We live in an information age, which according to Wikipedia is a period in human history characterised by the shift from industrial production to one based on information and computerisation.
The invention of telephone, the printing press, radio and television gave birth to mass media: marking the earlier phase of the age of information. But it was the computer and all its evolutionary forms which gave rise to the internet that made information ubiquitous and easily accessible, thus opening the floodgates of information to the greatest possible number of people. It doesn’t stop there. Advances in nano-technology and bio-technology among others, will soon further raise access to information and knowledge to a level of ubiquity that only our imagination can limit.
Our world, as we know it, has been innovating since the dawn of time, which has witnessed a period of transition from the nomadic era to the agricultural era where land was the main capital and produce was the main trade. The bi-product of the agriculture era was the usefulness of invention. The invention of the engine paved the way for the factory, which gave rise to the industrial age. In the industrial age, factories were the main capital and labour was traded for money. The bi-product of the industrial era was the focus on communications technology. Computers brought forth the internet, which ushered in the information age. The information era has information and data as its main capital with knowledge as the main product that is being traded for money. The bi-product of the information era is the speedy spread of knowledge.
Knowledge-born innovativeness hastens the pace of problem-solving and facilitates our transformation from mere consumers of knowledge into creative users and prolific producers of knowledge.
In the age of information, it is not anymore simply what you know and how much you know; but also how you can use what you know to create something that produces value for others as well as for yourself.
The rise of a new era
However, there is an on-going argument that thanks to mobile screens, micro-computers and internet everywhere, we are entering a new era that some call it either the experience age, hybrid age or the era of innovation. What is important is that it is an era where creativity is its main capital with innovation as the main product. While these innovations can come in the form of something tangible such as a physical product, or something intangible like an idea, they may also come in the form of a service that is a mix between the two. Regardless of its form, what people will be paying for or interested in are essentially fresh ideas, never-before-tried solutions, original concepts, unique services, new products, unusual experiences, etc.
I am glad that the emphasis of this gathering is on how to leverage information and digital technology to sustain the change agenda. It will interest us to know that the historical elements of the change agenda took its present form with the aid of communication technology, which includes the traditional media (print, radio and television) and the new media (i.e. social networks especially Facebook and Twitter). They are the icons of the information age, a period dominated by desktop computers and an organisation or government’s mission to organise all the world’s information. The icons of the new era look much different, and are born from micro-computers, mobile sensors and high-speed connectivity.
In the information age, the start of communication was information. In the new era there is a shift away from information towards experience – the stories we tell each other now begin and end visually, making the narrative more literal than ever. The central idea of the new era is this, I’ll show you my point of view, and you give me your attention.
The role of Mobile devices
What’s driving this shift? Mobile phones and tablets have changed how we interact online. With a connected camera televising our life-in-the moment, the desire for continual self-expression has taken the driving seat. Today, the feedback loop connecting sharing and attention starts and ends on mobile devices; in the future it could start with contact lenses and end in Virtual Reality (VR).
Two billion people use mobile phones, according to James Katz, professor of communication at Rutgers University. Mobile internet capability allows them to check into social media websites, read communications from their friends and colleagues and send quick replies. At times, the communication isn’t text but a photo completely removing the needs for words to convey a response, feelings and even location. Also, people use the mobile camera in order to capture the funny, intense, memorable moments. Mobile phones certainly replaced the market of camera, now people do not buy additional camera because they have their mobile phone with them.
There is a decline in the sale of desktop computers, according to the latest figures from IDC, a research outfit, the worldwide PC shipments totalled 71.9 million units in the fourth quarter of 2015, a year-on-year decline of 10.6 percent. The research noted that one of the causes of decline is attributed to competition from mobile phones and tablets.
If we are going to leverage on information and digital technology to sustain the change agenda, our primary focus should not just be on information dissemination but on the creation of unusual experiences – employing new media applications like Snapchat Live, Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope – to get those who are not part of the change agenda conversation to join in the conversation. The benefit of these applications unlike Twitter and Facebook platforms is that they were built to take advantage of mobile phone cameras and high speed connectivity (4G Cellular).
Why am I bullish about mobile technology (in this context mobile phones and tablets)? And does it relate to the Nigerian market?
Internet penetration in Nigeria and its users
According to 2013 World Population Review report, Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent in the world. However, despite its size and population, Africa, according to the internet world statistics accounts for only seven percent of the world’s internet users. At the same time, some parts of the continent have developed a robust technological culture: Egypt and Nigeria for instance, were ranked among the top 20 countries in terms of their number of internet users in the world. In 2012 Nigeria occupied the 11th position on this list with a total of 48.36 million user.
This high level of internet penetration can be attributed to the use of mobile phones; Neil Gough writes that “the number of subscribers in Nigeria, the world fastest-growing market according to the International Telecommunications Union, increased by 143 percent in the 12 months to June 2003.” According to the Nigerian Internet User Survey, the highest users are students at tertiary institutions who fall between the ages of 18-27 (Jidenma 2011). It is only logical to expect that with such a high level of internet usage among Nigerians, especially students, our method of approach should not dwell on heavy form of media but should instead be focused on providing them the opportunity to see our point of view and they to give us their attention.
The Digital Culture In Nigeria
Nigeria as a developing country witnessed a rapid change in the last two decades after the government opened her doors to technological investors from both within and outside the country. Prior to this time, the Nigeria Telecommunication Plc (NITEL), the state-owned communication agency, monopolised the communication sector and few Nigerians had access to computers and the internet. However, with the deregulation of NITEL in 1992, the information technology sector boomed; investors like MTN, GLO, and Econet emerged to invest in modern telecommunication infrastructure. This also increased the level of technological awareness as many Nigerians gained access to a range of telecommunication /technological products and services, including mobile phones, smartphones, digital tablets, the internet, and PC computers. Nigerians now engage in various web-based activities for both academic and non-academic purposes. Many of these web-based activities, especially social networking, are performed via mobile phones. Emil Protalinski reports that at the end of June 2012, 56.86 percent of Facebook total user base connects via mobile devices (2012). According to a report by Techloy, Nigeria topped the list by accounting for 80 percent of this group (Loy Media 2012).
Creating change agenda contents for the millennials
There is growing evidence that Snapchat, Periscope and Instagram are three visual social networks popular among Millennial. These are the target audience that though they may be hard to sell, if we get them hooked to the change agenda, they can sustain our cause. For the uninitiated, there is a need to breakdown the three social networks and how to make use of them.
Snapchat is a messaging app which allows users to share photos or short videos along with captions to their friends or groups of friends. It is the fastest growing social network with nearly 100 million daily users watching a staggering eight billion videos every day. Out of those, over 70 percent is made up of Millennial. Snapchat is great for sharing-in-the-moment, real experiences. We can create a “change begins with me” content by doing a day-in-the-life of well-meaning Nigerians as it relates to the change begins with me campaign. Viewers will be intrigued to get a sneak peek on how their story evolves and the messages behind them.
Periscope is a video streaming platform which allows users to share live video with real-time interaction. Periscope boast an impressive 350,000 hours of video streamed daily. Around 50 percent of Periscopes users are between the ages of 25 and 34. For us, Periscope can be the perfect window into the government’s change agenda. We can engage live with Nigerian users for feedback or give them the opportunity to ask questions related to the change agenda.
Instagram, the photo (and video) sharing application is the most established platform out of the ones mentioned, with 85 percent of the top brands engaging some of its 300 million monthly active users. Taking advantage of people’s love for great photography, incorporating storytelling, and interacting with our followers will give us an ideal platform for engaging with Nigerians. Instagram is great for competitions, “like for a chance to win” is a quick and easy contest for Nigerians to enter. Alternatively, we can ask Nigerians to take a selfie in chosen locations and tag a theme in the photo to be in for a chance to win. We can use Instagram to build a community around the “change begins with me” campaign by encouraging them to take photos of how they hope to effect change that will be of great benefit to Nigeria using the “change begins with me” hashtag and featuring the best photos shared each week on the instagram account.
To succeed, there is a need to make sure that whatever content is created is unique to the employed platform. What is important here is that we are telling a change agenda story by engaging and inspiring our users. We can also cross promote these platforms with our traditional media and existing social media assets. An Instagram contest can easily be used to drive traffic to our Facebook page; we could use a Periscope stream to encourage visitors to our website; or ask our Snapchat followers to head over and engage with us on Twitter.
The Essence of Leveraging on Information and Digital Technology
To create an unusual experience, there is a need to join some innovative governments who have realised that their primary responsibilities is not only to improve the lives of the people they serve, but also to demonstrate their value and increase civic engagement by using technology and a customer-focused mind-set to innovate and better serve citizens.
These innovative governments have realized this and are using technology and a customer-focused mind-set to innovate and better serve citizens, whether for setting up a business or renewing a driver’s license. In my opinion, the governments who really get it understand three key things, borrowed from the consumer digital/technology sector:
Scale matters. It sounds obvious, but it’s so important that it has to be said. In the consumer internet sector, we understand that a large audience is everything: social networks become more valuable when more people sign up for them, and websites have more influence when more people read them. To have a substantial impact, government services need a substantial audience. When new apps allow residents to buy fishing licenses, check transit schedules, or pay their local taxes on time, the impact adds up. Too many governments measure impact in terms of thousands of downloads or impressions, rather than tens of thousands or even millions. The ones who are really innovating aim bigger.
Engagement depends on smart segmenting. To attain private-sector standards of engagement and conversion, we must also segment and target our audiences — while also respecting citizen privacy. Communications specifically tailored to audience interests are more relevant, which makes those communications more likely to capture attention and engage citizens in programs and initiatives of value.
For example, to better coordinate sanitation services, government can offer junk pick-up reminders to residents through the central communication platform, segmented by location. More households can sign up to receive text message alerts one week before and one day before junk is scheduled for curbside pickup.
Influencers improve engagement. Getting the right message into the hands of the right people creates a viral effect, and we can and should tap into this phenomenon. A 2014 Pew Research study showed that fewer than 30% of adults completed common government services digitally. The key component here is that many citizens may not know about the digital offerings available to them. That’s where advocacy marketing, finding key influencers to help drive our message across, can help.
But uncovering and leveraging these advocates can be a challenge. By identifying and speaking differently to highly engaged audiences, those who are more likely to share content with friends and family, we can capitalize on members of the public to help further disseminate their information. For example, government can leverage insights into top sharers of digital content to determine cross-promotional campaigns they may respond well to.
To sustain the change agenda, there is an urgent need to establish a digital central communication platform exclusively for government, which will house the right technology and well thought-out communications strategy that would churn out streamlined, consistent experience to creatvely engage the public through proactive multichannel communications – including email, SMS, social media and RSS feeds.
When we have succeeded in drawing people’s attention to the change mantra through the information and digital technology, there are three important consequences. First, we need to become masters of “attention management”, which is making sure that people are focused on the right set of issues, and not distracted by the dozens of equally interesting issues that could be discussed. A surplus of, as Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon noted, creates a deficit of attention. That is the real scarce today.
Second, we have to get the right balance between information and judgement in making important decisions. As Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, observed, there are two types of decisions: “there are decisions that can be made by analysis. These are the best kind of decisions. They are fact-based decisions that overrule the hierarchy. Unfortunately there’s this whole other set of decisions you cannot boil down to a math problem.” One of the hallmarks of Amazon’s success, arguably has been its capacity to make the big calls based on judgement and intuition.
Finally, the ubiquity of information means a careful balance is needed when it comes to sharing. Keeping everything secret isn’t going to work anymore – but pure transparency has its risks as well. We have to become smarter at figuring out what information to share with the media or online influencers, and what public information to keep track of for their own benefits.
We have to build a competitive position on harnessing information and knowledge more effectively than our predecessors. And with information now ubiquitous and increasingly shared, it is of necessity that we are present everywhere, online and offline, to retell our story from our point of view.