Simon Barber
Simon Barber

Blogging South Africa

A group of American bloggers will be arriving at the end of the month to create what the International Marketing Council hopes will be some very entertaining and informative web content – words, pictures, audio and video — about South Africa. The idea is have a dozen smart, creative and credible people record their impressions of the country in real time and, with the help of wireless G3 modems generously supplied by Vodacom, get these impressions distributed to as many eyeballs as quickly and stickily as possible, via the ganglia of the internet.

Here’s the thinking. The IMC is in the business of promoting South Africa as a destination for investment and travel and as a source of innovation and high quality goods and services. It calls itself the custodian of Brand South Africa, but not, mind, the owner. Today, the owner of any brand is the consumer. Thanks to the internet and the blogosphere the consumer now wields more power than ever before in history.

The web is playing an ever expanding role in helping people decide how to spend their money – from which gizmo to buy, to where to go on holiday and where to stay when you get there, to which company or country to invest in. And it isn’t the purveyors of the goods and services who are closing sales with their pitches and come-ons, it’s the recommendations of other consumers and investors. Slick advertising still has a role in getting people to talk about your product, but it is ultimately the stories consumers tell each other, and themselves, that will determine how many sales you make.

That is the reason IMC has launched Brand South Africa Blog to scour the internet for the good things other people are saying quite independently about South Africa and package them in a way, hopefully amusing, that draws visitors and inbound links from other sites. The next step is to begin offering incentives – prizes, exposure, contracts even – to encourage a greater flow of visitor contributions: stories, YouTubes, designs for brand-supportive tee-shirts, even ideas for ad campaigns. What could be more fitting than to crowdsource the marketing of a country from its own citizens and international fan base? South African Tourism, you may have noticed, has already cottoned on to the importance of independent voices as a marketing tool and is running competitions on its own site for best stories, pictures and videos.

But back to the immediate topic. The IMC Bloggers’ Tour 2008 gets under way on Sunday, November 30 and runs through Monday, December 8. The itinerary, put together by the well-known science writer, author and blogger Graeme Addison, takes the group aboard a giant De Beers mining ship of the west coast, down Anglogold Ashanti’s Tau Tona gold mine, the world’s deepest, to Optimal Energy to see the Joule electric car, and into Magaliesburg kloofs with a innovative programme to rescue troubled youth. The group will be overnighting in Soweto, learning about efforts to restore the lost languages of the San, visiting Square Kilometre Array facilities, getting briefed on the economy at the JSE, meeting local bloggers, including the geniuses behind Stormhoek winery’s web-based marketing triumph, and more.

Joining the tour are Thought Leader’s Ndumiso Ngcobo, author of Some of My Best Friends Are White, and Nick Haralambous of SARocks.co.za. I’ll be blogging on brandsouthafricablog.
As already partially disclosed by Matthew Buckland, the American bloggers are: Renee Blodgett and Ray Lewis (www.downtheavenue.com), Zadi Diaz (www.zadidiaz.com), Mona Gable (www.huffingtonpost.com/mona-gable), John Gartner (www.matternetwork.com), Chris Morrison (www.venturebeat.com), David Sasaki (www.globalvoices.org), Graeme Wood (www.theamericanscene.com, www.thesmartset.com and www.theatlantic.com) and Eliane Fioret (www.ubergizmo.com).

Their posts will appear on their own blogs but will also be aggregated at, and available as a feed, from www.weblogtheworld.com, a site Renee, an ace San Francisco-based Web 2.0 marketer (www.blodgettcommunications.com) as well as blogger, has put together. There will also be a flickr feed of pictures taken on the trip and we may be twittering as well. A zoopy.com channel for video is also on the cards.

I asked Renee to help put the tour together on the US side based on her experience putting together a similar tour to Israel earlier this year, plus her great connections in the blogosphere. Her contribution has been invaluable and she has been great fun to work with in assembling the crew. We looked for people who would have good chemistry – we’ll be spending a lot of time together on buses — and produce interesting content in a variety of media. I, for one, cannot wait to see a YouTube video of Zadi reporting from the bottom of Tau Tona.

Eliane’s ubergizmo.com reviews gadgets in six languages and has an enormous following, ranked 22nd among 93 million blogs by Nielsen’s Blogpulse. If anyone in South Africa makes a gadget they would like her to write about – or a story you would like any member of our group to tell — let me know in a comment.