The internet birthed social media influencers, people who have built their name thanks to their understanding of a particular topic. They post content on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter accounts frequently and appeal to people who follow them closely.
Companies in Uganda are spending less money advertising on traditional media. Advertising spend surged 14 per cent after it reached Shs309b in 2018 according to a report on media consumption and usage habits compiled by Ipsos. Some companies are shifting cash to social media influencing instead.
“It is a popular trend developing with the growth in internet penetration and a drop in smartphone prices that enables anyone to afford a fairly decent phone to position themselves as an influencer. We have mainstream influencers and people trying to make it there although they are not sought after as yet,” Mr John Ssenkeezi, Airtel’s digital marketing manager, says.
In 2018, Global Digital suite of reports revealed that there are now more than 4 billion people around the world using the internet. More than 3 billion people around the world now use social media each month, with 9 in 10 of those users accessing their chosen platforms via mobile devices.
In the same year, the Uganda Mobile Report by Jumia put internet penetration at 44 per cent. Of those, 2.6 million were active on social media. The report indicated that today’s consumers are becoming increasingly self-directed in their buying habits, leveraging social media to research and inquire about products without setting foot in a brick and mortar store.
“Social media marketing, therefore, plays an important role in the e-commerce industry and for Jumia Uganda specifically, 30 per cent of the platform’s traffic comes from social media,” the report reads further.
To Mr Ssenkeezi, businesses should by now be courting social media influencers as most of the good influencers are held in high regard by their followers.
He says, simply explained, social media influencing is similar to “word of mouth” only that it now happens in the digital space.
“Small and Medium Enterprises [SMEs] should find an influencer who is a fit for their brand. If someone has been influencing for a beer brand, they should not influence a product for children,” Mr Ssenkeezi says.
Joshua Mulwana’s ability to post at least three fun tweets a day to over 40,000 followers got brands such as those in fuel trade seeking him to market their products and services on Twitter since May last year. The mistake he has observed over the years is the failure for enterprises to post interactive content.
“A business will go on social media and post something like we have this service….blah blah. But Ugandans get tired of telling them what your company does. What an influencer does is relating everyday events with a particular brand and this gets people talking,” Mr Mulwana says.
But also, it is a world where people check out social media platforms, first thing after they awake.
“News breaks on Twitter and there are many chances people will know what is happening in the country without watching television or listening to radio. Also, influencers have big audiences and these are the people brands are looking to engage. The same people spend a lot of time on smartphones,” Mr Mulwana says.
There are fees that come along with mentioning your product in a post. For those SMEs that have small or non-existent advertising budgets, it is considered cost effective and delivers results of the strategy is right.
“Cost depends on the SME’s budget. Some rates can be as low as Shs100,000 to over Shs1m,” Mr Edward Nimusiima says.
Mr Nimusiima markets various brands from telecoms to phones, hotels, restaurants, breweries and startups by embedding them in everyday life stories.
He believes the role of the social media influencer depends on the objective of a business’ marketing strategy.
“The influencer increases the SME’s visibility and awareness and in the process, it gets traction,” Mr Nimusiima says.
But the business must look at its target market and go ahead to pick an influencer.
“I am not a fan of numbers. An influencer should have built an audience that is loyal to him and believes what he puts out. They should consider whether an influencer’s style of communication suits them. The onus is on the business to identify these kinds of people,” Mr Nimusiima explains.
Influencers, depending on how they are engaged, are good drivers for market leads and referrals.
The downside of using social media influencers so far is one. It is hard to measure the return on investment. It is for this reason digital marketers advise businesses to tread carefully.
“You have heard the hashtags trend but the so what question is not answered or the impact beyond the awareness is unknown. The key thing is to agree beforehand what the targets are and how the SME will measure the returns. If you cannot track, then do not engage influencers because there is no way of knowing the value created,” Mr Ssenkeezi said.
Business are also advised on making the best out of their influencers. Digital marketers say they must get creative with content such as posting stories in multimedia forms.
Creativity, however, will depend on the products. For some, an influencer can only do so much.
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“Brands stand to gain more if they engage influencers who are an authority not necessarily those with numbers. SMEs should enable influencers to immerse themselves into the brand. If it is an event they are going to cover, they should be engaged prior,” John Ssenkeezi, digital marketing manager, Airtel
“SMEs are understanding the use of social media but they do not know how it works. Most of them need training. The other disadvantage they have is they always have small budgets and they expect to give you Shs50,000 so you can give them content similar to that of someone who have paid Shs150,000,” Joshua Mulwana, social media influencer
“It is hard to measure the return on investment. Convincing a business to use influencers is the hardest part. The influencer should outline how they are going to help your business,” Edward Nimusiima, social media influencer