Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ignore Us At Your Peril

 crowd-celebrating0001 Last week I wrote about the multi-storey car park at MMA2 and used it as a point to express my concern about what could potentially be the beginning of decay at that airport. After writing that post, I went over to MMA2's website and submitted a complaint on their help page. In the week since, I have not been contacted by email.

A few weeks ago, I did a piece on MTN in which I criticised their mobile Internet service. Now I didn't send a link to them to them via email, instead I sent them a link on Twitter. I never got an response or a comment and shortly afterward @mtn_nigeria disappeared from Twitter.

One of Nigeria's greatest shames is the abysmal electricity situation. A movement called the Light Up Nigeria Movement (or LightUpNigeria) was started on Twitter and now has its home at www.lightupnigeria.org. LightUpNigeria is intent on using the Internet and other media to raise a groundswell of voices putting pressure on the Nigerian government to address the electricity problem. In fact several events are planned by LightUpNigeria to mark the upcoming Independence Day anniversary.  The movement has even drafted a Proclamation. I have not been able to find any indication that this effort has been acknowledged by the government.

These three examples, particularly the last one, show the ability to use the Internet and its technologies by Nigerians to engage service providers and governments. The problem is the service providers and government are not engaging us in return. Twitter and it’s home-grown clones like NaijaPulse and Kukurooku in particular are excellent tools that can be mined to find out what web-savvy Nigerians thinking and focusing on are and Facebook, is a great place to engage one on one with customers and constituents.

Aside from these tools, there is the Nigerian blogosphere where the more eloquent Nigerians engage in conversations in their blogs on politics, technology, faith, their loves and their pain points. The wealth of Nigeria’s brain trust is freely available on the internet for every business, institution, and government agency to harness for product development, process improvement, idea generation, crime prevention, technological advancement, and societal transformation.

However, they are not listening.

There are over ten million Nigerians – people living in Nigeria – on the Internet. Not to mention the vast number of Nigerians in the Diaspora who remain very relevant to the Nigerian story.  That may account for less than 10% of our population, but we are growing everyday. You can’t ignore us. And I don’t mean filling our inboxes with unsolicited email messages or taking over every whitespace on Facebook. Loy Okezie pointed out that more and more Nigerian businesses are engaging in the use of social media (Facebook, twitter et al), but I am unconvinced that they are using these tools the right way. The day of the one-way blast of adverts is at an end. Mashable recently did an article on how to use social media to collect feedback from customers. Our political and business organisations have to engage us. Hear what we have to say. That encourages us to listen to them in turn. When our voice finds its way into products or processes and we see evidence of that, it wins and keeps our loyalty.

It seems like Barack Obama has been US President forever, but it was only a year ago when he won the election by, amongst other things, engaging the minds and hearts of the Internet generation in the US, a strategy he is continuing as president. Assuming the Republicans were doomed to lose the elections, the other Democratic hopefuls lost out, in part, because they did not realise just how vital it was to capture this demographic. Instead Obama turned them into his army of volunteers. He used the Internet to tell them his vision for the country, and by listening to them, he made them his voice.

We know what Nigeria is now, we are no USA, we do not have the depth of internet penetration that the Americans have. However, a savvy governor or a smart brand can use the Internet to create a movement for unstoppable positive public action or to exponentially extend the power of their brand. LightUpNigeria is doing the reverse – letting the leaders know what we are agitating for, keeping the pressure on. It is extremely unwise for the government not to figure out some way to use this ready, willing, and eminently able movement, virtually presented on platter of gold, to tackle the electricity problem, to “crowd source” the solutions. Nigerians are the among scrappiest people on the planet. We have shown our ability to adapt to the worst and thrive. We can figure it out and show the world a solution that will amaze. The relevant government ministry should actually sponsor the conversation on www.LightUpNigeria.org, give regular updates on progress, highlight the various contractors doing specific projects and inform Nigerians of setbacks.
At the very least they should soothe the beast before it becomes savage.

This post is not about electricity or infrastructure problems. It is about the fact that the coming of the internet age to Nigeria is an end to the inability of the people to speak and be heard. We will speak with our tweets and our blogs and that will eventually become our speaking with our votes and with our money. Listen to us now and one day, when our voice is powerful enough, that will be the sound that will carry you in our high offices, or to the highest pinnacles of business success.

Ignore us and you do it to your peril.


Photo Courtesy of mattinnigeria.wordpress.com/