Social media has become the ultimate tool for disruption: it promotes innovation, quick thinking, responsiveness and a level of engagement hitherto unknown. It has birthed many movements around the world and supported just as many causes, but we must question the way it is used in Nigeria.
– By Tabia Princewill
Social media means big business in the lifestyle and consumer products industries in Nigeria, with many young people calling themselves ambassadors or consultants for one brand or the other, helping to grow its online presence and boost its popularity. Many young Nigerians are advertisers of popular goods and services produced by multinationals and other established conglomerates in our aspirational society where what you own defines you.
In fact, a number of blogs, websites and social media posts are devoted to empty consumerist fantasy where viewers are encouraged to drool over celebrity wealth and purchases without any critical thinking as to how those things were obtained, further encouraging the get rich quick, corrupt narrative.
Many young Nigerians are passive consumers of these images (not many can in fact afford the luxury products advertised) rather than producers of wealth themselves. The online space is dominated by would-be influencers and taste-makers shepherding their followers towards envy and a lack of contentment. Few engage their audiences on the subjects that matter.
Don’t get me wrong, if you have a knack for social media marketing, by all means, use whatever talent you possess to gain independence and establish a legitimate business. If that’s digital marketing then so be it. I simply wonder how many online marketers and influencers have a long term strategy to stand out in a crowded digital space. Many offer the same services with little value added, which is why, as is typical of many business services in Nigeria, cronyism and nepotism get most people contracts or business opportunities rather than the strength of their proposal or offering.
Nevertheless, a few young people do take on big issues and conversations that matter. They’re known for their tweets and posts on topical issues (mostly political) and eventually they become the personal assistant of some politician or other, at which point they abandon any pretensions of social activism.
Young Nigerians have so far been passive, complicit agents of the maintenance of a status quo which doesn’t benefit them. Rarely do we use our combined strengths and creativity to speak out against social ills in a sustained manner. The closest we came to this was during the Occupy movement and of course, during the 2015 elections when the youth vote and social media presence was credited with the APC’s win. However, Nigerians in particular have historically been poor at keeping up the momentum and holding governments to account by continued scrutiny of their activities. In that regard, our use of social media remains somewhat disappointing.
Yes, there are a plethora of organisations such as BudgIT or Enough is Enough whose social media presence or release of timely infographics spurs debate and conversations online. But these hashtag-fuelled discussions don’t seem to translate into much movement or change offline which is the problem. One must therefore wonder what the true purpose of an influencer is and who we should define as such.
Is an influencer merely someone who can help a company sell products or someone who is at the forefront of social impact? We’ve been rather conservative in our use of digital tools, despite all the fanfare surrounding social media in Nigeria. Influencers are yet to harness the power of their audiences to sway public opinion in favour of a lasting difference to our society.
Is it enough to convert your audience into buyers or should we all aim towards making our followers, those we engage with, receptive, active citizens who can gradually replace or substitute the old, dysfunctional way of doing things in Nigeria with something new and more valuable? In short, are influencers ready to walk the talk? Is online popularity enough to build a sustainable brand? Or should this be accompanied by transformative power to turn inactive followers into a movement for something bigger than ourselves? Many of us won’t be bothered by such questions. But those who care to find the answers will stand the test of time. They will go down in history as the first to build a brand of service to ordinary people and not just to those who already have power and influence and are looking to gain more of it.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.
Tabia Princewill is a journalist, strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst whose articles and contributions on various topics (from lifestyle to international politics, African development and public policy) have been published both locally and internationally, notably by Le Monde, Libération, ThisDay newspapers, Vanguard newspaper (where she currently writes a weekly column on politics and development) and the Guardian newspaper. She is currently a special assistant to the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) of Lagos, Mr. Tunji Bello.