People Power and Goal-Oriented Social Networks
The case for NaijaMetro.com as a business rating and review platform
What is goal-oriented social networking?
Amazing things can happen, when a small group of people leverage the power of social media and the internet. As the saying goes – “A tree cannot make a forest, but it can make an oasis.” In this digital age you don’t need a million dollar printing press or a huge newspaper publication to reach hundreds of thousands of readers. The most popular Nigerian web sites get hundreds of thousands hits per day. Five out of the top ten Nigerian sites are news and entertainment related.1 While it’s good to be well informed and entertained, social media and in particular goal-oriented social networks can be used in more valuable ways to empower people and improve their socio-economic status. An example of this is the LightUpNigeria, a socio-political movement that started on Twitter several years ago. There is much more to blogging and social media. How about a business rating and review platform? A hybrid between a discussion forum and business directory.
This platform would adapt the interactive nature of the internet to make the traditional business listing much more useful, engaging and even fun. Imagine spending your hard earned money at a fastfood (quick service) restaurant and the food was not so fresh or the service was slow and unfriendly. You would probably simply tell a few friends and forget about it. What if there’s platform where thousands of customers like you, can rate and review goods and services. Wouldn’t you rather share your experience in a place that would have more impact? And if the management in that restaurant knew about this would they not take your complaints more seriously? I’m sure most people would agree that the answer to the last two questions is YES!
When a new restaurant is launched, how do you decide if you should try it out or not. The more adventurous person may simply choose to explore the new culinary experience. The more cautious would prefer to hear what others say about it. Those who have tried it would also like to share their opinion. Facebook and Twitter do not quite serve this purpose, meanwhile an online business rating website would be the perfect solution.
In a country like Nigeria, with 1/4 of the population and the 2nd largest economy in Africa, the stakes are very high for most businesses. When you have over 100 million mobile phone subscribers, many with internet access, information travels very fast. No profit minded business can afford to have negative publicity in this type of environment. And they will certainly put in a lot of effort to ensure that their brand maintains a positive image.
The idea of a customer review and rating forum is certainly not new. Several travel/tourism web sites have been using this feature for several years. Traveladvisor.co.uk and Hotels.com are good examples. As a matter of fact, these sites also feature Nigerian hotels, however no Nigerian web site is currently doing this effectively. A few, like lostinlagos.com and abujafood.com have made commendable attempts but don’t seem to have generated much interest. This could be due to technical challenges or general lack of interest from the prospective audience. Perhaps they failed to engage their audience in a meaningful way. The advantages of this type of rating service are numerous. It could be used to give feedback about any type of business or service from auto mechanics to dentists or even educational institutions. Would it not be helpful to have access to previous customer feedback when you need to decide who to fix your car, install your generator or air conditioner or even which school to send your child?
Why is a business review and rating platform important?
Even in more industrialized countries where most businesses are world class in terms of quality, people still need customer reviews to help them make smarter choices. In the Nigerian context, where standards are not always strictly enforced it is even more critical to have alternative means of consumer advocacy. People have the power, through goal-oriented social media, to put real pressure on service providers. Since no profit generating business can afford negative publicity, there is a real incentive for business owners and their employees to provide the best quality at a competitive price.
Who wants to pay extra for less quality? People want good value for their money, and any platform that helps them achieve this, should be welcome. Time is very important in this market and the ratings need to be current. Personnel and staff or even management can change at any time, and this can affect quality of products. If a business offered great service a few years ago, what about last month or even last week?
How do you mobilize a million people?
Two of the most successful examples of goal-oriented social networks in Nigeria are EnoughIsEnough (EIE) and LightUpNigeria. They have been in existence for some years now and are still very relevant. Both have used social media like Twitter and Facebook effectively to inform, empower and mobilize a huge number of people. Even though EIE has just under 3,000 “Facebook Likes” compared with some other Nigerian entertainment groups with over 100,000 “Likes”, I would argue that EIE has been quite successful. Sometimes all you need is a handful of committed people to create massive change from the status quo.
The famous Egyptian social-media inspired revolution is often attributed to the “Google guy” Wael Ghonim. Most people don’t know about the other individuals who were really behind the massive mobilization of the Egyptian populace. In her new book, Get Bold, Sandy Carter (IBM VP, Social Media Evangelism) describes how researchers at DeepMile Networks2 were able to identify 8 most influential tippers. Using very advanced filtering algorithms they were able to sift through millions of tweets and messages and pin point the few people who were behind the movement. These relatively unknown people were able to create viral tweets and messages that reached millions of people around the world.
"Among the influential eight were citizens of Tehran, Sudan, The Arab Emirates, France and United States; in fact only three of the eight were Egyptians… They had no official position, but when they spoke people listened and reacted."3
According to Dr. Monday Gala, member of the Association of Nigerians Abroad that vigorously opposed the Nigerian military government in the early 90s – only 3 individuals were responsible for coordinating the group’s activities. They were able to broadcast “Radio Kudirat” and also pressure the Canadian government to initiate the expulsion of Nigeria from the Commonwealth.
A call to action
Market forces can be channeled through social networks to create improved accountability in the service industry. Anyone with internet access can get involved in the process.
The star rating system, one of the key features in social media, is a very powerful tool for customer feedback. Very similar to the well known Facebook "Like" button, but even better because it allows various degrees of approval. Is it open to abuse? Yes, very much so. Does this make it redundant or unreliable? Absolutely not. Several powerful tools or inventions are open to abuse. The automobile is vunerable to accidents, however this doesn’t make it less valuable or relevant to modern society.
So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and make a difference in your community. Don’t just complain and criticize, don’t curse the darkness, light your own little candle and see what a difference that will make.
1Top ten Nigerian content web sites (Alexa: Nov. 2012)
2DeepMile Networks is an American consulting firm based in Washington DC, specialized in data science and analytics.
3Carter, Sandy. Get Bold. (Upper Saddle river, NJ: IBM Press, 2012) 183.