I was involved in the New Media & Governance conference, a two-day event that took place at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja. My role was that of social media surgeon, manning a booth where I attended to individuals who had questions or needed assistance with using mobile phones and apps for social media purposes.
First up, there is no question about the fact that mobile technology is behind the massive uptake of social media in Nigeria. Mobile internet usage here is predominantly social, regardless of platform.
Secondly, my experience at the Social Media booth tells me Nigeria has a long way to go with using social media. Even among enlightened people, when social media is mentioned, the focus seems to be on just Facebook and Twitter, as if those are all there is to the subject. That is a mistake, of course. Who is engaging the millions of young Nigerians on MxIT, Mobofree, Tagged, 2Go, & Eskimi? Millions. Most of those using these other services have no access to smartphones. They are the masses using feature phones.
Because mobile is the predominant driver of social media uptake in Nigeria, what can we do to push the boundaries of social media even further? We need even lower data tariffs. We also need more internet- enabled devices at lower cost. At the social media surgery booth that I manned, a gentleman came to learn how to use Wifi on his N30,000 tablet. It wasn’t the best tablet, and the brand is unknown to me, but it met his needs. We must never forget that it doesn’t matter how enamoured we get with big brand names. They are mostly out of the reach of the vast majority of Nigerians.
Another man (deaf and dumb) came with a lowly Nokia feature-phone which I configured for internet. Then I got him using Twitter mobile on OperaMini with it. He was excited, to say the least!
The numbers are at the grass roots. If we get them using social media, we get more done. That means cheaper devices and data plans. We have lots of educating and training to do. Right now, we are still scratching the surface. And when I say educating and training, I do not mean seminar style where people get up on a podium to talk. We love talking in these parts. In my opinion, the key is to demonstrate; not tell. Mostly, what we do now is talk. We need to demonstrate to the average person what these devices are capable of and show them how to use them.
This is why I think that the idea of the social media surgery booths at the New Media and Governance conference was a brilliant one. Such should be given more prominent focus in our drive to promote sustainable development as a nation.