Mimiboard gets nearly 1 m users through working with media owners, sets a target of 5 m by February 2012

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Umuntu Media started life as a set of country portals but has developed its main product – Mimiboard – out of that experience. It’s now working with media owners to generate traffic and create new sources of online income. Russell Southwood spoke to Jaco Liebenberg, Operations Manager at Umuntu Media about what it’s set out to do.

African media owners have often been in the vanguard of having an online presence. In the early days, this was more by default than design. Traffic largely came out of the diaspora but with improved connectivity the balance between readers at home and abroad is changing rapidly.

The paradox for many media owners is that they often have almost as many readers online as they have readers per copy. But in the main the advertising revenues from the online as opposed to print editions are still paltry.

What’s worse is that social media is beginning to rob them of the 18-35 generation. Things like Twitter and Facebook are quite time-consuming and are much more natural homes for the digitally savvy young. Facebook may be about friends and family but Twitter (which has much smaller numbers) is in the news business and delivers instantly. It may not always get it right straight away but that it’s happening in front of your very eyes is part of the fun of it. Things like Eskimi, biNu and 2Go show that social media in Africa takes off by word of mouth when the offer is right.

Umuntu Media’s Mimiboard is designed to tackle some of the dilemmas outlined above for media owners. It describes itself as a virtual notice board and compares itself to the old notice boards outside libraries. If you had something to sell, a room to let or wanted to start a band, you pinned a paper card to the board and the responses started coming in.

Mimiboard has got a simple upgrade whereby you can pay to allow someone to turn over the card to get more detail. It’s got geo-positioning so you know where to go and before long it will have a payment system. The deal for publishers is that they will split the online display and classified advertising revenues with Umuntu.

So where have the 960,000 users come from so far? Mimiboard has been embedded with a number of different media owners:

* Kenya’s Capitol Radio has set up a space targeted at students at all universities called Capital Campus which it uses to aggregate tweets to and from the radio station and to organise events.

* Ghana’s Soccernet website is using it to aggregate news and views on the country’s footballers and the game from all over the world on social media. Soccernet is one of Ghana’s larger local online sites by traffic level.

* South Africa’s Bokradio aggregates traffic updates from its listeners. The DJ on the broadcast programme will read out one or two at a time but the rest will go up on the Mimiboard section of the website that is integrated into the main pages of its site.

It has simplified its business model from the earlier iterations. It wants to become a large network of users that are hyper-local, within a geography (like a town or city) or within an interest (a school, a church group). The scale of the number of users will be interesting to the larger display advertisers, particularly combined with the ability to choose which communities their ad can go out to.

It will also be interesting to the equivalent of local community “classified” advertisers: people or small businesses doing things like selling motorbike parts; advertising their café or restaurant; or looking for tenants for a flat.

Umuntu Media is at an advanced stage with a new round of investment and wants to use this to add effective business developers and software developers. Thus far, it has reached the current figures without any market so it also wants to add a level of marketing to achieve 5 million users by February 2013. As Jaco Liebenberg told us:”All our growth so far has been organic and we will grow much faster with a proper marketing budget.”


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