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A guide to finding a starting point on the web

Probably less than 1% of South Africans online are using the web to its full maximum capability, either for their products and services or for their own personal brands. We are told by the so-called tech-sperts where we need to be online, but how does the ordinary person start? Here's a step-by-step guide.

The past two years have seen an explosion of web culture with the rise in popularity of social media sites - Web 2.0 (more interactive than Web 1.0 - the document-based Internet) and the resultant paradigm shift in the media world as to how users online consume information.

South Africa is lagging behind somewhat in the adoption of all that is wonderful online because we do not have real broadband high-speed Internet access, no matter what the cellphone companies try sell you, so we have had time to play catch-up. But we are being promised, by those in the know, that we will have Internet access as fast as that of the rest of the developed world by 2010. And that will change how we do business. Seriously.

So where does this leave the ‘ordinary person' and this industry? In the main, high and dry and lacking in essential skills to ensure that their brands and services are able to play competitively in the global marketplace.

Because the point about this new culture online is that you have to experience it to know it. This is not something that can be learnt at a conference or from a book. And it's not a skill that can be left up to the ‘IT guy'. Social media, user-generated content and viral marketing campaigns are not the preserve of traditional IT as we know it. This is something completely new - and it is something that has to be embraced by us all, no matter what our job title is, if you want to evolve with business in the future and be workplace-relevant.

You could be redundant


Especially if you are in this industry: media, marketing and advertising. You will be redundant within five years if you don't start acquiring these skills, in my informed opinion. At the recent gathering of the American Society of Business Publications Editors (ASBPE) that I attended in Kansas City, we heard that journalism professors pick students these days for their programmes based on whether they have a personal URL these days (www.yourname.co.za/.com}}.

To be quite frank, any client would be crazy to pick a PR firm these days that does not have a digital brand management strategy included in its PR plan. Ditto any marketer briefing an ad agency and media planner. Even if your brand does not require an online campaign at this moment - it could still pop up online in various ways or be attacked online and you need to have the right people in place to know how to defend it, how to orchestrate online campaigns - and you need to know how to brief them and monitor them accordingly.

The other argument I hear often, is: "Oh, but we only have five million online users in South Africa, compared to the total population of 48 million..." That's true - but we also have 40 million plus cellphones in circulation and Africa is expected to follow the example of India in leapfrogging the PC-to-Internet revolution, to use mobile extensively to connect online. There are over 400 million cellphone subscribers in Africa... And we just have to look at innovative applications such as our own banking system, which leads the world in some areas of electronic application, and the way the youth uses mobile applications like MXit to chat and get music downloads and information, to know that we are a nation of savvy consumers who are not hesitant to embrace new technologies.

So, my point is - you need to have some of the knowledge yourself; you cannot just hope that others have the knowhow and that you will learn ‘sometime'. The online space moves incredibly fast and you need to be online to have a hope of understanding how communication has changed.

Where's the entry point?


However, the social media strategists and online gurus do admit that the technocratic culture that exists within the blogging, open source environment online does exclude that ‘ordinary person' somewhat. “And this causes a sense of fear,” admitted Vincent Maher, new media evangelist and current social media head at Vodacom.

Maher told delegates at Tony Koenderman's recent Cracking the Digital Code workshop, sponsored by Longtail, that there has been a fundamental shift in the way people are producing and consuming content, with all the power resting in the hands of these new ‘prosumers'. The integration of mobile and digital content has created a whole new opportunity for people and companies to build profile.

And, according to Maher, and Ingrid Rubin from longtail, who also spoke at the conference a week ago, this is how you, ‘the ordinary person', can start getting the basics in place - with my 2 cents thrown in for good measure, as this is a journey I've been on as well for the past two years in upskilling myself in this domain, even after a 20-year career in media:


  1. Social media Networks: these are online networks to link to family, friends and/or your business networks. Global business guru Tom Peters has called this the decade of ‘Me Incorporated' and says building your personal brand gives you career longevity and career success beyond any company you will work for in your career.
    • Get on Facebook: build a company, product or personal profile. It is easy; there is a step-by-step process. Then go find some friends to link into. Once you have a few friends, you will start feeling popular - and hopefully start understanding how social media networks work. www.facebook.com.
    • Get LinkedIn: For a more professional business profile, join one of the biggest global networks of business professionals and market yourself - www.linkedin.com.
    • If you are an entrepreneur, or have a small business, then try the local South African MyGenius network for size - www.mygenius.com.

  2. Blogging: a blog is simply a web log/online diary. Yes, there are too many. No, they are not all read. But, if you have something to say, and you say it well, and you have a brand profile, or your company has a good brand profile, then others may be interested in what you have to say - the CEOs of companies are a case in point. Web 2.0 is not just about a more interactive Internet, it is about more transparent and authentic communication. You cannot bullsh*t your stakeholder base any longer, whether you are a Government or a Brand. Someone will out the truth on the Internet, at some point. So how do you start?
    • There are any number of free blog hosting sites where you can register and set up a blog - in a matter of minutes. One of the most commonly used is www.wordpress.org.
    • To ensure that people actually know you have a blog, you can create an account and list it on a blog aggregator (which puts all local blogs in one place and markets and tracks them), such as our local ones, Amatomu and Afrigator, under various categories. If people like what you have to say, you will move up the blog rankings: www.amatomu.com and www.afrigator.com.
    • You can be a ‘twit' and it's OK! Micro-blogging is a huge trend right now via mobile phones and Twitter is currently the platform of choice. Many news stories are currently being broken on Twitter. Tweople ‘tweet' 170 characters or less to their ‘followers/twits'. Sign up on: www.twitter.com.

  3. Social media/news sites: This is where you showcase your talent or that of your brand to the world, launch viral campaigns from, archive your pics, video, sound files and, in cases, your blog and twitter streams.
    • You've hopefully heard of MySpace and YouTube and have been on them to watch funny videos. South Africa has its own as well: www.zoopy.com and www.MyVideo.co.za. Even DA leader Helen Zille vlogs (video blogs) on Zoopy.com.
    • Flickr is where you archive your pics to link into your blog site: www.flickr.com. Zoopy also archives pics (and podcasts).
    • Del.icio.us, Digg and South Africa's own Muti are sites where you bookmark content you like for others to read: www.delicious.com; www.digg.com; www.muti.co.za.
    • Bizcommunity.com: and this is not just a committed editor speaking - this comes from the experts themselves too - if you are in this industry, Bizcommunity remains the best vehicle for advertising your products and services through a press office (mini-company profile driving traffic to your own website or archiving your company news) And of course if you are in IT, then check out ITWeb or engineering, then EngineeringNews etc.

So, to recap, this is your toolbox, as highlighted in part by Maher and Rubin, to start becoming ‘web aware'. Get on them and try sign up for at least three to start with!

  1. Get on Facebook
  2. Get a blog
  3. Get on Flickr for your pix
  4. Register on Twitter to microblog
  5. Register your blog on Amatomu and Afrigator
  6. Bookmark Zoopy to play on
  7. Open a Bizcommunity.com press office (disclaimer: this article is written by the editor)
  8. Check out Muti and go bookmark some stuff of interest
  9. Register on MySpace or YouTube for content of interest to you
  10. An added tool for travel and talking live over the net with sound and/or video cost effectively is through Skype. www.skype.com
  11. To monitor your brand activity online, locally both Quirk and Longtail have recently launched company and blogger monitoring online tools. www.quirk.co.za; www.longtail.co.za.
  12. Keep updating your information - once a week is the norm. Do not let your sites get out of date!

Maher advises ‘total immersion' to learn: “Just get out there and do it.”

About Louise Marsland

Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is Founder/Content Director: SOURCE Content Marketing Agency. Louise is a Writer, Publisher, Editor, Content Strategist, Content/Media Trainer. She has written about consumer trends, brands, branding, media, marketing and the advertising communications industry in SA and across Africa, for over 20 years, notably, as previous Africa Editor: Bizcommunity.com; Editor: Bizcommunity Media/Marketing SA; Editor-in-Chief: AdVantage magazine; Editor: Marketing Mix magazine; Editor: Progressive Retailing magazine; Editor: BusinessBrief magazine; Editor: FMCG Files newsletter. Web: www.sourceagency.co.za.



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