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Can Coming Late to the Table be Good Sometimes?

Just about every business person I spoke with in Johannesburg two weeks ago had the same reaction when I told them I was a social media manager. “Oh man, we need help with that!” Or they would say something like “We haven’t really been keeping up with all that social stuff.” This was certainly interesting to me as a business owner because I’m seeing blue ocean in terms of finding clients there, but now that I’m back and have had some time to think, I have a slightly different perspective.

In many ways the continent of Africa has many advantages over the so-called “developed” countries. While Europe and North America was busy inventing and developing infrastructure that is becoming obsolete, building roads and then making them wider to accommodate the exponentially larger numbers of cars and trucks that are now using them, many of the African nations were busy with other pursuits. Many were (and still are) involved in civil wars, dealing with droughts, fighting for their independence. Some countries have even dealt with these situations multiple times this century.

While they were busy trying to stay alive, the rest of the world was working through systems and developing technology to improve our lives. Technology like cell phones, the internet, WiFi, so coming into the technology age is much easier now because so much of the infrastructure can be skipped. Case and point, it is more common to have a cell phone in Africa than a landline. I still have a landline that I would love to ditch but the telephone companies make it more expensive to drop the landline so we’ve kept one all this time even though we hardly ever use it. My theory is that the phone companies need to maintain a certain number of landlines to keep their core business in place and they are desperately trying to keep that original service since they are probably still paying for the infrastructure they had to put in place in order to provide the service. This may or may not be true, but I’m probably not too far off.

The African countries that are now poised for growth, like South Africa, can take advantage of the technology developed elsewhere and do things like skip running phone lines and instead just put up cell towers. Neither is very aesthetically pleasing, but it’s certainly easier to put up one tower for a town rather than running wires to every house.

The same is true for social media marketing. We have been using social media as a business tool for several years here in the States, but social media is still somewhat new in South Africa. So they have an advantage in that there is a wealth of information about what doesn’t work when using social media to help grow your business. It took some businesses a long time (and may have even put some out of business) to figure out that direct selling doesn’t work on Facebook. On the other hand, it’s totally acceptable for a business to put a price on a pin of one of their hot new products on Pinterest. And users are expecting to be able to click that pin and be taken directly to the sales page so they can get the latest fashion or craft delivered to their door.

I am excited to have been placed in what I see as the right place at the right time. I look forward to being able to help the South African entrepreneurs harness the power of the internet to grow their businesses and maybe even find a social media manager or two that I can train and bring on to help me with my new South African clients. Hey, one can dream, right?

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