Digital Media Challenges in Zambia

When I first arrived in Zambia, I was hell bent on becoming a social media manager and running a social media management company. I thought I KNEW what would work and wouldn’t work. That was my first mistake and the first time I heard “TIA – This is Africa”.

My expectations of what should, would or could work were constantly tested by things that I had never experienced. Fast forward a few years later to where we are now and so many things have changed but some have remained the same.

 

  1. Load shedding (this was crazy to me and it still is, scheduled times in the day where the electricity company switched off your electricity?). Mostly because of the disruption and uncertainty load shedding brings with it. Sometimes it was short. Sometimes it was for extended period of times from morning till late afternoon. This impacted my work and the work of those around me. If I asked someone to make sure certain tweets went out at a particular time, this would be disrupted because there was obviously no internet and in the case where we used phones to hotspot, your phone was on low battery and your battery pack was dead. In the case where you had a fully loaded working phone and hotspot options, your laptop battery was either dead or dying. Eventually we had to work around these issues. From going to an area or place that had internet access and electricity to making sure your laptop and phone were always plugged in charging.
  2. Data/Internet costs. This is a well known song for a lot of digital media strategists throughout the continent (for some countries the internet is faster and cheaper but the reality for quite a number of countries is the prohibitive costs). Early on in my career as a naive entry level social media manager, I NEVER thought about data as an expense to charge to the client or include in my costing. Stupid. I quickly learned as I noticed that my data wasn’t lasting as long as I would like and I was always topping up. when I actually sat down and calculated the amount I spent on data for clients I was shocked. Nowadays I can calculate a monthly internet business package into my expenses, along with any data I may potentially use when I am away from home or office.
  3. Travel vs Remote. I still struggle with this today but admittedly a lot less. In the Zambian or the African context, meetings are the center of every project you have. Working remotely from the time you submit a proposal to the time you got paid was a foreign concept. At the very least clients would expect to meet you. Skype call? Forget it. “Let’s have a small meeting was a popular phrase and believe me, the meetings were never long. How did this impact my business as a digital media strategist? Time is money, the more time I spent traveling to and from meetings, being in meetings and giving feedback on meeting points and even more likely going back for a second or third meeting, meant I didn’t have enough time to actually do the work required of me. Additionally to travel to and from meetings either required you go with your own car (fuel), Taxis or even buses, all of which again had a cost to them that I failed to expense. These days my argument is simple and a lot easier to win because I’m either not in the country where my client is or traveling. Also, when I started to expense travel, I saw less meeting requests.
  4. Client knowledge. Not all clients are created equal. A client may ask for social media management or digital media strategy but they may not know what that means exactly or what it entails. This was particularly hard because I had to revise how I spoke about my work and loop in the client as much as possible to make sure they were learning and understanding what I was doing for them. This can also be true outside of Zambia/Africa but the rise of social media in certain countries has been at a slower rate compared to those who have budget friendly data costs, infrastructure, easy access to internet and a plethora of information.

As a digital media strategist living in South Africa with clients in Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Australia and England I now always make sure I am fully aware of what it will require for me to carry out work for a client. You will need to make sure that you are fully aware of what it costs to do work for a client who is in the same country as you and one who is not. Additionally, take into consideration  a client who is in a different town or where time zones are a factor. All these things can increase the number of challenges you have and the type of challenges you will come across.

This is the same advice I give to my digital media clients as well. Wanting a digital media strategy is great but what challenges shall we face implementing some of the ideas that are put forth? Digital media strategies always need to take into consideration the clients interest, capabilities, budget and also location challenges.

Digital media friends, what are some of the challenges in your corner of the world and how have you overcome them?