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Social Media’s Role in Zain/Safaricom War!

Social Media’s Role in Zain/Safaricom War!

It is a fact that many Kenyans are in a love-hate relationship with Safaricom, myself included. My beef with Safaricom is on so many layers but I stay because of reasons I wrote in earlier post – Safaricom is the girl you marry. But it seems that the Safaricom marriage is on the rocks. The mistress has upped her game consequently forcing us to request for the divorce papers. Following the announcement that Zain had drastically slashed it prices, the Kenyan social media scene became abuzz with varied brand sentiments that both Safaricom and Zain would be stupid to ignore.

Ever since Zain started this coup, the puns have been relentless on Twitter and Facebook alike. “Suffericon is driving me inZain” is just one example. The Photoshop people have been ruthless in creating and remaking Safaricom or Michael Joseph images to reflect the emerging reality of a real competitor in Zain. I have been watching this unfold for a week now but one Facebook update today has just forced me to type up this up. Luka Wanjohi wrote the following on Facebook by way of Twitter.

It just cracked me up. The lesson here is that a majority of Kenyans on Twitter and Facebook have remarked and continue to do so about the Safaricom Zain price wars. Whatever it is they are saying is important even though some of it does not sound it. This is that age where every little thing gets broadcasted to everybody by everybody because social media has made all of us publishers. I called my girlfriend the other day and she asked me why I was calling using a Safaricom line. She ordered me to buy a Zain line to save money and I meekly said, Yes Dear. You can now imagine this being extrapolated and that is what social media does. If every Facebook and Twitter update or blog analysis I see is about how my friends have finally Vukad (shifted) to Zain, it is more than likely that I will as well shift Zain. This is how social media impacts your business’s bottom line. Welcome to consumer generated content.

I continue to stress more and more that social media is becoming the game-changer in how brands are perceived in Kenya. Social Media is shaping brand sentiment and companies that are slow in adopting social media and using it as a frontier to engage with their consumers is bound to lose out, big. With regard to social media, Safaricom has been the dominant player – becoming increasingly adept at using social media for customer care among other things. It has no close competitor here. I have not seen any comeback from them on the puns against them. But they could and mitigate the troubles that Zain is causing them through the various social media networks. Remember, this is a brand perception and sentiment challenge, where even though you cannot change what people write about you, you can mould it to mitigate the negative impact by how you well respond to it – with a sense of humour mostly.

On the part of Zain, they could do very well to ride this wave of positive sentiment about them in all these social networks. Having them in these social networks would allow people to address them directly like they do Safaricom and give Zain the platform to extend this positive sentiment a little bit longer. I can assure you now that if Zain got on Twitter, they would rival Safaricom’s followers and easily, what they tweet will hit record numbers of retweets. They can even start making sales via twitter to every negative tweet targeting Safaricom. There are countless ways in which Zain’s participation in social media especially now will work wonders for them. They can actively eat up Safaricom’s dominance by engaging the people who are already thinking about jumping ship as elaborated by their tweets. Zain’s work will be to nudge them on.

I have seen an army of Zain personnel flooding the streets and that’s all good. But given that they are all young people who definitely have Facebook and Twitter accounts, what stops them from taking their campaign to social networks. Granted, consumers have already fired the first shots by taking shots at Safaricom. Their work has already been made easier. Yesterday night, there was an announcement that Safaricom blinked. They decided to lower tariffs too but only for purchases of the 100/= credit. This has clearly proven to be counterproductive judging from the comments on Twitter and Facebook. People hate the idea that this is a one month offer and the 100 shilling condition. Again, Zain should really be capitalizing on this through social networks.

There is a lot that can be done. I am pretty excited about this J. If you know someone at Zain/Bharti management, please email this to them and tell them I can develop for them a killer social media strategy and implementation document that will see them become the darling of Kenyans especially in social networks. The opportunity is too great to miss.

The comment section is yours. Hit me!


There is already a YouTube Video with over 2400 views of a Zain promotional truck playing the bend-over song outside the Safaricom HQ.

  • Marvin Tumbo,
  • August 24, 2010
  • Anonymous

    Superb! Safaricom is on top, but soon will be toppled.


  • Mo

    Thanks Marvin, a very insightful read as always. What’s your opinion on how Safaricom has handled (or not) the buzz on twitter following Zain’s announcement. Do you think they ought to have sought to contribute to the conversation, perhaps reminding consumers on social media what they stand for and offer as a brand? Or was their Ostrich response the appropriate one?

  • Marvin Tumbo

    Thanks Idd. We are doing the work for Zain. They gave us an incentive and we have run with it. We are the same people to built Safaricom and we can topple it. As you’ve rightly written in your post, Zain now need to focus on the areas Safaricom is making them bend over.

  • Marvin Tumbo

    I think Safaricom have ran and hid. Just have a look at their wall, they have been MIA for a week now, posting nothing worthwhile. In the meantime, a search for Safaricomltd on Twitter reveals such a buzz of activity, people they could be engaging.

    They have literally bent over on this. In social media, sitting back like this when you are getting battered does not work, especially when nobody is defending you. They could afford to sit back if loyal customers were defending Safaricom in these networks. I have not seen that yet.

    Their response needs to be smart, well thought out and with a sense of humour. The Bendover song by Zain is funny and really catching on, fast. They should have a comeback like this Apple response to Adobe http://thenextweb.com/shareables/2010/05/14/apple-responds-to-adobes-ad/

  • I think its about time Kenyan brands woke up to the fact that social media matters,and to an extent better than any other marketing tool and thus should not be ignored,it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  • I wonder if both companies are tracking what is being said and the sentiments from subscribers across the social media space. This is the kind of engagement any social media strategist would kill for (no pun intended)

  • Marvin Tumbo

    Thanks Kamweti. It will indeed be interesting to see how this plays out both on and offline. I think Kenyan companies act out fear and soon enough, based on the negative experiences of NOT engaging online, they will start running to social media. It takes the kind of buzz that this thing is creating to get the Management thinking.

  • Marvin Tumbo

    Judith, I have a feeling that Safaricom might be. Not so sure about Zain though. You are right. This is one of those things you want to be in the thick of as a Social Media strategist. I am trying as hard as I can to get either side to give me their ear.

  • Mybenso07

    Safaricom is out of touch with what kenyans want. It’s like the kenyan clergy during the referendum. let them take clue

  • Davindeje

    i believe safcon must do a lot more because majority of Kenyans use the 50 to the 5 bob card not the 100, and their new rate being offered only proves that their is a great gap between the haves and have not.
    so many still rely on their new found friend ZAIN

  • Estherkagiri

    Great piece Marvin

    I have to agree with you Marvin….. Most times you will find that brands respond out of fear not by first paying attention to where their consumers are talking and what they are talking about…. Am in the media monitoring business with a company called Globetrack International, where we have included Social Media Monitoring to our portfolio. Looking at the facebook pages of the four mobile device service providers, throughout the whole wave, none attempted to respond to their customers anger or happiness.

    This just goes to confirm that management in this companies still highly appreciate one way marketing which Erik Qualman (the social media guru of the recent times) says has had its way and the new trend is to Listen first and sell second.

    FACT: Of the four mobile device service providers, Safaricom has the most number of fans, AND GUESS WHO FOLLOWS Yu Kenya, then Zain then Orange. Remember YU has the least number of subscribers. Does that mean they have discovered something which the other players haven’t or is it pure coincidence? Maybe you need to stop looking amongst the two big players …….

    • Marvin Tumbo

      I have been meaning to reply to this comment but I always get cut short by something else. I will email you. You got my attention with something you mentioned in your well though out comment. Best Regards, Marvin.

  • I still find a problem with Airtel’s approach to the Kenyan market. They don’t quite work with the principle of ‘Think Global / Act Local’. If Airtel is really serious about making a dent to Safaricom’s dominance, they must make a genuine effort to connect with the Kenyan people – in addition to pricing.

    • Marvin Tumbo

      They can win our hearts with pricing. I am happy that Nation removed that Horrid advert that Airtel had on the sidebar of their online edition. It was out of place as seemed forced. A genuine connection with Kenyans online as a sure way to get a foot in Safaricom’s dominance.

  • Muthoni Maingi

    I think that Zain, now Airtel focuses on global branding as opposed to localised more often than not… Therefore in Kenya they are always defeated by the more ‘locally-senstive’ Safaricom in terms of brand presence and communication…

  • I doubt weather any one of us will bed out of safaricom , there i so much to  loose .