When I was still at the University, I encountered the usual hawkers plus some really smart hawkers at the Matatu (bus terminals – for non-Kenyans) terminals. Normally, whenever you board a Mat, there is a hawker who will be at your window even before your ass gets a feel of the seat. If the window is locked, they will either try to unlock it or keep knocking until you want to punch them in the face. If the window is open, they will ask you to whether you want to buy socks. If you say no, they will shove peanuts in front of you and ask whether you want those instead. If you say no, they will shove water, or soda, or juice, or really atrocious perfumes, or flashlights, and they will keep shoving something until you say no to all of them or until the Mat leaves, whichever comes first. I have even seen passengers threaten to beat up these hawkers.
These are the not so smart hawkers.
Online, we also have these not so smart hawkers. I am not just talking about those Viagra spam mails that we all seem to get, worse. Do you know of those nasty pop ups that jump at you when all you want to do is just read the damn content and leave – that’s hawking. Have you seen those website developers who leave hidden links on their clients’ websites without permission to get some link juice – that’s hawking. When you use your twitter account, Facebook Fanpage, or any other social network, to push your products to people; never engaging, that is hawking. When I don’t know you and you somehow get my email and start sending me emails to no end trying to push something my way, guess what, hawker? If you send press releases on every little thing to me, oblivious of the industry I write on, that is hawking. If I do not opt in yet you have still subscribed me to your newsletters, please, stop hawking. If you keep sending the same tweet over and over again, that’s hawking. Bad hawking.
But then there are smart hawkers. Whereas there were hawkers who would shove everything they had in front you, there were those who took a remarkably different approach. There was this one guy who judging from the bag I was carrying found an opening to start a conversation. He was pretty funny. For the period we were chatting up before the Matatu left the stage, I actually thought he was a fellow passenger. It was when the Matatu was leaving the stage that he asked me if I needed socks. I said no and he smiled and said may be next time. The next time I met him at the same stage, we made some jokes and he for some reason remembered the last time we had talked and referred to something I had mentioned. This time round I bought a handkerchief from him. And increasingly, for the period I was at the University, he was the guy I bought from – usually not out of need but just to “promote” him.
For me, he was a smart hawker because he never started with trying to make or force a sale. He started with conversation and relationship building, and that is what social media enables businesses to do today. If he had cultivated similar relationships with most of us who regularly frequented that stage, I can bet that he made on average more sales than the average hawker. And looking back to the places I have lived and places I have visited; only the shops with friendly and chatty shopkeepers were popular. I am sure that in your own locality, you have had similar experiences. So it is not social media that has brought with it a rise in social commerce, this was already happening but in a very fragmented manner and offline.
Social Media has just made it possible for big businesses to have one on one conversations with clients like smart hawkers and the local shopkeepers have been doing for a long time. On the 6th and 7th of this month, the great digital strategists from Altimeter held a conference dubbed The Rise of Social Commerce #RSC10 and the overriding message coming from the conference were along the lines of “Relationships matter… they are currency in an evolving ecosystem – Ted Rubin” and “customer care is the new PR and Marketing”.
Many Kenyan businesses and brands are waking up to the reality of relationship building given their increasing embrace of social media. And they are learning fast that presence is not enough, participation is Key. They are being forced to respect the consumers they have taken for granted for so long because Kenyan consumers are now more vocal than ever in the various social networks.
I have been monitoring what Kenyans brand are doing on a social media end and I will be writing a comprehensive post in the coming days – outlining these Kenyan case studies.