Amid all the hype about the Internet and social media transforming Africa's development and democracy, ten African digital innovators give tips on how online information and social media can better meet people's needs.
The digital innovators, who came from eight different African countries, recently met in Nairobi, Kenya for a three-day Social Media Dialogue. Here are their tips drawn from their own experiences.
Use local languages. Fodé Kouyaté, Guinea
Up until now, most of what has been put on the Internet by Africans has been in the language brought to us by our colonizers – French, English, etc.. If we want to reach out to more people we have to start using the languages that people speak everyday and understand best. When we set up the site Guineevote.com we created sections in two local languages – Mandinka and Fulfulde. In these sections, the writers would mainly summarize the information we were giving in French on the main site.
Train people to use social media properly. Njeri Wangari, Kenya
Kenya is ahead of many other African countries when it comes to blogging and the use of Facebook and Twitter. Blogs and social media now have a big impact on mainstream media and politics in Kenya. We've seen, however, that we need to train people on the basics of blogging and about how to use social media properly. If you want new voices you have to go out and find them and equip them – it just doesn't happen by itself. For our Kenya Monitor project we recruit people from the community who can write stories about what's happening in the community. These stories are very different to what is covered in the mainstream media. When we do this type of training we're not only teaching people how to use the tools but how to use them responsibly. Some people do not understand the power of social media and the harm they can do online.
A mixture of digital and analogue technologies can ensure benefits even for those without Internet access. Sylvestre Ouédraogo, Burkina Faso
One of the questions that preoccupies me is how people can benefit from social media even if they don't have access to the Internet? We know a lot of the population across the continent don't have Internet access either because they can't afford it, don't know how to use it or there simply isn't good coverage where they are. So we can create hybrid solutions for them. For example, we created an app for smart phones that has information about health issues for young women. The big difference is that this app works without the Internet. All the content is already stored in the app. If the women need extra information, they can then call a number. We can then add this new information to the next version of the app. It is a sort of interactivity. It is not very impressive maybe, but it works.
Get off the beaten track and tell our own stories. Israel Guebo, Ivory Coast
When we grew up, we learned our history from text books written in Europe. So many Africans don't know the history of their own country. I want to understand the history of our villages and get to know our local traditions. We need to start telling our own stories. This is what I'm trying to achieve with the website Helloafrika.net. The contributors to the site take local transport to places where traditional media don't go. We live with local people and try to stay at least a few days. It is the only way to get to know people. On the site we then tell the stories of how people are living today, but also look at the history of places as told by the people who live there.
Trust those online to inform those offline. Yemi Adamolekun, Nigeria
We are very clear that we are not an organization for all young Nigerians. We are strongest in the places where people have Internet access. We appeal to Nigerians who have access to technology and are literate. But this doesn't mean we don't have the non connected in mind. We figure if we can reach young tech-savvy Nigerians, their job is to find other people who are offline and educate them. If everybody does that, the multiplier effect will be huge.
Infographics work, even for the illiterate. Mac-Jordan Degadjor, Ghana
We know that many in our societies are illiterate and offering them long text articles just isn't going to work. With the project Ghana Decides we had a lot of success with high quality infographics. For example, we had one that showed the election results in the various regions across Ghana by color. We try to make it try easy for the average Ghanaian who can't read or write. If I were to show this infographic to an 80 year-old grandmother she would probably understand. Infographics make data very sexy and easy to comprehend.
Use local language and audio to get new voices online. Souleymane Niang, Senegal
We know that a barrier for many people to getting online is literacy. There are lots of people out there who have interesting things to say, but can only express them orally in local languages. We are interested in these people. They don't have much access to the media and they are often part of marginalized groups. We're particularly interested in local knowledge. At West Africa Democracy Radio we are developing audio blogs, which are recorded in local languages. They are then available online and can be broadcast on the radio too. We plan to translate the blogs into English and French too so that these previously unheard voices can get an even wider reach.
Make it easy for people to talk about what they are interested in. Anne Manza, Kenya
Traffic is the bane of everyone's existence in Nairobi. We provide information that people really need. Do this and people will come to you. We make it easy for people to contribute on Twitter, for example, where we have almost 300 000 followers. People really want to be heard. So you need to provide an easy way for them to express their views on a topic they want to talk about.
Find the right mix of traditional journalism and social media. Daouda Mine, Senegal
What we try to do at Seneweb.com is to mix more classical journalism with the input of bloggers and social media. We have a section that is written by professional journalists which concentrates on news and feature material plus a section which includes blogs from everyday people. We play on the reputation of traditional media to introduce people who have no experience with social media to these new platforms. The most read blog in any one week automatically becomes the blog of the week and is featured on our pages, which encourages even more people to contribute. We promote all of this with tools like Facebook and Twitter.
Be open if people don't appreciate your approach. Lindsey Kukunda, Uganda
When you start a social media project, it should be less about you and more about the people you are trying to impact. That means if you have an idea in mind, start your project as a fishing expedition. Be prepared for it not to go down well. You might have an idea but when you present it, you have hundreds of people who'll have a different idea of how it should work. You should be open to that. Sometimes your project might bomb and it's OK to let it go.
The 10 social media innovators were brought together by DW Akademie in November 2015 with the kind support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.