I have read a number of articles in response to someone’s recent submission that Nigerian tech blogs are irrelevant. I have also read the original article that triggered those responses.
Some interesting points were raised by the critic. All of them had some truth, but there were a number of gaps here and there. He was certainly spot on about the blogger who had issues with not being put on a list, but then he stretched things by engaging in hasty generalisation.
I shall attempt to clarify certain issues. This is going to be a long one, so go grab a Coke and some popcorn.
There Are Blogs And There Are Blogs
By this I mean that Nigerian tech blogs are in sizes and phases. While it is true that most are in search of a foothold (and there is nothing wrong with that), a blog with the stature of Mobility is not in that class.
We have ongoing relationships with global brands like Nokia, Opera, Airtel, Etisalat and RIM, to mention a few. Some of these relationships are direct. Others are via their agencies, but those relationships exist. We get review devices and get official passes to product launches and related events by Nokia, RIM, Etisalat and Airtel, to mention a few. I have also gotten a few devices as outright gifts from Nokia and RIM. We are contacted by individuals and organisations on every continent looking for information or business contacts in the mobile technology space in Nigeria.
Mobility has published leaks and scoops too many times to be classified as a blog seeking relevance.
At Mobile Web West Africa last year, the Regional Director for RIM (who is now with Samsung South Africa) walked up to the table where the Mobility crew sat at for lunch to chat with us. He shared info and we talked business. A Manager at MTN Nigeria met with me at an event about a year ago, addressed me by name, and spoke of how Mobility Blog was read and talked about in her department. I had never met her before then. Just months ago, at an MTN event, Mobility Blog was mentioned on the PowerPoint presentation alongside one of Nokia’s services as an example of a successful Nigerian lifestyle site. I was present there. And, yes; it felt good.
Our articles have influenced events in the Nigerian mobile landscape, as has been testified to by followers of the industry. With the kind of traffic and following that we have, the question of whether Mobility is relevant or not does not exist. But then, Mobility Blog is not all there is to the Nigerian tech blogging scene. So, having put that behind us, let us examine critical issues at stake.
There Are Different Types Of Tech Blogs
The impression keeps being painted that all tech blogging is the same. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, Mobility was not set up to be a news blog. We are focused on reviews and opinion pieces. Yes; we do the odd news item when it suits our agenda, but we are under no obligation as far as news and PR are concerned.
Being a review blog means that we review devices, apps and services, with a very strong focus on the Nigerian space. We may not always be able to review a device as soon as it comes out, but that doesn’t make those reviews irrelevant. Many times, our reviews contain details that the other global tech blogs overlooked. This has been testified to again and again. Plus, details of how a device fits into the Nigerian ecosystem are not things you will find on TechCrunch or IntoMobile.
Update 19/Sep/2015: I missed the point that there are tons of readers of this blog who swear that they do not buy a decision unless and until they read what MobilityArena.com has to say about the device. End update.
Other blogs may focus on breaking news. Some combine everything. It is each blog’s prerogative to carve its own niche. We must not forget that.
Tech Blogging Growth in Nigeria
Mobility and a few others aside, Nigerian tech blogging is largely in its infancy. This needs to be borne in mind as we proceed. Mobility started in 2008 as Mobility Nigeria and has grown fast since then. The Nigerian tech blogs that I know of that started around that same time are dead. The reason is not far-fetched, and I will go into that in the next section. But because of this, many of the Nigerian tech blogs on the scene now are young. They need time to grow. They need encouragement. They also need for their owners to be business-savvy and smart.
Which brings me to my next point.
There Is Relevance. Then There Is Sustainability
It is one thing to be relevant, but what of sustainability? Nigerian tech blogs cannot and must not embrace relevance (to use the critic’s term) at the expense of sustainability.
I will use the example of the 3.75G network launch that the critic said went unmentioned in the Nigerian tech blogging scene. Mobility Blog had official passes to that event, and my Personal Assistant was there to cover it. Should anyone require proof, we still have the invitation messages, as well as the branded t-shirts, branded football and pens handed out at the event.
If we attended and covered the event, why then did we not publish anything? One word: Sustainability. Before now, we had published press releases and materials from that network (and others) for free for over two years. Months before that event, we had set up online PR and media coverage as a business unit for our operations here at Mobility. In other words, this was now a paid service.
We sent out mails to various companies and subsequently had a meeting with that particular network to discuss business. There was a lot of dancing around about it, but the bottomline was that there was no business from their end. At least, not yet. No hard feelings. Business is business. The network has its agenda; we have ours. Our policy has been that we will honour all invitations, but we are under no obligation to publish anything from anyone who was not our client.
We put a lot of work into what we do here at Mobility. We are acclaimed locally and internationally for the quality of what our in-house team puts out. We put a lot of money into it too. It must be sustainable, hence our commercial services. We were at that 3.75G launch event, but we did not publish because events coverage is a commercial service for us and that network had not subscribed to that service yet. Mobility blog is large and strong enough to stick to our guns. We are not searching for relevance.
This again leads me to something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time.
Non-sustainable Tech Blogging Equals Death
I mentioned earlier that almost all the Nigerian tech blogs that started off around the same time that Mobility did are dead today. They are mostly dead because they were unsustainable. If you cannot find a way to commercialise your tech blog (or any service for that matter), it will soon become history. Polish your skills AND commercialise. Make money to pay the bills. Free doesn’t pay bills.
And please don’t give me that Google Adsense or network advert bullshit. It is an open secret that no Nigerian blog (tech or otherwise) is sustained by those. Been there. Done that. Pass the chicken please.
My reasoning is this: if a blog is contributing to a business’ progress and helping them achieve their goals, that business should be willing to support that blog by way of subscription or other channels. Service should be paid for. The Nigerian economy will prosper as it should ONLY when everyone earns an income. Today, Mobility enjoys some level of income. We are not where we want to be yet, but at least we can afford to run the blog without being desperate.
As I write this, we have been paid by some players in the Nigerian ecosytem for some of our services, and we are at various stages of talks with various local and international companies towards signing more deals. We have massive campaigns planned out and are in discussions to bite hard. This party is going to get more interesting. But note: if your operations are not sustainable, any relevance that you have will die along with that blog eventually.
Information Hoarding (Or Snobbery), Nigeria-style
One of the issues raised by respondents to the critic is the difficulty of getting information here in Nigeria. Government hoards information. Telcos do the same. Our tech developers have caught the bug too, unfortunately. I don’t bother with those who hoard info anymore. That’s how I have decided to deal with the issue. If you are launching an app or mobile service and tech bloggers have to chase you down to get information from you, you need to have a rethink.
There is enough critical mass of followers of the top Nigerian tech blogs. That’s relevance. Many individuals who are tech influencers at work and at home follow the top Nigerian tech blogs – even if it is for discussion. Even if there are no breaking news items. That’s relevance. It is why I don’t bother anymore with those who choose to stick their heads in the sand. The joke is on them. Take a look at the following examples:
Years back, an indigenous mobile brand launched with fanfare and ignored bloggers. Where are those phones today? As a matter of fact, I have not run into anyone using one of them in two years.
A Nigerian tablet was launched about two years ago. We did a news item on it at Mobility, after which I personally wrote asking for a review device on loan. I never got any. I ran into the gentleman behind the product at an event last year and he said to me that if I wanted to review the device, I should see one other guy. You know what I did? I forgot about his tablet outright. Last I heard, sales have been poor.
Another tablet was hyped to high heavens in the last one year. A lot of noise was made, but Nigerian tech blogs were “smartly” sidelined. Where are those tablets today? I am not claiming that ignoring tech bloggers was the sole reason for the dismal performances of these products. That would be naïve of me. But look at the thread, it is a factor.
There are Nigerian apps and services out there that next to no-one, besides the developers and their friends, knows about. The developers are happy being local champions among their colleagues. But that won’t do. Get information out there. Send out review samples. Strike deals. Negotiate friendly payment terms if necessary. Negotiation is NOT begging. But put the growing power of the Nigerian tech blogging ecosystem to use.
I’m sorry that this has to be said, and I mean it in good faith, but a feature by any foreign media isn’t going to sell a Nigerian product to Nigerians. We can celebrate being mentioned on foreign media all we like, but ignoring our own local shining stars is a recipe for failure. Our local tech blogging scene is that relevant. Go ask Nokia West Africa what the sales of the N8 was like simply because they provided one unit for Mobility to review. Or the E7. Or the N9.
Some other players in the industry have approached us and were able and willing to pay for ads and PR articles, at times even if its a fraction of our standard fees. But they acted smart. In my opinion, many players in our local tech industry are not ready to think like businesses. No tech blogger can help such people. If you want to sell, it is your responsibility to put out your products and services to create awareness.
I remember a particular event was being organised, and a tweet was published asking bloggers to hurry to register because there were limited seats available. WTF?! You want publicity for your event (likely free), you want bloggers to give you their time, and spend their money to come cover your event, and that was the best you could do? Of course, Mobility ignored it. I mean, we had invites in our mailbox and printed IVs to other events, and you want us scrambling to get a seat at your event? Apparently, many other bloggers ignored it, because that particular event suffered poor coverage on tech blogs. But then that’s what you get when you treat key links in the ecosystem with disrespect.
One thing is for certain, it is hasty generalisation for anyone to say that Nigerian tech bloggers are in search of relevance. Some are; but some have already attained to it. Ignore them at your own risk.
Oh, there also seems to be this new hype around lists of “Top 10” this and that everywhere. Like the next person, it feels good to be on a such a list, but for the most part its just ego massaging. I was put on one recently. But then so what if I wasn’t? Come on, guys!
A Rallying Call To Nigerian Bloggers
If you are a Nigerian tech blogger, determine what you want to focus on – startups, news, reviews, mobile, or everything put together – then draw up a business plan. Polish your skills please, and deliver exceptional value. Your business plan cannot yield beyond the value that you create.
But take it from me: if you do not draw up a clear business plan, lots of companies and businesses out there will milk you and leave you high and dry. That will be your fault, because you allow it. And when your blog is dead and gone, those companies and businesses will go on like you never existed. Whether you are one of the few who have achieved relevance, or you are young and finding your footing, the ball is in your court ultimately. Play it. It is your field!
To the critic whose article triggered off this interesting discourse, I say: that the Nigerian tech blogging scene does not meet your personal expectations does not make it irrelevant. Perhaps irrelevant to you, which is okay. But certainly relevant to a whole lot of others in different ways. At least the top Nigerian tech blogs are.
Some may have reservations about my position on blogging and commercial services of the type that Mobility offers, especially because they do not follow known trends. That’s okay. I don’t follow trends; I am known for setting them. I have also made bold and strong statements in this article that touch certain organisations, individuals, products and services. I mean no offence and have nothing personal against any individual or organisation. Issues needed addressing and I have risen up to the task.
Lastly, I may sound like I am bragging about Mobility Blog, but what am I to do? Lie about the facts so as not to sound proud? We are good at what we do here at Mobility and are extremely proud of our place in the Nigerian tech circle. Please pardon me. I swear, I will not do it again (though if you quote me on that, I will deny it).
If you are interested in doing business with us, do contact us. In the meantime, please let the party go on!