Ms Nqobile Tembe (left), a qualified communication management specialist and currently a Communication Consultant at Universities South Africa, addressed the SWEEP members on using personal stories to cultivate online personas and build relationships.
She premised her talk on the impact people may generate from the spaces and circles that they occupy. “You may not know the influence you have until you start telling your story, narrating your journey, and sharing the lessons from your own experiences, especially as an entrepreneur.”
Reiterating Ms Moleko’s earlier point, she stated that digital and social media platforms could be a gateway to building solid business and interpersonal relationships. “If your story is relatable, people tend to gravitate towards it; they want to listen more because you are speaking to something they might have experienced or are noticing in their environment.
“Often, people want to see themselves in others. They want to be assured that their experiences are not unique occurrences, more so if they are going through not-so-great experiences in life, in business, and professionally as individuals,” Ms Tembe said.
She emphasised that through such storytelling, people can build online communities. A sure way of achieving such a community was by maintaining authenticity. “Nothing beats honesty,” Ms Tembe said. “An overly curated life may appeal aesthetically; but it holds less value than being genuine.” Her point was that human beings stumble here and there as life throws various curveballs at them, but what matters is knowing that whatever one goes through, somebody else has walked that journey and survived. Especially in business, Ms Tembe emphasised that “a person starting up wants to see from those who have gone before them, that it is doable.”
She said the biggest mistake that people tend to make is wanting to appear as though they have it all under control when that is hardly the case. Thus, digital and social media spaces offer great platforms to narrate personal experiences that offer lessons to other users.
Being mindful of online interactions
That said, Ms Tembe said it would be remiss of her to not caution her audience about harmful social media hazards. She pointed out that even though the internet is typically a short attention platform, it being a public domain allows multitudes to see what others are up to, and what is posted online may live on forever. She therefore advised the student women to be mindful of what they say and how they interact with others online.
Echoing Ms Moleko’s earlier point, she said what people post on these platforms reflects their values. “Are you posting something that, if exposed years later, could embarrass you into saying ‘I did not know’ or ‘I should not have’?” she asked the attendees.
To illustrate that point, Ms Tembe used the popular Miss South Africa’s beauty pageant as an example where in 2020 and 2022, contestants faced public backlash when their past posts were exposed. Unfortunately for the 2020 contestant, the journey ended as her past made news headlines.
“So, it just shows how much impact what we do out of ignorance, especially online, can come back years later when we have rebranded… When such things resurface, people will not care much about how much you have grown. No matter how long ago it was, it will taint who you are today and what you are trying to be.”
She said her yardstick for online activities is whether the content of her posts is informative, entertaining, and more importantly, harmless. “If it ticks these boxes, then well and good. But if it is going to be controversial — and a lot of us have controversial opinions – we need to remember that whatever we are putting out there will live for years and may well come back to bite us.
“You need to keep these thoughts in mind and decide that ‘I am protecting the person I want to be even in the future… I may be young now, but I want to grow to make an impact in future. So, what am I doing to ensure that my brand remains intact, in future?’ “
Resolving customer complaints
Ms Tembe also acknowledged that young businesses do not have large coffers to employ specialised talent to create and manage an online presence, which then leads them to handle their own enterprise’s social media activities. She told a story of a make-up brand owner who managed her own platforms. One day, this entrepreneur received a complaint from a customer. In her business’s defence she responded harshly, attracting even bigger uproar from other social media users.
She advised the student women to listen to and assess criticism objectively; to acknowledge fault when it lies with the business and find solutions for clients. “We have seen how rife the cancel culture has become on social media,” she said, further cautioning against bad manners that may turn prospective clients and business partners away — all to the detriment of the enterprise.
As she was concluding her talk, Ms Tembe advised her audience to avoid associating with people that have questionable business practices. “In the event that they are exposed, by association, the outcome will negatively taint your brand and business. Stay vigilant and protect your vision, your brand and your business.”
A question-and-answer session generates rich engagement
Q: When is the right time for entrepreneurs to start their social media platforms? During ideation, to aid market research or once one’s business is ready to trade?
Ms Moleko: I think the ideal time is during ideation. You want to see what kind of market there is out there and start getting feedback. That way you will not force an unwanted product onto the market. So, it would be useful to use your social media platforms to ask the right questions and start creating engagement. Also, it is a great way to secure your domain.
Q: How do I then manage my own self and not be controlled by other social media influencers?
Ms Moleko: Look at your purpose, and your values. Why are you on social media? What are you trying to share? What are you trying to accomplish on social media? Don’t just follow trends. Stick to pursuing your objective and post as your authentic self.
Q: Should I first amass followers before I can post, or should I post with the intention of attracting targeted followers?
Ms Moleko: Post first, then get followers. The wrong followers (those you do not want) will slowly fade away. The ones that you do want will stick around and engage with you. So, start posting first. It is difficult to gain followers when they do not know what you are about. They will end up leaving when they see nothing is happening on your page.
Q: How does one create attractive posts, particularly on Facebook and Twitter, seeing how saturated these platforms are? I usually use images to attract clicks and new followers, but sometimes the posts do not pull the desired amount of engagement.
Ms Moleko: It is very true. There is a bit of a trend that started recently. Different imagery pushes different engagement. Right now, it is lifestyle pictures. So, if your brand is into baking, use imagery of you baking your cookies etc. If you are a flower brand, you make those kinds of videos. That is the trend right now. Things might change in a couple of months, but it is just a little bit of a tip. Right now, lifestyle pictures or service at work is what’s working well. I use Canva, a perfect social media tool for someone who just wants to get something in and out quickly. You can use the free version to obtain suitable lifestyle images and graphics in perfect size.
So, do some research to see what is working in the industry. Right now it is lifestyle. Later, it might be infographics. In fact, it was infographics a couple of years ago before CoVID-19. Just explore what works, what attracts people and work on your images to make them prettier, cleaner and slicker. Avoid clutter. Show products and present them well.
Q: As a start-up business, which platform should I choose first? What is the best way?
Ms Moleko: It depends on what your product or service offering is. If you are very visual and it is a product which can be pictorially displayed, go with Facebook or Instagram. And if you can do videos, great, do TikTok. It is growing quite large now. If you are selling yourself – a service – business to business, that kind of product or let me say service, go to LinkedIn and Twitter. Just choose where you believe your people are. If you are giving out information or selling yourself as a brand – Twitter and LinkedIn are great. For that purpose, you don’t need too pretty visuals. You need good information.
Q: Being relatable is hard enough in real life. How do we become relatable on social media?
Ms Tembe: I believe it comes with using your personal experiences to teach, mainly to be informative to your target audience – could be friends or followers. Without really exposing too much of your personal life, say these are the things to look out for, or to be wary of, in this context. As a specialist in your field, you can pick out pointers to say this has assisted me to get to where I am today …I suppose you could apply these lessons in your life.
Q: How do you handle a controversial post? Do you leave it? Do you respond? How much do you say on the platform? Do you take it further elsewhere or ask for the person’s contact details? What do we do?
Ms Tembe: As a businessperson I suppose you can take it to private messaging. First, acknowledge publicly that you have seen the opinion or comment, and ask if you can communicate privately. Or, if the issue has affected a whole lot of other people, and your business is in the wrong, Or if you pick up that your brand is being misperceived, then it would do you good to remedy the situation publicly, so that other people see what you are all about.
Q: Would you support or caution against associating your business with political organisations?
Ms Tembe: It would depend on what sort of business I am asked to do with these political organisations. As a Communication Consultant, if a political party approaches me to assist with conceptualising and implementing their communication strategies… it is what I do and know. I may not be affiliated to the party, but if what they are trying to achieve does not clash with my own principles or values, I can do business with such an organisation.
Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.