing. There are opportunities for social media marketing.

The success of using social media would not be measured in direct sales; rather, in the quality of engagement and user experience, ultimately resulting in enhanced loyalty. Unlike traditional marketing with unidirectional advertising, social media platforms enable dialogue. Therefore, brands are no longer positioned by marketers; brand positioning evolves interactively through a process of co-creation. Social media marketing at its best involves consumers in the process of rejuvenating brands and maintaining brand health. This, of course, requires re-orientation on the side of marketers.

In the final analysis, the question is not whether Nigerian consumers are ready to engage, but whether Nigerian marketers are ready and willing to enter a meaningful dialogue with consumers.