Join the Conversation: Kenyan Corporates on Social Media
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
With rapidly expanding internet access, there is now a critical mass of Kenyan consumers who discuss companies, brands, products and services on social media. Michael Onsando takes a look at how Kenyan corporates engage in the digital space.

Kenyans are amongst the most active online audiences in sub-Saharan Africa: Estimates indicate that there are more than a million Kenyans on Facebook and just under 70,000 (active accounts) on Twitter. Social media usage has benefitted from rapidly growing internet access, especially as increasing numbers of people use mobile phones for this purpose. Kenya already has a mobile penetration rate of around 50%, and the prices for smartphones keep falling, as do the data tariffs offered by mobile telecommunication companies: Safaricom currently offers virtually unlimited mobile internet access for KES10 a day, Yu’s Peperusha service allows people to access the internet via SMS, i.e. users do not even need a smartphone anymore to use Twitter, and Orange offer 50MB for KES50 a week.

Social networks are quickly becoming a key source of information for urban Kenyans. As a consequence, in addition to straightforward online advertising, corporate also need to be aware of how they can use the digital chatter space: to provide information about their goods and services, to build their brand, and also to counteract mentions on online media that are detrimental to their image.

Social media are changing the way people relate to brands, and more and more people are expecting to interact with brands. Mark Kaigwa, social media strategist and the mind behind www.mark.co.ke, frames the change this way: “Think of it as a room with loads of people in it talking about your brand. The conversation is happening and will happen whether or not you are in the room. You might as well take part.” Gina Din, the founder and managing director of Gina Din Corporate Communications, takes the same analogy even further: “It isn’t about the message you send when you are in the room anymore. It is about what people say when you are gone.”

People can - and do - talk about brands in a public online space, so much so that, for example, a website was set up gather feedback on corporates (www.gotissues.co.ke). Safaricom’s Bob Collymore, one of the most high-profile CEOs in one of Kenya’s most high-profile companies, says: “Life is more of a conversation than a monologue. It is past the point where companies were speaking at their clients, in the social media age it seems more important that a company interacts with the clients.” This may be less relevant for companies that only deal with large corporate clients like Huawei, he argues, but anyone who intends to reach out to a mass market cannot compete properly without it. Whether to participate in social media or not will cease to be a matter of choice for a corporate.

Look Who’s Talking: Kenyan Corporates Online

If access to the digital space has grown exponentially, usage by corporates is still very uneven: Some companies ignore the social media space, some have set up a Facebook and Twitter account, but then leave them inactive. Unsurprisingly, the telecommunications companies and mainstream media houses are amongst the most active. Telecommunications companies effectively provide the platform for social media, so it is natural that they should use these to engage their customers. Media companies are publishing content online and therefore already have a digital platform on which they engage their audience.

Telecoms
But even in the telecoms sector, there are differences to which degree the corporate engage their online audience:
  • Safaricom have social media presence on Facebook, Twitter ad LinkedIn. They use these pages to interact with their customers and every once in a while push their product although mainly they are using the pages to create a relationship with their clients.
  • Airtel’s social media presence is focused on Facebook. On Twitter, they seem to be plagued by several false accounts and no official one. The only official presence is that of Airtel Africa on Twitter (@Letsfeelfree). On Facebook, however, the company interacts with its clients and keeps them updated about what is happening and what the newest offers are.
  • Orange are also present on Facebook, but is largely absent on Twitter. Interestingly, for Orange, the customer satisfaction seems a great deal more than that of the two major players in the market. They have fewer complaints on their Facebook wall and often those complaints are followed by a later message saying thanks for resolving the issue.
  • Yu seem to be the only player in this market that has ignored the whole social media space as a tool for marketing. They have pages on both Faebook and Twitter but take days to respond to anything, if they respond at all.

Aside from the media companies, the telecommunication sector appears to be the only sector to date that has embraced, or at least is in the process of embracing, the concept of social media.

Banking
Kenya has the most diversified, mature banking sector in the region, with currently 43 licensed commercial banks and a number of other financial institutions. A look at the largest banks – those who by default should be engaging a mass audience - shows that they do venture out into the social media space, but again with uneven results:

  • Equity Bank has around 15 Facebook pages, most, maybe all, of which are not official and do not provide any substantial information. Their Twitter account appears to have been opened once in 2009, updated briefly, and was then forgotten about. Their CEO also maintains a Facebook page, but does not seem to use it to engage with people.
  • Barclays are doing a little better, even if there are several unofficial Facebook pages next to the one that is run by the bank and updated once every month or so. They have the same slow pattern of social media updates on Twitter.
  • Kenya Commercial Bank are doing comparatively well: The Twitter account is very well managed (@KCBGroup) and their Facebook is well done as well. However, they seem to do little about promoting both platforms and hence very few people know about the service.
  • Co-operative Bank has no online presence to speak of: a Facebook profile that seems more internal than anything else and no presence on Twitter.

Airlines

The aviation sector is making extensive use of the internet: More airlines are allowing people to book and check in online, minimising the time that clients have to spend at the booking office or in the airport in person. Websites are a platform for their online transactions. And social media?

  • Kenya Airways use social media to the maximum when it comes to keeping people updated about the latest in offers and flight information. Responses to queries are fast on Twitter, but practically not happening on Facebook. And you will not find a link to their social media presence on the Kenya Airways website.
  • Fly540 have a Facebook page on which customer queries are answered by Jackie Arkle, the Fly540 country manager, from her personal account. At the writing, their last post was on 5 April 2011. They do not use Twitter: An account was opened once and has a single entry, but has not been updated since then.
  • Jetlink have a very limited website and do not use Facebook and Twitter, and AirKenya have three dormant pages on Facebook, none on Twitter.

Retail

Mass market retailers should benefit from engaging the wider public, but not all companies have recognised this:

  • Supermarket chain Nakumatt seem to be relative novices at social media communications: They have a Facebook profile, not page (a profile is what individuals use to build their network, and connections have to request to be added to the list of friends. Corporates, organisations etc typically use a page). So far, Nakumatt have a good 100 connections, and do not use a Twitter account.
  • Uchumi have three dummy accounts on Facebook under their name. They do not have an official Facebook page nor a Twitter account.
  • Tuskys have an official Facebook page. However, there is neither response from the company to posts nor has the page ever been updated with any news. They are absent on Twitter.
  • Shoe retailer Bata provide a sharp contrast: They have very good presence on social media. They have a interactive, regularly updated Facebook page as well as Twitter account.

Real Estate

With a lot of different offers and a significant diaspora clientele, real estate companies should find the online space a useful shop window. But while they systematically use their websites to showcase available properties, they have not yet moved on to using social media to draw attention to individual properties or their services in general:

  • Hass Consult Has no presence on Facebook or Twitter. One dummy account is open on Twitter but other than that social media knows nothing of Hass Consult.
  • Knight Frank have very good pages for the international company both on Facebook and Twitter, but this has not yet been replicated by the Kenyan company.
  • Lloyd Masika have no presence at all on social media.

Stumbling into Social Media?
A couple of companies in Kenya appear to have ventured into the social media space largely by accident thanks to eager individual members of their workforce. This can work out very well: Bata Kenya, for example, have very good online presence and they owe this to a initiative by system administrator Christine Mwiti (@MrsMwiti on Twitter) who began to tweet about the company and opened the account that is now used by the company to keep people up to date on corporate news, and also to talk to their customers and listen to what they need.

But it can also backfire badly: An interesting example is the case of Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) who had their Twitter account initiated by an employee who ended up insulting clients from the official account - see the exchange on a local blog here).

And if you are slow in making up your mind about your social media presence, others might get there first: fake accounts exist for several companies. If the genuine corporate account is well maintained, it is relatively easy to spot the difference – and of course a company that claims a brand or corporate name early on will not have it taken away.
 
It appears that many Kenyan corporates have not yet fully grasped the potential of social media, nor thought systematically about building their online presence. Some haven’t looked at the digital space at all, others have a degree of awareness of social media, but little tangible understanding of how to manage this space. As a way of communicating with the public, advertising goods and services, and maintaining the company’s brand or reputation, social media accounts need to be treated with the same attention and diligence that a company would devote to traditional media.



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