Social Media Guide Africa
AfricaAdapt | International Livestock Research Institute
A guide to understanding various different types of social media, and their potential role in accessing and sharing knowledge on climate change adaptation in Africa.

Africa Map.png Why use this guide?

Are you a researcher, civil society practitioner (from a non-governmental or community-based organisation) or information intermediary working on climate change in Africa?
Then this guide has been created for you.

We also hope it will be a good read for anyone with a particular interest in social media too.

Social media are all the rage, globally, from the Twitter-supported Arab Spring of 2011 to American presidential elections, and the recent viral campaign against Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony (watch the Kony 2012 video.) And, Africa is no exception. With over 39.5 million Facebook users, Africa ranks fifth on the list of continents with the most Facebook users. Broadband is becoming increasingly available in urban neighbourhoods, and Vsat provides Internet in areas that don’t even have electricity. Mobile communication and social media are popular across Africa, and not only amongst the rich. People in African villages, schools, and cities are discussing and using social media. More people own mobile phones in Africa than in the U.S.A. and Africans are at the forefront of the recent global shift to mobile internet usage. 57% of tweets from Africa are sent from mobile devices, for example. In addition to Western social media such as Twitter, homegrown applications such as Ushahidi , Forgetmenot Africa, BlogSpirit, Mzalendo and Adloopz are putting Africa on the social networking map.

In development and research initiatives across Africa, local knowledge – i.e. generated by Africans or from an African perspective, not an external perspective – is so often not taken into account. And yet, Africa has a strong knowledge-sharing culture. Much of this still relies on traditional face-to-face interactions. Social media can bring expert and lay, indigenous and foreign, multi-disciplinary knowledge about climate change adaptation together from all corners of Africa, to jointly identify issues, question their assumptions, share information, learn together, carry out joint experiments and reflect together again. With more and more Africans engaging in social media and discovering creative new ways to use these tools, the continent now has an unprecedented opportunity to raise its voice and be heard across global forums. For example, in 2011 local councils in Cameroon introduced a new social network to increase public and government participation in climate change efforts. The idea behind the Cameroon Councils Against Climate Change Network is to improve communication between different local councils, exchange accurate climate change knowledge, and give local communities a voice.
The people of Africa can therefore use social media to generate awareness and exchange information on every issue and every agenda, including climate change adaptation.

The Social Media Guide Africa aims to inform, interest and inspire. It offers practical advice on sharing, accessing and exchanging climate change knowledge from and about Africa, using social media. This guide is by no means exhaustive, and will not solve all of your problems, but it is a good place to begin your social media journey. We hope it will encourage you to act, and trigger positive change in Africa.

What is social media?

Wikipedia the first social encyclopedia, states that social media "includes web-based and mobile technologies used to turn communication into interactive dialogue. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content." Enabled by "ubiquitously accessible" and "scalable" communication techniques, social media has substantially changed the way organizations, communities, and individuals communicate.

The following characteristics are typical of social media tools and platforms:
  • Social media connect people all across the globe - via networks of interest - who share messages with each other, comment, discuss, rate and create unique content.
  • Social media empower individuals to develop their own network-based learning environment, to challenge established institutions and power structures.
  • The networks of individuals connected through social media collectively analyse, assess and sometimes vote for content and actions that they come across through 'crowdsourcing'.
  • Social media can be infinitely combined and recombined, facilitating large-scale conversation and distributed problem solving; creating waves and endless possibilities for collective social action.
  • Next to crowdsourcing, the strength of social media networks is the incredible speed at which they allow to share information and news: when a plane crashes it is usually heard sooner on Twitter than on any large broadcasting television or radio network.

For more information, we recommend you read:
  • The Social Media: A Guide for Researchers (Research Information Network - February 2011)
    This guide provides practical information on a wide range of social media tools available which can facilitate the full research knowledge cycle. It helps researchers get to grips with social media and equips them with everything they need know before making an informed decision on which tools to use. If you only have time to read one document on social media, pick this one.

What social media can do

Social media tools, sometimes referred to as web 2.0 or participatory web, are about being “social”: interacting with people around you (be it your colleagues, customers, partners, audience or friends) and communicating online.

There are many different forms of social media and many different ways of communicating online.
Broadly, these are the main categories:

Blogging and microblogging
Writing and reflecting

Blogs and micro-blogs aim at sharing information with a wide audience. While blogging tends to be more reflective and feels more like diary writing, micro-blogging is primarily used for speedy sharing of thoughts, resources, announcements and news. For example:

Social networking
Sharing and chatting

One of the most popular categories of social media is the social networking site. Social networks allow people to interact, network, share content, chat, post updates, comment on each other's postings. They can be used for both personal and professional purposes. Some of these sites have developed their own niche, such as professional networking site Linkedin and internal social enterprise network Yammer. Other examples include:

Social bookmarking
Saving and finding quality content

Social bookmarking allows you to save links to each interesting thing you read online in a public space, so that others can also benefit from those finds. Social bookmarking lets you share your favourite links, categorize and rate them too. This saves a lot of time searching for good or relevant resources. For example:

Social writing

Social writing platforms enable a whole team to work on one single document or ‘social workspace’ - where lots of pages can be jointly developed. These platforms are particularly useful for planning and documenting events, writing proposals, and keeping track of teamwork. For example:

Social document sharing and management
Managing, sharing and commenting on information and documents

Entire collections of pictures, videos, audio recordings, presentations etc. can be stored together in dedicated platforms. All of these spaces allow rating and commenting of the content, plus following of special collections and channels. For example:

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Promoting African knowledge in practice can be achieved if Africans are involved in decision-making and participatory processes at various stages of the knowledge value chain (Mathieu Weggeman, 1997).

Social media can support each stage of the knowledge cycle; from identifying knowledge through online meetings, interactive questionnaires and social bookmarking, developing knowledge via social networking sites and collaborative spaces, to sharing knowledge online and taking advantage of social feedback functionalities for evaluating knowledge.

How to get started

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For organizations and networks exploring social media, before you do anything else, pause and ask yourself – “is it appropriate to pursue a social media strategy?”

You may decide against developing a detailed or lengthy strategy, but there are still some important pointers to take into consideration in your approach. In order to make the most out of social media you need to identify your target audience, your key content, your communication challenges, the changes you would like to see. The most successful strategies involve listening, engaging and exploring at all times.

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After creating your social media strategy, here are 5 practical steps you can follow for a successful start in social media:

1. Figure out what you want to get out of social media: Ask yourself the question, “What do I want to get out of social media?” The answer to this question should direct you to the type of social media activities you should participate in.

2. Create your profiles: Once you have determined what social sites you want to be a member of, it's time to create your profile. Think first about what is it you want other people or members of a common community to know about you.
  • Profile Name – This is the name you want the community to know you by. Create a name that describes the mission and goal of your organization well.
  • Profile Details – Take your time to come up with a great description of your organization. Keep it short, but informative. Including your organization's tagline, mission or vision statement is always a good place to start!
  • Website Links – Don't forget to add a link to your website(s). Link to other useful resources (publications) and always to other social media profiles if you have any, so that visitors can instantly find out more about your overall social media presence.

3. Learn more about the community(ies) you are part of: Learn from the community who works in your 'field' (e.g. climate change knowledge in Africa). With social media, sharing knowledge is power: share your (good quality) ideas, opinions and information and keep an eye on what the popular and most active members of the communities you are part of are up to.

4. Become an active member of the community(ies): Social media can be a lot of fun, very rewarding and powerful. But only if you are active. Being active with social media means posting content, comments, questions, ideas, sharing content and inputs from others, reacting to comments etc.

5. Reflect upon your social media experience and your network: It is crucial that you regularly take a step back to understand how much value you are getting from your presence through social media. Keep reflecting on these aspects of social media: your online behavior, content, platforms, network, objectives, conversations, and your results.

Want to find out more? We recommend you read:

IFAD Social Media Guidelines (International Fund for Agricultural Development - April 2011)IFAD's social media guidelines explain how IFAD has conceived its social media strategy and how staff members can practically engage with social media.This is a very good guide for beginners, and those who wish to refresh their memory and go4 back to basics.The presentation also provides a great introduction to social media, a general outline of how to use social media in practice, descriptions of some of the most popular social media tools and platforms, and some really handy tips.

How to define a social media strategy and Social Media for Research Institutions and Programmes (Peter Casier / Thinking Knowledge Wiki - February 2012)
This excellent resource is a collection of topics and links to support an exploratory discussion with a research project about social media. It contains everything from definitions, guidelines, tutorials and examples re:social media, to related stories, case-studies and interesting articles. We recommend using this portal asa window to all sorts of interesting thoughts, theories and practical solutions to using social media along the knowledge cycle.Several of the resources within the Thinking Knowledge wiki are Africa-specific, and others have an additional focus on climate change.

The 4Cs social media framework (Gaurav Mishra, CEO of social media & research company 20:20 WebTech - July 2009)Mishra focuses on the four underlying themes in social media, the '4Cs' of social media: Content, Collaboration, Community and Collective Intelligence, progressing towards increasing engagement, synergy and value creation - which can also be used as a model for digital activism. Taken together, these four themes constitute the value system of social media and go beyond the individual tools that are used.

Climate Conversations: Building climate resilience with social media (Alert Net, Thomson Reuters Foundation - June 2011)

This resource discusses areas of potential volunteer technology communities toward climate change. Social media tools are facilitating ‘borderless community action’ by networks of experts and practitioners that collaborate towards identifying and solving pressing problems to vulnerable populations in the developing world. Online social networking and exchange can further help to raise awareness onlocal priorities and foster a culture of information sharing and collaboration around climate change topics.

Doubts and pitfalls of using social media

The world now spends more than 110 billion minutes on social networks and blogs per month and there are indeed numerous benefits of using social media. However, not everyone gets excited by social media and many remain hesitant when it comes to sharing knowledge via these online tools and platforms.

Here are a few of the most common doubts and concerns and our response to them:

Lack of understanding
  • "I know what social media are but I don't know how to use them"

The sheer number of different social media tools and related literature might seem a little daunting at first, but don't let that put you off. The great thing about using social technology is that you are free to experiment with it. There are no rules, and there is no magic recipe for getting it right. Choose one or two tools to practice with to get you started.

Information Overload
  • "All this information on the internet is overwhelming"

The advantage of using social media is that social networks naturally filter out irrelevant or sub-standard information on any given topic. In other words, the wider online community saves you time by sorting out
the good resources from the bad for you. A quick search, with the right key words and phrases should lead you straight to what you're looking for. In the same way, social media can promote your own knowledge within the right networks and to the right audience too.

Privacy concerns
  • "I'm scared to share because others might steal my hard work"

One of the most common concerns voiced by those that resist sharing their knowledge, creativity and expertise via social media revolves around intellectual property rights, i.e. permissions over creations of the mind. Knowledgeable experts may fear other people in the same field taking advantage of their hard work and pinching unpublished data and results. The use of social media for sharing knowledge on any topic requires a degree of trust. Begin by adjusting your privacy controls until you feel comfortable.

Resistance to change
  • "I don't need social media - I've been using traditional knowledge sharing methods for years and they work fine"

Social media should not be looked at in isolation, but must be recognised as one part of a bigger picture. Ideally, you will be able to use a mix of more traditional methods of knowledge sharing and up-and-coming social technology to best promote African knowledge on climate change adaptation.

Quality assurance?
  • "Social media are trivial and lack authoritative perspective"

While the use of social media for entertainment and marketing purposes might seem trivial, it is worth pointing out that this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are a whole variety of social media available to play around with and, using collaborative platforms such as this Wikispace, the sky is the limit. Unlike traditional peer-reviewed or quality assured publications, social media helps filter quality and leads not to a traditional single-track authoritative perspective, but to community-based approval. The results are arguably superior, because if you don't produce great content, your knowledge will not fare well in the social media arena.

Personal vs. professional social networking
  • "I have a personal Facebook account, so I know how to use all social media..."

It is important not to underestimate the difference between using social networking in your personal life and using social media in a professional setting. Organizations and individuals making the shift from traditional offline knowledge sharing to social technologies should first think about why they want to use social media, what they are trying to communicate, how they are going to do that, and who they are targetting. Having a simple social media strategy like this maintains a standard approach to using social media for knowledge sharing and can avoid confusion and trouble further down the line.

Africa-specific limitations
  • "In Africa, so many people do not have access to the Internet"

Africa's telecommunications industry is growing at a faster rate than any other in the world and the continent is a dynamic market for social media. With an increasing number of home-grown social media platforms, plus rapid growth in the number of international social media tool users in Africa, it is clear that the Internet will expand across both urban and rural areas over the next few years. Social media provide a great opportunity for the people of Africa to share knowledge with the rest of the world at the click of a button; to add their voices to the global conversation on climate change. For those that can access the Internet, it is therefore certainly worth doing so.

Still sceptical? We recommend you read:

It's not information overload. It's filter failure. (Clay Shirky, speaking at Web 2.0 Expo NY - September 2008)
Video of an insightful presentation by Clay Shirky, writer and consultant on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. Shirky explains that the sense of being 'overwhelmed' by information in our day to day lives is not a fault on the part of the internet, but is a result of inadequate filtering. Using social media and the internet wisely eliminates this problem.

5 Tips to a Separate Personal and Professional Life Online (Amber Mac - May 2011)
Amber MacArther, social media entrepreneur and netcasting personality, gives sound and practical advice on the differences between personal and professional social networking, and how to keep the two separate.

The Chicken or the Egg Theory for Social Media (Ian Smith for Intelegia - June 2011)
Great article on the reasons for having a social media strategy.

All Organizations Are Social, But Few Are Social Organizations (Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald - October 2011)
This refreshing article describes a "social organisation" as one which is able to address significant challenges and opportunities through mass collaboration. Bradley and McDonald focus on treating every individual as a valued source of innovation, ideas and energy - which is exactly how all those sharing African knowledge on climate change should be regarded.

And now for some inspiration…
Development initiatives that are using social media for knowledge sharing

What is it?
The assignment provider of this guide - a bilingual network that facilitates the flow of climate change adaptation knowledge for sustainable livelihoods between researchers, policy makers, civil society organisations and communities who are vulnerable to climate variability and change across the continent.
To help users in Africa enrich and shape the content about Africa, the engineers at Google created Google Baraza in 2010. Baraza, which means “taskforce” or “council” in Swahili, allows people in countries across Africa to share knowledge with each other by asking questions and posting answers.
This World Bank-supported initiative entailed a campaign and a competition (both closed now), and a community that cares about climate change. "The goal of C4C is to raise awareness about climate change issues around the world, with an initial focus on Africa and its youth".
A network connecting people and organizations working in Africa for peer learning and information sharing
Knowledge Transfer Africa
Knowledge Transfer Africa is helping communities in making decisions about local empowerment initiatives. Young people are being trained to collect and process the information. Through this process, local communities could contribute their knowledge to global strategies for dealing with climate change.
ResearchGATE is a free social networking site and collaboration tool aimed at scientific researchers from all disciplines of science. It provides web applications including semantic searching (whole abstract searching) , file-sharing, publication database sharing...
Sauti Ya Wakulima
A knowledge sharing mobile network for farmers and other communities in Tanzania (smartphone application and online social tool open to everyone). By using smartphones, farmers gather audiovisual evidence of their practices and publish the images and voice recordings on the Internet, at
Created during aftermath of Kenya 2008 elections and now an open source tool for information collection, visualization, and interactive mapping.
WeADAPT is a collaboration between leading organisations on climate adaptation and includes new and innovative tools and methods, datasets, experience and guidance: weADAPT provides guidance by pooling expertise from a wide range of organisations that contribute to adaptation science and practice.

Common definitions

Blog: A blog (diminutive of web log) is an “online journal” that is updated with entries that appear in reverse chronological order. Blogs typically contain articles comments by other readers, links to other site, photos and videos.
Creative Commons: Creative Commons is a not-for-profit organization and licensing system that offers creators the ability to fine-tune their copyright, spelling out the ways in which others may use their works.
Crowdsourcing: Crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving process that involves a network of people, also known as the crowd (adapted fromCrowdsourcing’ on Wikipedia, accessed on 6 April 2012). On the Internet it often means that the online network crowd helps create, share, filter, assess content, or solve an issue, giving a richer opinion than would be possible with people offline.
Curation: Curation is the selection, preservation, maintenance, collection and archiving of content or other assets (adapted from ‘digital curation’ on Wikipedia, accessed 6 April 2012)
Embedding: Embedding is the act of adding code to a website so that a video or photo can be displayed while it is being hosted at another site. Many users watch embedded YouTube or videos or see FlickR or Picasa photos on blogs and websites rather than on the original site.
Facebook: Facebook is the most popular social networking site in the world. Users may create a personal profile, add other users as friends and exchange messages, including automatic notifications when they update their profile. Additionally, users may join common interest user groups, and Facebook pages of organizations.
Geotagging: Geotagging is the process of adding location-based metadata to media such as photos, video or online maps. Geotagging can help users find a wide variety of location-specific information. For instance, one can find images taken near a given location by entering latitude and longitude coordinates into a suitable image search engine.
Hashtag: A hashtag is a community-driven convention for adding additional context and metadata to tweets and messages on other social media. Similar to tags on blogposts, youcanadd hashtags to Twitter posts by prefixing a word with a hash symbol, e.g.#climate. Twitter users use hashtagto aggregate, organize and discover relevant posts.
Information: Information is understood in this guide as 'organised/formatted/packaged bits of text/signals that are usable by our senses': in print or images (sight and touch) and in sounds and music (sound).
Knowledge: Knowledge is a complex term and is understood in this guide as 'information in use'. It represents the way that we combine data and/or information with a variety of inner characteristics (experience, skills, attitude, emotions, interest, intention and need to use data and information) to make sense of data/information and apply it to a given situation where we need to apply it.
Metadata: Metadata refers to information - including titles, descriptions, tags and captions - that describes an online item such as a video, photo or blog post.
Micro-blogging: Micro-blogging is the act of broadcasting short messages to other subscribers of a Web service. E.g. On Twitter, entries are limited to 140 characters. Micro-blogging is also known as micro-sharing.
Outreach: The act or practice of visiting and providing the services to people who might not otherwise have access to those services (from Wiktionary, accessed 6 April 2012)

Social media: Social media are works of user-created video, audio, text or multimedia that are published and shared in a social environment, such as a blog, Facebook, Twitter or photo and video hosting site. More broadly, social media refers to any online technology that lets people publish, converse and share content online.
Social networking: Social networking is the act of socializing in an online community. A typical social network such as Facebook allows you to create a profile, add friends, communicate with other members and add your own media.
Tags: Tags are keywords added to a blog post, photo or video to help users find related topics or media, either through browsing on the site or as a term to make your entry more relevant to search engines.
Traditional media: Traditional media are understood here as the media that existed before social media appeared such as the radio, television, print media etc.
Twitter: Twitter is a popular micro-blogging social network that lets members post updates of no more than 140 characters.
Web2.0: Web 2.0 alludes to a second generation of the Web, putting emphasis on the people to share different types of content, ranging from text to photos, audio and video files, as opposed to broadcasting information towards them as was the case with earlier websites and interfaces.
Weblog: see blog.
Yammer: Yammer is a social network that is dedicated to organizations. It has a professional orientation but allows, like Facebook, to create an account, follow people, create groups and pages and share various updates in text, pictures, videos etc.
YouTube: YouTube is the world’s most popular video hosting site.
This glossary is partly based on and adapted from the glossary that the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) compiled for their social media guidelines - and selected among the key resources in this guide.

This social media guide was produced byAfricaAdaptand the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). It was compiled by Kara Brown, Liya Dejene, Tsehay Gashaw and Ewen Le Borgne.
With special thanks to Pete Cranston, Charles Dhewa, Carl Jackson, Jacqueline Nnam, Maren Radeny and Marten Schoonman for their contributions.