Something has been irking me lately. I follow social media news every waking day and if you have subscribed to Mashable, Techcrunch and to the leading social media bloggers in the world, then you have an idea what my inbox looks like every morning. I take the trouble of reading almost every post, most of the time reading late into the night to avoid a backlog of unread yet important mail. If you have been around social media lately, then you understand how quickly a new invention becomes old or obsolete especially with the onslaught of newer and better refined inventions. Therefore my reading is not just to stay informed on the current state of social media but to ensure that I am not left behind information-wise with regard to the future developments and the tools that will take us there.
The applications that have come up around social media are simply impeccable and the creative ways that businesses are utilizing them are having a profound effect on the bottom-line of the businesses that are using them right. And that is all good but just a bit harder for faraway lands like Kenya when it comes to using tools that are usually made with the American/European community in mind.
I know the question that has just formed in your mind is; why don’t Kenyan developers create similar platforms that cater strictly for the Kenyan Market. They have tried but they cannot go far if they are trying to compete with Facebook for instance. I have seen a couple of local social networking sites like Whive/The Bee Network but they all suffer one fundamental flaw – they are not Facebook. It is difficult to sell these local networks to my clients because the numbers simply do not support or warrant their investment. The number of Kenyans on Facebook on the other hand is immense and growing fast by the day. Logging onto Facebook every few hours, I see updates, messages, friend requests, invitations to events and many more. However, logging on to these local social networks, you will be lucky to find a friend who is already registered let alone having a constructive conversation within the network the way I currently do with Facebook.
The reality is that the global social channels like WordPress, Blogger, Facebook, Twitter etc are better tools because of the APIs created by developers around them, the ease of use, the number of people using them, and the continuous improvements that are taking place in them due to in-house R&D. Just the other day, I shared with a colleague a post on the Dangers of Facebook Privacy issues and after reading through them, she said its “I can’t live with it, can’t live without it” kind of relationship that she has with Facebook. I understand because a lot of what we do is now tied into the Facebook Framework and replicating it elsewhere would just be a mess and honestly a waste of resources especially when there are not viable alternatives to speak of. One thing I am sure I cannot do is convince anybody that a local social networking is better than Facebook. I can put my hand on the bible, salute, sing the national anthem and cry patriotism but this would still remain a hard sell because honestly, they are not even close to Facebook by light years.
And though the above effectively is telling young Kenyan Techpreneurs that another Kenyan Facebook idea will be dead on arrival, I look at it as opening doors to other ideas that will cater for the niche that tools and platforms made with an American/European community in mind cannot. I am effectively telling our Techpreneurs to put their coding skills to better use in a Kenyan context. Instead of recreating a Local Facebook and Twitter, borrow a leaf from Mikul Shah of Eat Out whom I featured here some weeks back. He basically took what Open Table is doing in the US and replicated it here. Open Table allows users in the US to look for restaurants, read reviews, check prices, and book tables online without any hassle. He took the concept and provided the local content that people need and hence the success that Eat Out is. There is no Open Table in Kenya or Africa for that matter and thus the market was ripe for the taking.
Open Table is not the only foreign concept that can be successfully replicated in Kenya. Many other impeccable ideas that can be successfully duplicated here with local content abound and it is up to our Kenyan Entrepreneurs to identify and seize these momentous opportunities.
Kenyan Techpreneurs could also decide instead of recreating social networking platforms that compete with already established brands – which is no match by the way – to focus on bridging the divide. The framework and infrastructure in the countries in which these tools are developed are fundamentally different from what we have in Kenya but the concept behind them makes business sense in any country and in any language. The problem usually is bridging the divide; customizing them for the local audience at a speed that keeps up with the life cycles of these tools/applications.
For instance, as a social media consultant, most of the work I do is on a consultancy as opposed to technical implementation level. Even though I handle the technical bits too for now, there are some very specialized technical bits that I cannot handle and which I have not found someone to do locally. Facebook Fanpages can be customized to reflect whatever a brand wants – using brand colours, images, and even video like the Twilight Facebook Fanpage – but this takes specialized understanding of Facebook Markup Language (FBML), something I have had difficulty finding someone to do locally. I am therefore forced to contact someone in the UK or US to implement for me.
Basically, I am urging local Techpreneurs to start making use of these already popular tools by becoming creative around how to best customize them for the local market.
What are your thoughts?