On Message: South Africa’s buzz is light years ahead

On Message: PR Week editor Danny Rogers on marketing and branding

The World Cup is helping South Africa score social media points – but there’s a sophisticated marketing machine in play too, says Danny Rogers

Social media marketing is all about creating the right ‘buzz’, and no one is making more of a buzz right now than South African Tourism.

There is the literal buzz of the infuriating vuvuzela horns, which lost their novelty for TV viewers within about five minutes of the opening game, and there is the automatic buzz generated by hosting the world’s greatest sporting event.

But many people might be surprised at the amount of thought and strategy that has gone into creating the precise social media buzz around South Africa’s once-in-a-lifetime tourism marketing opportunity.

Ever since Nelson Mandela came to power, South Africa has ploughed millions into tourism promotion and, more importantly, has always sought the very best advice.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party instinctively recognised the value of tourism to the Rainbow Nation’s economy, which is otherwise underdeveloped. South Africa has almost unrivalled natural beauty and diversity, and the government realises that if perceptions are well managed, valuable tourism business will roll in.

The chief marketing officer for South African Tourism is a steely woman called Roshene Singh. She spent five years as an election manager at the ANC, overseeing campaigning and messaging for the party and its key leaders: Nelson Mandela and former president Thabo Mbeki.

Such resolve has been one of the reasons that South Africa has succeeded in one of the thorniest comms challenges in global tourism marketing: to create a perception that South Africa is a safe and enjoyable place to visit.

Significantly, Singh and her team have gone way beyond the usual bland destination TV advertising. She has run a concerted PR campaign, using some of the world’s best agencies, and stepped into areas other national tourism bodies have studiously ignored.

A year ago, for example, Singh enlisted Dow Jones Insight to monitor social media. Interestingly, this move came quickly after last June’s Lions rugby tour to South Africa, which created a fair bit of negative sentiment about tourist transport and facilities.

The marketers soon realised how quickly and extensively social media enabled news, information and opinion to travel. However, Dow Jones’ tools have enabled Singh’s team to monitor, analyse and evaluate social media in its target markets, in eight languages, during the run-up to this World Cup.

South African Tourism has an official Twitter account @GoToSouthAfrica and @William_Price is the vocal head of global emarketing. There is also a South African Tourism Facebook fan page and a YouTube channel. Visitors can tweet questions to @GoToSouthAfrica and agents will respond, using Salesforce.com’s service software.

It adds up to impressive and sophisticated marketing armoury for what is sometimes considered a backward nation, and goes some way to explain the early signs of success of this World Cup as a shop window for tourism to South Africa.

The feedback from the media so far has been overwhelmingly positive, with many commentators blown away by the indigenous passion for the competition.

Let’s pray that all continues to run smoothly and safely for this unique, deserving and highly innovative destination.


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