Digital Content

Many South Africans have only a vague notion of what wikis, blogs, internet-based social networks and cellphone applications are, but these technologies are changing the way people communicate.

A few South African business schools have joined their international counterparts in using them to present classes -- and even to give classes on how to use them in business. In doing so they are helping to shift people's thinking about doing business and marketing products.   "In the 21st century your biggest competitive advantage is about sharing information instead of keeping it to yourself," says Elaine Rumboll, director of executive education at the University of Cape Town's Graduate School of Business (GSB). The changes are so important that the GSB is offering SA's first crash course , starting on July 17, aimed at executives who want to "engage with the dynamic, global and accessible online market".

What is so powerful about these new technologies is that they have created platforms which enable anyone with internet access to network in an easy manner. These platforms have mostly been used for social interaction, but can be used in business, with great success.

"The use of social media has grown exponentially in the last year. This growth is almost unprecedented and there is suddenly a very real opportunity - which many executives are aware of, but don't know how to capitalise on it," says Dave Duarte, "chief marketing geek" of Cerebra, a consultancy that shows people how to use the new Web 2.0 technologies to their advantage. Duarte is also course director for the GSB's Nomadic Marketing course.

SA has a homegrown, startling example of just how powerful Web 2.0 marketing is.

Stormhoek, a South African winery co-owned by the UK's Orbital Wines and South African wine marketer Graham Knox, went from virtually unknown to annual sales of about 100,000 cases and now accounts for 17% of all South African wine sold in the UK in the over-GBP5 category.

British blogging consultant Hugh MacLeod launched the famous Stormhoek marketing campaign in 2005, offering 100 bottles of Stormhoek to regular bloggers on his website, who were asked to blog their comments and experiences with the wine, says Jon Foster-Pedley, senior lecturer at the GSB.

The wine took off in the UK and the U.S. There are now more than 225000 Google links to it and the www.stormhoek.com website has more than 350,000 hits a month, more than any other wine producer in the world, says www.wine.co.za.

"There's a sense of discovery and of 'Wow! There's something going on here'," says Foster-Pedley, who says that, while it is easy for Web 2.0 to generate hype, he does not foresee the same kind of deflation as that which ruined some fortunes when the dot.com bubble burst.

"It's really an exciting time in education and in industry because of the impact of digital media and the internet on collaboration," Harvard Business School's chief information officer, Stephen Laster, said in an interview with www.cio.com.

While the marketing uses of Web 2.0 tools are obvious, Foster-Pedley says he believes that the big conundrums of the day, such as global warming, will benefit from the kind of mass collaboration these tools enable.

"If you get enough people talking about something, you'll generally end up with a pretty good answer.... People are beginning to understand that massive collaboration could bring back our fish," he says.

On a smaller scale, Greg Fisher, senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria's Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs), is using a Web 2.0 application to help students get ready for his entrepreneurship course, which starts in a few weeks.

He's using a wiki - a website that allows visitors to add, remove and edit content - to present his students with the initial coursework, which they have to read ahead of the start. He has asked the students to put their business ideas on the wiki. These are to be developed over the duration of the course for the students to view.

"Usually you would print out the notes (for students to read ahead of the start of the course) and the students would have to come to Gibs to fetch them ... but the course evolves over time. The notes are a static document; on the wiki we can add to them when we like. Usually there is very little room for students to give feedback and contribute, they can on the wiki," he says.

The wiki's second advantage illustrates the mind-shift Web 2.0 technologies are bringing about. The students are beginning to load their initial ideas onto the wiki, where they are out in the open for all on the course to see, and Fisher wants students to encourage and criticise each other's ideas.

He says there was some initial hesitation from students. "I think over time that will improve. Some are still getting comfortable with the idea that others can see their original idea. They don't have to reveal any key intellectual property, it's more the global idea."

Fisher says e-mail will become "a thing of the past" for businesses, which will increasingly turn to wikis and blogs to communicate with their clients and staff.  "Business teams will then have a record of how the solution was reached, and businesses can build up a corporate memory. "I don't think things will change quickly, but we will look back in five years' time and everyone will be using a wiki."

(SOURCE: Business Day)