Women from African Special Programs Share Strategies for Success

By Brigitte Read

One of the key benefits of the MDIF Special Programs like NAMIP and SAMIP is being part of a cohort of young media entrepreneurs who generously share their perspectives, challenges, successes and failures. Cultivating a cooperative mindset means good ideas can be replicated and flawed strategies avoided.

When a joint delegation of 20+ women from MDIF’s Special Programs on the African continent gathered in Kigali for the African Women in Media Conference, it was an ideal opportunity for the attendees to share their unique insights, offer advice and explore opportunities for collaboration.

The roundtable discussion covered three key themes – engaging and retaining audiences, embracing digital technologies, new products and editorial formats and innovative funding models; these are some of the key discussion highlights.

Engaging and retaining audiences

Be consistent, focus on the data, measure success and keep asking for constant feedback – these are some of the fundamentals behind growing and retaining your audience, recommended by Ewoma Omoghene from Voix Collective, a Nigerian podcast company that believes in the transformative power of storytelling. Consistency is a key factor, but keep improving on your process and products, and leverage tech to improve your work.

Daily Maverick’s Operations Manager, Kathryn Kotze, concurred stressing that data is at the core of all the work that Daily Maverick does. “Aim to be data-led,” she shared. “The growth that Daily Maverick experienced when we started looking at and investing in data, was exponential.”

This means culling content that is not getting traction, or if it is important, re-think your approach to get readers’ attention. While reach and engagement are good indicators, it should not be about chasing clicks, but experimenting with different headlines, pictures and approaches and gauging the response.

For Daily Maverick newsletters are a bigger driver of traffic than social media and this also means they are not at the mercy of the algorithms of tech companies.  Another top tip is to aim to get a direct link from your audience, like an email or a Whatsapp number and create opportunities for interaction – surveys, banner ads with a call to action or host sessions where readers can pose their questions to journalists.

You need to know your audience to tailor content that resonates, advises Candice Khumalo, a health journalist with South Africa’s Food for Mzansi Group. “You need to work out how to spark a connection. Simple headlines are best, readers need to be able to quickly determine how content meets their needs.” She outlined how her publication segments audiences, creating three personas based on audience needs, and she advises you accept that your audiences will not like all your content all the time, and this is fine.

Most importantly you need to offer quality content, said Damilola Oyeleke of Culture Custodian and create something compelling, offering unique perspectives and solutions to pain points.

Embracing digital technologies, new products and editorial formats

“Automate processes and use tools for enhancing productivity so you can focus on more creative, strategic tasks,” advised Chidinma Ochiaka from Techpoint Africa, a digital media company concentrating on Africa’s tech, startup and business ecosystem.

Start with optimising your web presence, then consider tools like Descript, Buffer, Fluent CRM, Zoho CRM and Eventprime to streamline workflows, improve efficiency and enhance productivity. Real-time data and analytics tools like Uber Suggest and Google Analytics can help optimise advertising campaigns.

Grace Aderemi-John from Edugist highlighted how they look at metrics from Google Analytics and social media to guide the creation of products that effectively engage niche audience categories like educators, students and policy makers to help them meet their needs. Noting low LinkedIn engagement, they created an online network with educators coming on board as collaborators and opinion leaders, hosting a monthly webinar product where educators speak on topics that affect them, which has helped to grow their reach.

Dataphyte’s Program Director, Adenike Aloba, outlined how the Nigerian data analytics organisation thinks about productization and the three stages to product thinking – Discovery – Solutions – Fit. Discovery involves exploration and asking questions – wouldn’t it be nice if journalists helped us understand the data around us? The next stage is looking for solutions, how can we solve this problem? Then consider product-solution fit – did we solve the problem? Has the market changed? Has someone else solved the problem? Throughout the process it is important to constantly review and get feedback from who you expect would be consuming your new product.

Aloba outlined some of the successful premium data insights and analysis products introduced like anfani.org and Goloka and their elections reporting platform which used data to create scenarios, successfully predicting Tinubu’s win with an accuracy of 97%, right down to voter turnout.

Zimbabwe’s Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE) also used a range of digital technologies to enhance their reporting on the Zimbabwean elections in August. Nonhlanhla Mabhikwa detailed how they made use of AI tools to help package content for different platforms and schedule distribution. CITE reported extensively across a range of platforms – X (twitter), Instagram, YouTube and Whatsapp and even introduced and trained on using TikTok in the newsroom to reach the younger generation. With limited reporters CITE developed an AI newsreader called Alice which allowed for quick scripted news updates to be delivered in video format.

Exploring innovative funding models

Angela Agoawike from Omalicha Radio, a development radio station in Ima State, Nigeria, said it is important to find your niche and be clear about what you are selling. In the case of a radio station, it is airtime and your audience, so you need an accurate means to measure audience size. Explore every opportunity to generate funds – grants, sponsorships, subscriptions, events, trade exchanges and monetising your assets like radio masts. You also need to be deliberate when designing radio products; a key paradigm shift was switching from thinking about programs to products.

Toun Sonaiya from Women’s Radio agrees about the need to diversify income. In addition to the conventional revenue efforts, her radio station has also had success with offering workshops, training and hosting a sponsored conference and awards event; they are also working to convert their loyal listenership to a membership programme. She also noted what she calls “the NAMIP factor” acknowledging the guidance and support from the program to pull all the various strategies together.

Director of Quote this Woman+, Kath Magrobi, feels grant funding is a thing of the past as often the resources required to apply, manage and jumping through grant-makers hoops distracts focus from the value your work can create. She outlined how her small feminist non-profit had to match funds for a Google News Initiative grant which inspired her to think creatively about fundraising. QW+ partnered with the Association for Independent Publishers (AIP) to launch the Look Listen Local Innovation Fund, approaching big corporates and encouraging them to support democracy, women owned media and community voices in the run-up to the 2024 South African elections. Many businesses have bought in to their passion and aside from cash support for the campaign, which is already halfway to its R2-million goal, they have secured trade exchanges in the form of office space and legal, marketing and social media support.

Despite the rise in popularity of podcasts, many are still looking for the silver bullet in terms of monetising podcasts. Andisiwe May from South African podcast agency, Volume, outlined their journey, discovering the hard way that doing original work was not sustainable and instead decided to focus on branded podcast production. May outlined what they offer clients, from conceptualisation and planning to production, promotion and tracking. They can also provide optional additional or standalone services which range from facilitated ideation workshops, to audience research and profiling, host and guest sourcing to consulting, coaching and capacity building.

Media Hack Collective is a South African high quality data content creator that offers a range of products and services, each product effectively marketing the other elements. Data journalist Gemma Ritchie outlined how they have generated revenue through training, client work and publishing of newsletters, charts and public information and have identified revenue potential in areas like productised client services, industry data reports and insights.