Social media marketing in Africa: the good, the bad, the viral

“The tweet that went international”

“From 100 followers to 1 million followers in just two months”

“Company’s stock price falls by $1 million- the Instagram post that shut down a company”


These are just a couple of headlines and the impact that social media has the ability to make. Both the good, the bad and, sometimes, the awful. Social media content often makes a statement when it goes viral. Don’t be fooled, however – viral content is quite formulaic and lies within the psychology of users.



Social Psychologist Dr. Sander van der Linden of the University of Cambridge has suggested that a tweet or a post can go viral through viral altruism. This is particularly relevant within an African context, where the narrative of Africa has often been to describe it as the ‘dark continent’ with thousands of issues ranging from poverty, poor healthcare system and natural disasters. He says that as long as something appears to be charitable or directed towards making a difference it will go viral. People inherently want to feel like they are contributing towards something good in the “African narrative”. Viral altruism, I would say, is the reason for many a viral content, but there are also other factors. Let’s take a look at some viral social media campaigns within Africa:



A collaboration between White African and @Truthslinger gave birth to a campaign called Kenya365. It was a hashtag based campaign to show the other side of Kenya, the side the world does not get to see too often. If you search the hashtag #Kenya365, you’ll be loaded with thousands of images of beautiful landscapes and portrait photography of Kenya. Despite the fact the campaign ran for only a set period of time, its outreach continues to grow.

The campaign did a few things fairly consistently. It focused on user-generated content. It allowed for everyday Instagram users to post pictures with the hashtags, get more likes on their pictures than usual and get featured on the official Kenya365 campaign page. The topic of choice was also relevant at the time and had an altruistic feel to it – it had an immediate buy in with users. It also made use of beautiful imagery in a world that is currently dominated by handsets able to produce phenomenal imagery.


Coca Cola Egypt – Etganen

The campaign run by Coca Cola was marked behind one word called: Etganen – which, when translated directly, means ‘creativity’ and ‘curiosity’. In the end, the “Be Crazy” translation by Coca Cola appropriately described the campaign which went viral the moment it went on social media. Within less than a month, the campaign garnered over 2.6 million views on the YouTube video they posted.

In brief, the video captured everyday frustrations of Egyptians and showed them ways of how to carry out acts of kindness that would bring them satisfaction. Much like the Kenya365 campaign, the message was focused and catchy “Etganen – Be Crazy”. It positioned itself as a challenge to people to go out there and get crazy with random acts of kindness. It went to the extent that it encouraged people to post user generated content of them ‘being crazy’ – audience participation once again proving to be a consistent theme when it comes to viral content. Within moments, the amount of followers on social media expanded exponentially, and the content reached places much further than Egypt itself.

There is clearly a common theme for viral campaigns at least within an African context. 1) Being relevant – i.e. addressing a relevant social issue at the time 2) Allowing users to participate through user generated content and have their content be seen, heard or liked. 3) There is a clear message behind it that’s captured easily such as using digestible phrases like “Kenya 365” or “Etganen” (be crazy) did. 4) Viral altruism – putting forth the charitable aspect and promoting making a difference. People love doing good and showing it – social media is the perfect platform to do so.

In a day and age where things get spread so quickly, it’s fascinating to witness how some brands still get it wrong. There are clear themes once again as to why a campaign or a brand can miss the sweet spot.


Bic – South Africa – “Think Like a Man”

By no means did Bic South Africa have ill-intentions when they posted an image on Mother’s Day on Facebook and Twitter that read, “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man and work like a boss.”

The post quickly received thousands of responses in anger to the campaign, suggesting that it had a sexist undertone. The problem with this post was firstly the language that was used around a sensitive topic in the broader scheme of things. Any phrase that is ambiguous has the potential to go wrong. Brands should remember that there are more social media users than ever, thousands of eyes ready to analyze every word being stated. Twitter has activists and full time tweeters that are looking for posts they can comment on that may end up disrupting an entire business. Anything that can be misinterpreted should be a ‘no-go’.


Delta Air Lines – Giraffes in Ghana?

Although not directly a company based in Africa, it offers direct flights to Ghana. After the USA beat Ghana 2-1 in the 2014 world cup, they posted a tweet of the score line against the background of the statue of liberty and a giraffe. Seemingly innocent, right?

Apparently not, as Twitter activists quickly pointed out- there are no giraffes in Ghana. Delta were inundated with tweets on their timeline about this gaffe, and eventually had to publish an apology. Much like the Bic advert, the lesson here is to analyze the consequences of a post beforehand.



If you do a search, you’ll quickly see that no brand is immune to social media fails or successes, irrespective of how big or small the brand is. The reasons as to why campaigns go wrong is because they did not consider their audience. Story-telling and active participation in campaigns by users and community are key elements of an Afrillenial social media success and cannot be ignored. Viral content is the order of the day when it comes to marketing.

The trick is to always go viral for the right reason!


Dr. Sander van der Linden


Coca Cola


Delta Air Lines