Benidito babbled away in Portuguese on his cellphone. “Not far now,” he told me. A little further down the potholed road he turned off onto a rough track. With the cellphone at his ear giving him directions, we beat our way through the long grass until we came to a cashew tree next to a field of cabbages, tomatoes and other vegetables. An old man with a hoe in his hand waved. We’d arrived.
It was Mozambique, and I was involved in a development project aimed at getting local farmers to move from subsistence to some kind of commercial activity. With Benedito as guide and interpreter we were visiting community leaders to evaluate their capacity for such a move.
Initial impressions were negative, to say the least. But there was this – these people were in survival mode, eking a living from the land, yet every single one had a cellphone! I’m pleased to say that my low expectations were wrong. Many of the farmers are now producing food beyond their own family’s needs, and it could never have been done without the cellphone. The humble SMS enabled us to bring the farmers together and launch the education programme.
In the very different developed commercial world, however, the SMS is underrated. Yet it provides a potent means of talking directly to customers, co-workers and employees. I’ve just heard of a wide-awake farmer who averted a strike when he countered mischievous misinformation spread among the workforce by communicating directly with each of his workers via SMS.
While the cellphone opens up a new world of opportunities, it’s small cheese in today’s world of e-communication. Even the universally used website is being superseded by social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others. These media tools allow you to tell the world about your organisation and products, and enable the world to talk back.
Such wide use of digital social media is having an enormous impact on society. According to research by international consultants Accenture, Facebook topped 500 million users way back in 2010, and is growing at a rate of 500 000 new users daily. Twitter claims 105 million users, adding 300 000 a day.
While younger people were the predominant users in the past, older adults are becoming much more active these days. Accenture has found that Baby Boomers – now in their 60s and 70s – are connecting to social networking sites 20 times faster than younger generations. And no longer do people have to sit in front of their PCs to get connected – they carry the social media connection in their pockets, thanks to new ‘smart’ phones.
This has rendered the wasteful shotgun approach to communication obsolete. It’s now the aimed rifle shot that gives you the means to target the people you need to talk to. With my ‘interests’ listed as fishing, wildlife, bird watching and cycling, I am bombarded by advertisements for products in these fields on Facebook.
If a new supermarket opens in the platteland town in which I live, there’s an advert on my Facebook page. And it’s not limited to selling goods, it’s for communicating on a wide array of subjects – lobbying for any cause you may chose to support.
The farming community and its many special interest organisations should be actively using these social media tools to win friends and influence people.
But to get the best out of these communication tools there’s homework to be done. Before you launch, get to know the difference between the many options and consult a recognised specialist in the field. This technology is changing the world and can’t be ignored.
Contact Peter Hughes at [email protected]. Please state ‘Managing for profit’ in the subject line of your email.