I’d like to spend a lot more time in Africa, for any sane Westerner it’s obviously the last frontier of any interest, both culturally and for
Over the past three years I have visited Somaliland, Egypt, Kenya,Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria trying to understand the way things work and how each country is different, not just East, West, South and North territories, as many in Europe and North America seem to think.
In that time I’ve learnt a little about how things are done and expanded my network by speaking at the (excellent) Mobile Web Africa events and meeting the usual array of innovative and outstanding people.
Naturally, I’ve also used social media to connect with these people, with Twitter as the first port of call by using the hashtag of the Mobile WebAfrica events to start things off. By the end of the conference I’m usually following and being followed by around 100 people and so the conversation and engagement begins.
Twitter, however, as awesome as it is, can only go so far in fostering business relationships. Not everybody is good at it because it takes a lot of time and resources to do it correctly and traditionally communication is still governed by email and Google Calendar to set up meetings and telephone calls.
Then there’s Facebook. Like a lot of people in the UK digital industry, I’m aware of the statistic that there are more people on Facebook in Nigeria than there are in my country. This sounds like a hugely impressive number that shows how Nigerians are embracing social media with as much enthusiasm as we are, but I’m unsure whether this is the platform that Nigerians, and Africans, should be focusing on.
It could be said that Facebook is look at me, and Twitter is look at that. While Twitter is a platform where more content is shared, for business LinkedIn is the channel that has become the place where business is done and one where African entrepreneurs and companies are almost invisible.
I haven’t always been a fan of LinkedIn. When I came back to the UK in 2010 after two years in India working from the beach and enjoying a more leisured way of living, I was invited to a London lunch with LinkedIn representatives who told me they had two buckets in their office. One of these buckets said ‘journalist’ and the other one was ‘influencer’ and apparently I was in the latter bucket.
Whoopee, I said, lucky me. Things didn’t go well at the sushi lunch. I was told that if I wanted to ‘get more freelance writing assignments’ then I should update my LinkedIn profile. I said that I didn’t need their platform to increase my visibility; my reputation was already enough and I told them where to put their sushi.
Silly me. Two years on and with almost 2,600 connections I have come to realise that it is the most important of all social networks and I had made a mistake at that lunch. It isn’t just the gradual accumulation of contacts and the consequent stretch of the network, it is also personal.
Every three months I send out a personal LI DM (LinkedIn Direct Message) to my contacts. I start by saying that if they find such a message disruptive then there is no point in us being connected on LinkedIn; that gets rid of the time-wasters.
I then go on, in the style of a concise newsletter, to write about the work I’m doing, the companies I’m working with as well as the publications I’m writing for. I share things that I like, things that have impressed me and try to add a little humour and wit through links and other things of value.
This takes me time to do. LinkedIn only allows DMs to be sent to 50 contacts at a time, so doing this 52 times to my 2,600 contacts takes time,even though I enjoy the Zen of it. But it is utterly worth it.
I reach engagement levels of up to 30% and the long tail of a LinkedIn inbox is that a month after sending the DM I am still receiving replies from contacts. Some are glad I’ve reminded them what I’m doing, many ask for mutual contacts, a lot offer business opportunities and others suggest improvements to any future messages I might send.
So my advice (and I know there’s been way TOO MUCH advice from Westerners to Africans over the years, but pleases bear with me) is to spend more energy on building a network with LinkedIn than Facebook.
Not only is it the way that Westerners do their business, there are a number of features such as Groups that can help African entrepreneurs organise themselves. It is also an amazing channel to monitor and to understand the hustles that we use and how they can be integrated with your hustles.
I know I sound as if I’m on the payroll with LinkedIn, but I am just emphasising how important it is as a conduit between Africa and the West.
For non-English speaking countries, the alternative to LinkedIn is Viadeo,but that is another story and one that perhaps I can talk about at another time.
If you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, I’m here
About the Author
He writes regularly on mobile, tech, and social for The Economist,Mashable, TechCrunch, the Huffington Post, Wired UK and has a weekly column for UK broadsheet-The Telegraph.
He talks regularly on the BBC World Service and at global events covering Mobile and Digital, and he was previously a Bollywood actor in India. At his previous company commercial role at mobile game publisher Player X,they failed the game-Angry Birds,but that’s another story..