Africa’s new media influencers

The growth of Africa’s social media is creating ways to reach audiences that businesses cannot ignore.


Advertisers are continuously looking for new ways to get their messages in front of consumers, and many advertising dollars have moved to online platforms in Africa.

Major social media influencers are followed by hundreds of thousands of fans online and are beginning to capitalise on their captive follower base by signing advertising deals with high-profile brands. The relatively recent appearance of social media services has not only changed how Africans communicate but also how many consume media.

There are now more than 100m people on the continent who use Facebook, with younger Africans flocking to Snapchat and Instagram. As the media environment changes, certain demographics are getting harder to reach with traditional advertising.

Millennials are ardent consumers of digital media and often trust the opinion of the online celebrities they follow. However, a forced product placement can turn off these savvy viewers to both the brand and influencer.

Essential communications channels

So, is this just a passing fad or here to stay? “New media is no longer new. Social media is now ingrained as a means of getting news and entertainment as well as providing essential personal communications channels,” says Nicky Schermer, managing director of Ogilvy Public Relations, Cape Town. “However, across the continent the market remains to a degree immature, largely due to technical constraints. As those barriers lift, there are huge opportunities for brands.”

Sponsored posts, where a brand might pay an influencer for featuring their product or service in a tweet on Twitter, or a picture on Instagram, are growing in popularity as African businesses of all sizes begin to recognise the importance of reaching this customer base. If a business effectively collaborates with an influencer, this advertising method can generate interest around their brand and attract new customers.

In a survey by management consultancy McKinsey, social media recommendations were found to have directly or indirectly encouraged 26% of purchases across 30 product areas. Finding the right influencers is vital in reaching the ideal consumers in an emotive way.

“Take someone like Tony Gum for example,” says Fred Roed, co-founder of digital marketing agency World Wide Creative. “She’s young, smart and creative. She has a small but passionate group of supporters – around 30,000 on Instagram.

For a brand to reach that group via traditional methods like print media or events, it can be clunky and wasteful. Tony provides a much more direct and expressive means to convey a message.”

Niche industry

Some high-profile influencers have been able to parlay their social media following into large sums of money, with influencer marketing start-up Captiv8 stating that someone with 3m to 7m followers can charge around $75,000 for a post on Instagram or Snapchat and $30,000 for a message on Twitter. Less popular social media personalities can still get $1,000 for a post on Instagram, showing the opportunity for advertisers at all price points.

Influencer advertising may be growing at a fast pace, but it’s unlikely to supplant traditional media anytime soon. “Digital platforms are a critical component of any communications strategy and need to work hand in hand with more ‘traditional’ methods of communication,” says Dan Nash, creative director of Ogilvy PR, Cape Town, who owns a successful lifestyle blog and has over 16,000 followers on Twitter.

Nash believes that social media platforms can provide advertisers with far more effective customer targeting than other types of media and therefore reach their target customers more cost-effectively. “However, it is important not to jump onto every single platform just because it is available. Carefully consider each platform to see if it is right for a brand before creating a presence,” adds Nash.

The most developed market for paid social media posts is the United States, with companies like gummy hair vitamin purveyor SugarBearHair willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach Kim Kardashian’s 90m Instagram followers. Consumer advocacy groups in the US, UK and other countries where paid social media posts are popular are demanding these brand endorsements are clearly labelled as advertisements.

Adding a short “#sponsored” may seem a small thing, but viewer engagement on these posts is lower than others not tagged as adverts. If there is a similar pushback in Africa’s largest digital markets, namely South Africa and Nigeria, then advertisers might see less value in working with influencers.

Selling out?

Influencers who have spent a lot of time and effort building up their follower base can provide the perfect opportunity for brands to reach tens of thousands of engaged, potential customers. But this exposure comes at a price.

“In the past, influencers were simply given product or experiences in return for their services, but these days very few credible influencers will take part in a campaign without being paid for it,” says Rowan Eva, client services director at Ogilvy PR, Cape Town, who runs @rowaneva on Instagram with nearly 110,000 followers.

Eva believes influencers need to be open with their viewers and say when they collaborate with a brand. “I also tend to prefer longer-term partnerships with brands as it builds up a much more authentic and credible relationship, which is communicated to my audience,” adds Eva.

While it is important for brands to establish strong relationships with influencers, determining which social media celebrity to work with initially can prove difficult. Businesses need to undertake due diligence on prospective influencers as there are many online services selling tens of thousands of fake followers for as little as $5.

The importance of values

Rather than focusing on follower count, brands should search out influencers who are closely aligned with their values and image. “Audiences need to hear the voice of the influencer coming through in order for them to buy into the story,” says Nash. “Quantity is not everything.”

Finbarr Toesland

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