Our revolution will not be televised – it will be liked, shared and retweeted. The signs of our times are written on our Facebook walls and Twitter has become the credible source for the news that we consume.

The notion of the internet as the information highway has never been so vividly accurate. Our global community has become cyber-journalistic and the scoops are found daily. This collective consciousness has turned itself into a relentless reporter, reporting news into our feeds and time lines, in real-time. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Black Twitter.

US-based The Atlantic explains: Black Twitter is a force. It’s also not particularly well understood by those who aren’t a part of it. The term is used to describe a large network of black Twitter users and their loosely co-ordinated interactions, many of which accumulate into trending topics due to the network’s size, interconnectedness, and unique activity.

Back in South Africa, the voice is humorous, sometimes daringly unapologetic and crude with each post interaction. Yet this very same force has exposed some of the harshest home-grown truths.

Gripping beach race rows, homophobic religious organisations, and some of the most frightening gender-based violence our country has ever known have all been sparked or influenced by social media. Some of these issues have allowed us to have meaningful thought-provoking conversations.

Our audiences trust Black Twitter more than established news providers and for the most part, online news vendors are also turning to the new “pillar of truth” for their headlines.

Social media has been used to challenge the political status quo, uproot government corruption, and mobilise a movement towards free education. Sometimes, it’s even used to report crime – we can safely say that this voice cannot be ignored. But to whom do these voices belong? This collective consciousness is none other than our country’s majority as the “black” in the name puts it.

The soapbox platform that turns opinion into thought-leadership is Twitter and Facebook respectively. It is amplified by human truths and insight; all funnelled and channelled using one digital stream.

Marketers turn to it in search of insight to best communicate to this rich territory that’s virtually impenetrable because, they too, are looking for “NO-BS”, attached offerings that best represent them. This begs the bigger question: how do you market to them?

Let’s begin at what not to do: don’t patronise them by pretending to be a part of a movement that you never graced with your digital footprint. The Kylie Jenner commercial is an example where a fairly serious movement like Black Lives Matter was trivialised with the idea that the end of societal strife and conflict could be resolved with a refreshing beverage. The commercial found itself online and was banned in hours. Our digital-caped crusaders unravelled a brand-destroying message that made a mockery of a serious, socio-political outcry.

Don’t exclude them by sugar-coating a perfect reality that doesn’t include the black narrative. Separating yourself as a brand from this is a red flag that shows your brand as having a lack of understanding as to what our socio-economy celebrates and struggles with every day. OUTsurance’s Father’s Day campaign was a perfect example of this. The online ad depicted fatherly joy as an emotion and quality reserved for middle- to upper-class white males.

Always focus on and communicate human truths that resonate with the market you’re trying to reach. Identify your core-market strength and attach it to a truth that is not only best suited for your brand but is sincere, original and relatable to your market. The best litmus test is whether you personally would be driven to rush into a store or an e-commerce site?

Use this as an opportunity to reshape your strategic approach and possibly the way you find your human truths.

Among the best brands to manifest this approach is Nando’s, which translates what people are thinking into rich content that is understood by the majority of South Africans, often with applause.

The approach is simple: no one knows South Africans like a South African chicken brand and their work is a testament to this. Instead of always looking for the next trend to latch on, they speak from the heart, which is a flamed-grilled chicken one with a bit of heat, as shown in their ads. Even with ingenuity and extensive knowledge of the populous, it still doesn’t guarantee a seat at the Black Twitter table. The truth is our social and social media environment is ever-changing. We just need to be there and brave the wave.

* Themba Mahlangu is a junior copywriter at NATIVE VML

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Thrive as a company.


  • Themba Raphael Mahlangu

    Development Manager and Writer

    University of Johannesburg Alumni

    Born in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, South Africa. I am a young writer that seeks to change the way Africa is perceived. My thoughts are deeply influenced by the pan African thought, so I believe that Africa can be better united. I currently hold a Barchelor Degree in Development Studies, in a development perspective, Africa can be what it ought to be if ever there were no factors of which I discuss throughout every story I'll be telling here. Lastly, I also promote leadership as a couple of stories I published focus on what leadership roles have been taken in the last decade in South Africa and African countries.