Tanzania’s love affair with social media

October 14, 2014

As one of the fastest growing social-media markets in Africa, Tanzania is quickly discovering the advantages of being a Twitter-literate nation.It may seem quite a feat for Dar Es Salaam to be named one of continent’s “Twitter city,” considering it is the capital of a developing nation in which only a quarter of the population have access to the internet at home, offices and selected public places. But a closer look at the rapidly growing commercial capital will uncover a national love affair with social media and plenty of potential.There are a bunch of reasons for the popular adoption of social media platforms among Tanzanians. One key contributor is the accessibility of mobile internet devices, mostly smartphones, which have doubled in usage over the past three years backed by increasingly affordable data plans which leading network operators Tigo and Vodacom have been offering.The other factor is Dar Es Salaam’s youthful demographic which has seen social media assume its position as a leading activity on the internet. And like it or not, traffic congestion in areas like Mbagala, Ubungo, Mandela road, Manzese, Kimara,Gongo la Mboto, Sinza among others has become a contributing factor in the city’s obsession with status updates and retweets. The most popular times for Tanzanians to login into their virtual communities is just before and after the conventional eight to five work day begins, or in other words, the odd hours all the to wee hours of the morning.Aside from the obvious social advantages that come with the popularity of being connected online, there are many more benefits that have grown from Tanzanians addiction with social portals such as Whatsapp, Viber, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

A restricted mainstream media news diet including newspapers and commercial television has long been scorned and it’s no secret that social media has taken over in cities like Arusha, Dar Es Salaam, Mwanza, Tanga, Bagamoyo, Mbeya and Dodoma. As major news companies redirect resources into their respective social media platforms, so too are the small organisations whose voices were once drowned out due to their limited budgets.“We now have new channels of information that we can use for exchanging information,” said Christine Chacha, a writer with Tanzania’s leading independent English newspaper The Citizen who has been dubbed by the online media as the “single in the city.” In a way Tanzanians can say that they feel more liberated. They have new media that is not controlled by companies and can say whatever they want. Interestingly, there is somewhat dependent relationship that has emerged between old and new media. Social media has become a “nexus” for news, meaning that it is now often referenced by the mainstream media due to its immediacy and efficiency.Social media produces much more conversation than mainstream media in Tanzania according to research and mainstream media is now “an amplification of what is happening on social media. That’s why if Tanzanians publish something on twitter it gets around much faster and its something of a continental practice as I’d noted here.

Establishing a strong social media following has now become crucial for both local and foreign companies who want to do business in Tanzania. The growth of business thanks to social media is an indicator of just how much Tanzanians like to interact and establish a relationship with their favorite brands rather than simply engaging with one-way advertising. Social media is, if not, more important than traditional forms of advertising in Tanzania and it is something that businesses must acknowledge. It is very important for businesses to ride on this wave because the importance for social media to be a priority in every business plan. A Presidential candidate worthy of running for country’s top job next year after the departure of President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, one need a Twitter, Instagram,Facebook pages at least where Tanzania is concerned.Next year’s presidential election is no doubt heating up and those vying for the top job will depend a lot to social media. Many point to the 2013 Presidential election as the turning point for social media in Kenya and greater East African politics. The populist Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta managed to garner hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers and thousands of YouTube fans to whom he promoted his values that attracted the young generation, the educated, and middle-class groups. Young upcoming leaders in Tanzania and other East African countries have not ignored Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta’s success and they are just as eager to capitalise on social media’s powerful reach, often promoting their Twitter handle alongside their campaign commitments and boasting about how many Facebook likes they’ve acquired. However, in Tanzania it’s a two-way street. Not only can politicians expand their platforms and promote their campaigns online, citizens can also educate themselves on elections and voice their concerns and thoughts through social media and social media has become a very important factor in shaping public opinion in Tanzania.

Contador Harrison