Gmail is indisputably the greatest mailing service that happened to Uganda since the Post Office. Its sister service Google+ thus comes out as more widely known than any other social media name only to emerge as the one with the highest number of dormant accounts too: A bunch of Gmail users actually see ‘Plus’ whenever they login to their email but have no idea it’s a social network, comparable in behavior and nature to Facebook.
Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter are the most commonly used social media platforms, with LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Viber, Pinterest, Google+ and now Snap Chat still playing catch-up. A 2015 survey by Geopoll revealed that up to 44% of local mobile phone users access Facebook via their mobiles.
The exact numbers of users on each platform is not clear but the national communications regulator puts internet penetration in Uganda at 33.9% with total users at 12.9 million and mobile subscription at 6.5 million people.
With the number of youths acquiring smart phones growing at breakneck speed, WhatsApp, commonly referred to as the smart life, has become a buzzword in urban areas and among university students. Interestingly enough, Twitter, still considered a reserve for the elite and those with vested interest in politics is also slowly gaining ground.
Government departments and prominent public figures have not lagged behind either: The president, political pundit Andrew Mwenda, BBC journalist Allan Kasujja and former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi rank among the most popular Ugandan tweeps, farther stamping the assertion that Twitter is for those with political interest. In addition to that, Ugandans who already use other social networks think it is noble and want to be party to the Twitter class but majority complain that the ‘#Hashtags thing’ that rules the platform is confusing. As a result, there are many abandoned Twitter handles.
Social media for business takes over
Until recently, MTN and Airtel, the two leading telecom companies in the country were more responsive to customer queries on Twitter and Facebook than the call centre and walk-in service centres; more than four messages could be responded to by their social media handlers before a single phone call to the service centre could get answered in the same period.
Though Airtel has since made their call centre faster and more efficient, service on the two online platforms is still better than the physical service centres. This is even truer for MTN that boasts of over 11 million subscribers out of an estimated 21 million phone users.
Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and Uganda Communications Commission are just a few of the tens of government agencies making good use of social media to serve their clients.
In December 2015, URA received resounding public applause after successfully tracking a fraudulently registered SUV (Toyota Prado) in Kampala following a tip by a concerned citizen on Twitter.
Local Musician Bobi Wine won the hearts of many when he posted on Facebook photos of locals in the city using leaves to cover a manhole in the middle of a busy road. KCCA responded in less than two hours by deploying a team from their engineering department to save face.
Everjobs Uganda, a job portal late last year launched into Instagram in search of job candidates. As I write this, top financial institutions including KCB Uganda, electricity distributor Umeme limited, Vodafone, among others have set up dedicated WhatsApp numbers to easily reach their clients.
It is not only doubtless but also prudent to say that social media is here to not only affect the way people interact, source for and distribute information in Uganda and other emerging economies around the globe but to change the landscape of public relations and customer service, to change for the better and it is evidently doing so already.
Guest post by Stephen Obeli Someday
Stephen Obeli Someday is a digital and content marketing Pro, start-up entrepreneur, Creative Designer, Writer and Business Blogger.