Naazneen Parkar is an independent Online Reputation Analyst from Kenya with experience across the web with key focus on Kenya, South Africa and more recently Canada. Naazneen has a passion in the tourism industry and more importantly the link between online marketing and tourism.

Digital and its benefits are not new to any of us. Looking back at the success of 2011 it is evident that in Africa internet accessibility is drastically increasing with mobile devices driving the majority of this growth. As this continues to take place, the importance of monitoring and measuring online performance grows as more people throughout Africa get connected.

On the continent, online reputation management (ORM) is advancing in Southern Africa; however there is a lot more room for growth in the rest of Africa. On the web it has emerged as a new frontier with some uncertainty but many stakeholders look at ORM as, at best, a form of risk management. However, ORM is equally a form of risk management as it should be a form of opportunity spotting and possibly even more.

By focusing on three key stakeholders namely, businesses; consumers and governments it is interesting to see how each of them have the potential to embrace online reputation management to maximise their impact.

African Business: From FMCGs to Start-ups

Focusing on the risk elements of a business can be very limiting. For instance, one of the main benefits of online conversation is the fact that it is user generated. People are constantly having conversations with their colleagues, peers and brands about various topics. Not only is this information unbiased but it is recorded beyond geographical boundaries helping provide deeper insights into the market and consumer behaviour and perception. Another added benefit is not only can this conversation be accessed week-by-week but it can also be used to identify trends one year within the market. A case in point would be to examine the sentiment of consumers of a big Pan African name brand like OMO detergent or another fast moving consumer good and see how that changed a year after they began social media.

Entrepreneurship in Africa is definitely one of the driving forces of any private sector in an African economy. Monitoring online conversation provides entrepreneurs with market insight at a much affordable price when compared to conducting fully-fledged surveys. It helps small businesses think smarter and use innovation they get from using technology that searches across the web for their consumers who are writing and speaking about them.

This provides an opportunity to outwit competition by making calculated decisions based on opportunities identified through online conversation. A case in point may be a pair of users discussing where to buy insurance from, though speaking about a larger healthcare provider, a salesperson can take the opportunity to share their perspective and gain a business lead in the real world through monitoring the virtual space.

The African Government

One of the problems in Africa is our leaders are not held accountable for their mistakes. This is changing thanks to initiatives such as Kenya’s Open Data Initiative and incentives are being put in place to take government data and put it in the hands of journalists and developers to make stories and services that citizens can use to keep their leaders more accountable.

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As the African online community our level of awareness is increasing and our tolerance for incompetence is decreasing. Online networks have the potential to be used as a platform to bring together our community in one common space. By identifying these communities and monitoring what they are saying, a database of information and possible legislation can be drafted. A case may be when Kenyan Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga took to joining the social network. This opened up a new avenue to discuss and deliberate what had been an archaic legacy judicial system. Twitter went as far as to profile his story here.

Secondly, there have been several campaigns recently geared towards driving awareness and driving change in the African people. In Nigeria, we had #OccupyNigeria recently and for both governments and interest groups or lobbyists there is a need to quantify the impact of these conversations.

Just after the Arab Spring, Afrinnovator covered an infographic of tweets and conversations online. View it here.

By being able to measure how many people have been touched by our message, we can further drive and push the democracy at a government level or even that of the concerned citizen.

Governments in Africa also need to take into account that worldwide online and digital spend is on the rise in the developed world. Mobile platforms have definitely revolutionized online penetration in Africa. Recent statistics state that mobile connectivity could increase national productivity by 15%. In order to propel this growth, governments need to start implementing policies and resources for monitoring and measuring.

The dawn of eGovernment means that they are now obligated to listen, if not participate in the conversation and relate with constituents through the web or mobile phone. Consequently ensuring Africa’s infrastructure and government service delivery grow in line with the developed world.

The African Consumer

Consumer experiences have the opportunity to be personalised through online monitoring. Companies will be able to identify loyal customers and build personal messages or customized products based on their conversation. Not only does this help develop a personal touch, but it provides a competitive advantage since very few African companies have embraced this mode of thinking and service.

The mass market approach is still very popular in Africa. And there is definitely a gap and need for more companies to embrace individuality. As our industries become more and more competitive, consumers will be looking for that personal touch and one-on-one interaction. Mobile network operators in particular are tapping into this by delivering customer service on social networks from Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Having information and profiles of each of the customers actively talking about a brand will help differentiate those that have loyal customers to those that don’t.

As a whole, there are plenty of opportunities for all stakeholders to maximise on. Users in Africa have access like never before and brands need to change their focus to listening to these voices. Many have taken to social networks with a reactive mindset and ORM brings in the opportunity to listen and act on the data as part of informing a proactive approach to web and mobile. At the end of the day, online monitoring can be used as more than just mere risk management but take it a step ahead to business intelligence. What will differentiate successful companies and entrepreneurs from their competitors are those that are one step ahead, listening to consumer needs and spotting the opportunities is that differentiating factor; or as trendwatching put it, brands that are “flawsome.”

Do you believe there’s a place for online reputation management in African business, government or with consumers? Let us know, share your thoughts in the comments.

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