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Rebranding Africa using social media

Written by Tayo Elegbede - Nigeria

Tayo Elegbede
About 10 years ago, it was common to read and hear comments portraying Africa as a continent of poverty, disease and conflict. Africa was unpretentiously labelled the 'dark continent'.

When you picked up a foreign newspaper and flipped to African section, the imagery would most likely be that of Africa as a perfect jungle of human and social injustice. Africa had little or no global brand value and prestige, a result of many stereotypical coloration of the continent, both internally and externally. Africa suffered a major brand attack and damage.
Certainly, the foreign media's operational culture, which left no room for Africans to tell their own stories, played a critical role in the poor perception of the continent.
Thankfully, the narrative is changing. And social media are at the heart of unveiling the new and real Africa to the world.

In recent weeks, Africa has had some of its best online outings, which have ultimately aided the 'Africa rising' momentum across the globe, boosting its positive global perception. The once uncelebrated continent is now the toast of the world.

Remarkable of these outings are Twitter-powered campaigns that have successfully leveraged the power of hashtag such as#TheAfricaThe MediaNeverShowsYou, #ReasonsToLoveAfrica, #SomeoneTell CNN and #WeAreOne, #IfAfricaWasABar.
By sharing pieces of their daily lives, Twitter users are helping to dispel stereotypes while inspiring curiosity and generating appreciation of the continent's cultural, social and political diversity. Like never before, these campaigns have promoted the rich cultural, architectural, intellectual and innovative beauty of Africa, reaching millions of online.
In the past week, the hashtag, #TheAfrica TheMedia NeverShowsYou has been trending, displaying stunning photographs of vibrant and varied landscapes, joyful glimpses across the continent and diverse cultures, architecture art and fashion.

The hashtag has generated over 50,000 images depicting the continent in a dynamic, positive light and conveying the long overdue message that despite mainstream media's dark and dismal portrayal, there is a lot more to Africa than just poverty, famine, war or safaris. Interestingly, this hashtag was inspired and initiated by a 22-year-old Somali Twitter user, Diana Salah.

Making a global announcement of fast-paced development in Africa, Kenyans similarly took to Twitter using the hashtag #SomeoneTell CNN to challenge what they described as an unfair report labelling Kenya as the 'hotbed of terror' by an the American news network ahead of President Barack Obama's visit to the country.
For many, the reaction of Kenyans and, indeed, the African continent to the news report was warranted and timely. Like a wild fire, the tweets, which depicted Kenya as the hotbed of innovation and investment, got a global trending lasting for two days with impact across online and offline media platforms.

#SomeoneTellCNN first surfaced in March 2012, when CNN's segment on a bus station bombing sparked anger.
In a more satiric manner, Africans, through the hashtag #IfAfricaWasABar, have engaged various aspects of their lifestyle with the view to combat negative cultural stereotypes about the continent.

Connecting Twitter users from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and other African countries, the campaign, initiated by a 22-year-old Botswanan writer, Siyanda Moutsiwa, started with the question, 'If Africa was a bar, what would your country be drinking/doing?' That sparked a Twitter debate about the state of Africans.
According to Siyanda, a lot of trending topics on African Twitter tend to be negative.
"It is usually people complaining. I thought it would be fun to do something we will all participate in that was light-hearted and educational for everyone involved," the activist said.

Pointing to how social media would help in achieving this, she said, "We are very lucky to have social media now; there were a lot of Africans that did not know about one another before."
As demonstrated in these recent pan-African social media campaigns, Africans can rebrand and reposition the continent through a positive use of social media.
Despite the many challenges on the continent, the technological and social developments are a plus to changing the African narrative through proactive storytelling and positive utilisation of many social media platforms.
If Africans cannot tell their own stories, no one else will tell them better. Think African, think social media.

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