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Social Media Week London and Key Social Media Branding Challenges in Emerging Markets

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take part in Social Media Week London sponsored by Nokia, the London segment of a worldwide event exploring the social, cultural and economic impact of social media.

On a panel with fellow social media, marketing and publishing colleagues and about 80 attendants all well-versed in the fast changing world of digital media, its rewards and its challenges, it was quite an educational experience to recap some of the ideas I have had the opportunity to address in the African media field over the years.


One such was the need for social media and new marketing strategies for fashion and lifestyle brands in the so-called emerging markets (a term I often shy away from as what constitutes ’emerging’ through the eyes of the Western world may have been long established locally). Perhaps it is best to say ‘digitally emerging’.

As a lifestyle choice (‘I am FAB’) which goes beyond a magazine as an audience member later asked about much to our delight, FAB remains the first magazine out of Africa to heavily use social media and digitally technology to market itself as the magazine for a new generation of style-conscious and media-savvy readers.

In my experience with FAB Magazine and most recently as a publicist for a number of numerous brands though, I find, almost daily, that working in African media and digital space both on the editor’s and publicist’s end, the challenges are far grater than those experienced in the Western world, hence perhaps the title ’emerging’ – or let us say, ‘digitally emerging’.

Most aspects of a successful branding and social marketing luxury or even mid-level PR companies take for granted – appropriate funding, consistent technology, and a reasonable time frame for return on investment.

Let’s break these down:

1. Appropriate funding

Unfortunately, the reality of ’emerging’ (Well, there is that word again!) brands in ’emerging’ markets is the lack of a realistic budget required for digital media marketing and publicity. While some start-ups genuinely lack the budget, others seem to think social media branding is all about someone sitting behind a screen all day typing sweet nothings into a neat rectangular box. This misconception takes away from the real essence of effective marketing and publicity where content is key.

To create effective content for social media it is essential to invest in those that are skilled in providing the content. What’s more, you will also need to have a realistic budget in mind to create the resources to help this skilled person to create the content. If you lack the funds for a website for your brand, or promotional material, there is very little for the publicist to go on in effectively marketing your brand to the masses.

The same goes for time as well resources, if you would like your social media branding team to successfully market your brand on (and off) social media, you will need to give them the time of the day to get to know your brand. You cannot expect them to deploy psychic skills to intercept your mind if you are poor on time to provide them with the essential information which will make the backbone of their social media strategy.

2. Consistent and competent use of technology

In editor’s cap this is an issue I come across often. When a publicist is keen to make the product accessible but do not have the means or at times the know-how to make use of all digital channels available what happens often is, a potential client/editor/buyer seeks images of the brand the publicist represents, the publicist battles with intermittent electricity, snail-speed and sporadic internet and whimsical personal email account (Yes, there is still many a publicist in ’emerging’ markets that work from personal email accounts as opposed to a domain account) only to end up failing to send through the publicity material. Now if the publicist is digitally competent, there are diverse channels to get the publicity material through even if digital uploads may take a good half day due to internet speed (or lack thereof); but it is often the case that due to distrust of digital efficiency, you still entertain the thought of putting the material on a USB device and delivering it in person. In the 21st century? Perhaps there is a reason ’emerging’ markets are ’emerging’ after all.

3. Reasonable time frames for return on investment

Whether it is a small franchise or a prominent fashion empire, most Western companies are aware of realistic time frames for a campaign to be effective. Unfortunately in the African markets, return on investment is expected within weeks and patience still very much remains a virtue.

One thing the panel speakers all reiterated today was that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to measuring return on investment of social media campaigns and no magic number. The effectiveness of a campaign and reputation of a company builds over time and on a lot of goodwill so the number of Twitter followers or Facebook likes do not translate straight into success; what is more important is the reach and engagement levels of shared content.

What is key for ’emerging’ brands in ’emerging markets to realise is that social media campaigns are more Mo Farah, less Usain Bolt – the race is often to the strong and the consistent than the fast. Hence, hassling your social media strategist after a month on return of investment is not a wise move when the bricks they are slowly laying now on (and off) cyberspace is likely to build a triumphant tower given time.

With those three key challenges to ponder, I leave you to enjoy the live footage of today’s session and urge you to check out footage from the other seminars too.

Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo

Africa, brading, challenges, emerging markets, FAB Magazine, fashion pr, marketing, Nokia, publicity, s two pr, SMWLDN, social media, Social Media Week London