NAIROBI, Kenya, May 21 – Capital Business recently sought audience with Symbiotic Media Consortium Chief Executive Mbugua Njihia on the benefits of ‘Sembuse’, dubbed East Africa’s first mobile social network for Kenyans.
Q: How does a mobile social network work?
A: The root of a social network is to have tools that allow users to communicate and share information and content with a select group of people. Mobility means making those tools available on the go, following the user where ever they go.
In our case, Sembuse rides off general packet radio service (GPRS/3G) connectivity which at the moment is standard on many GSM mobile operators. Once a user installs Sembuse, they can invite their friends and family into their network so that they can communicate at 50 cents per message of 1,000 characters in length.
Q: Is there a catch to this or will you up the rates once the network has more users?
A: This is not a marketing gimmick; the rates are for real and will not increase with increase in users.
Q: People are used to social networking via the Internet, what is your opinion about mobile social networks?
A: The transition, I believe, will be a smooth one. How many people do you know who access the likes of Facebook from their mobile phone? Add localization in the mix and extra value and you have a winner, which is what Sembuse is.
Q: What factors will spur the growth of mobile social networking in Kenya/East Africa?
A: Quality content and user experience reduced or standardized data rates in the region; Uganda for example has “obscene” data rates and availability and access to capable handsets.
Q: Are there particular mobile phones that users will have to have to access Sembuse?
A: Any post 2005 phone with a colour screen and GPRS or 3G access should have no problem installing Sembuse. Low-end handsets, unfortunatel,y cannot take Sembuse.
Q: What other value added services are found under Sembuse?
A: News alerts, sports videos as well as gossip channels especially for entertainment.
Q: Is Sembuse only a tool for communicating among friends? Who else can use Sembuse?
A: Sembuse is a full blown content portal where content providers can avail their content to a “hungry” consumer based. Content includes but is not limited to videos, and niche content such as stock market alerts. There are also information based services that can be offered for free or at a minimal cost.
In addition, Sembuse has an interesting spin for businesses and individual users alike through SembuseConnect where businesses need to reach out to their target consumers via a platform called ManenoAds. Using this tool they can pinpoint exactly who they want their marketing message to reach and they have access to detailed reports o their ad inventory.
Q: How many users is the network currently boasting of? How many users do you expect to have by end of the year?
A: Having implemented the Zunguka OneId where users of all our products can use only one set of credential across the different services we are now just shy of 5,000 users. We are in the process of marketing Sembuse at some of the local universities. Our aim is to have about 100,000 users by end of year.
Q: What challenges can such a network experience?
A: To gain critical mass, we must invest in some of the more traditional media to make people aware of the revolution that is Sembuse. The credit crunch has hit and it is difficult to find funding from the venture capital and angel investor market.
Getting financing for marketing collateral can present a challenge especially since we are starting with East Africa as a focal point though it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, you can use Sembuse. Still on financing, as the numbers grow we must scale our infrastructure and bandwidth accordingly to ensure flawless service delivery to our users.
Thirdly, there is need to ‘enlighten’ people so that the traditional marketers see the value that they can get from a local social network.