The game of exposure, especially from outside of the mainstream media, is one of the paradigm shifts in business, politics and marketing since the arrival of the Internet. Samoa (as well as any brand or business) needs to understand this change, and to develop systems that generate the required exposure.
A sleepy little South Pacific island nation, with more ex-pats than locals, Samoa is essentially a third world country engaging with the real world, doing its best to grow up. Some leaders would like to see Toursim increase and the country progress but at heart Samoa simply doesn’t want to change. For a people who have strongly entrenched systems to protect the status quo, there is a very hard journey ahead, if they want to engage with the world in the modern age.
[Pic: Typical rural scene – Samoan men returning from the plantation with coconuts, dogs in company and machetes in hand. The sealed road shows comparative wealth – a larger village with an effective MP.]
In rural Samoa, the men walk around with machetes and build houses out of sticks. They are supposed to solve conflict situations by sitting down and talking but they also do it with a fist or a stone. Women cook and make babies. Families unite and only mix socially with those from their own extended family, or perhaps village. The bus gets them to town to sell their goods or buy what they can’t produce on their plantation. Nobody has a job, and if one person does, they get paid $2.50 per hour and this could look after a dozen or more people. Electricity is expensive. Schools are bare concrete structures with exercise books and pencils issued to children from a central supply room. Teachers are often supplied their lunch from the parents and 2011 will be the first year in which compulsory free schooling is introduced. Computers are available – sometimes there might be a 5 year old computer or two or three in the principal’s office. A senior school teacher told me with pride that their school was a proud recipient of one of the new computers. They have over a thousand students. It’s a high profile High School. The Internet? What’s that? Broadband, Social Media, Viral Marketing? Come again?
OK so some of this is a little “tongue-in-cheek” but you get the picture – it’s not like New York, London or Paris here!
Few in power in Samoa understand the Internet and how the game of business and marketing has changed so desperately. I cringe when I think back to the way that the $WST500,000.00 the cabinet allocated to post-Tsunami marketing in 2009 was spent. It makes me cry to think of that lost opportunity with virtually nothing invested into web-based marketing.*
There are people in government that do not want me to say all of this. Even people close to me question what they see as a constant stream of put-downs of a country that desperately needs building up. But the way the world works now is NOT by trying to hide reality and presenting it to the people in mainstream media and we’re also actively engaged in developing positive systems to lift the country at major personal cost.
The world will find out the truth, sooner or later, so it is a million times smarter to engage with real people where they are and invest into quality relationships that are based on reality, than to peddle a false message and try to cover things up. If you tell people that Apia is a hot, dirty, dusty city with rubbish in the streets and drains and beggars and hawkers, and that half the customer support staff in the country have an ultra laid-back ‘Island style’ that just screams “What’s your problem. Who cares? Take it easy, mate!” – then when they come here (which they still will) their satisfaction levels will be at 99% instead of the current 50%.
Samoa is a challenge. It’s a very real country. Unique, but very real. Authentic is the key word bandied around in marketing circles but their marketing is certainly NOT that. There is a major disconnect between perceptions and reality. It’s a lovely country to visit and engage with but there is a deeper, darker side that needs to be exposed in the best interests of the country. Just like with an illness, you can’t get a proper cure until you’ve got a proper diagnosis, as with Samoa tourism, it will not get better until it faces reality.
Inevitably, exposure will come and shortening that distance between perceptions and reality will be a mark of maturity in the counties marketing efforts.
I recently mentioned some of the exposure that PM Tuila’epa got from John Campbell’s attacks. I included negative comments about a resort “owner” in a piece about the two edged sword of exposure. I’ve shared about the crooks and liars and thieves and the challenges of living in a third world South Pacific tropical Paradise. It’s a mixture of good and bad. Sure I love some parts of it all but my life is very real, and I share it all online.
In the new year, we could have the details of another major scandal announced on this website, one involving a potentially damaging situation to anyone wanting to encourage foreign investment into Samoa. It involves a certain Palagi, who can’t be named yet, who invested into a business in a rural village, and then the Samoan landlord doubled the rent, then assaulted the Palagi, then lied to the Prime Minister about it and caused him serious financial loss. You’ve probably guessed what it’s all about but we will first give the landlord a chance to tell the truth, apologise and rectify the matter before putting all the gory details up for the world to see.
You just can’t do anything about this. People are empowered to speak now. They can, they do, and they will continue to do so. People in positions of power have a duty to communicate and share information with the people they have power over. Christ did this. He showed the heart and mind and nature of the Father, keeping back nothing that He knew. In fact if I’m right I think the only thing that evaded Him was the time – the hour of His return.
He also spoke directly about secrets and suggested in very firm language that they came from the devil himself. While there is obviously a right time and place to share information, I’ve yet to really hear a secret that in the end ever achieved a godly purpose.
The current hoopla regarding the Wikileaks exposure (which by the way is a clearly a total setup and False flag operation by the powers that be, if ever there was one) has triggered some thinking time for blogger Mitch Joel who runs a blog Six Pixels of Separation. Don’t you just love it when others much smarter than you do the thinking for you?
Here are the lessons from the Wikileaks saga that he extrapolates. I am and will be trying to teach all of this and more to the PM and to his Samoan officials if they will ever listen:
- Transparency first
- You are media
- Publishing has changed
- Information travels fast
- Decentralization is real
- Credible Anonymity
- We are not ready
Let’s go through this briefly in regards to exposing Samoa:
Transparency first – If you talk about rubbish in the streets at your conferences every year and if it is still a problem; and if you then just show pretty pictures of the white sandy beaches and coconut trees; and if you expect people to understand that this is just they way that Samoa is – we’ve always chucked our rubbish out of the bus window – then you better be ready and expect them to “diss” you on TripAdvisor, their blogs and Facebook pages. Admitting the problem privately, doing nothing about it and then trying to hide it doesn’t work when you are sure to be eventually exposed. You need a new way of dealing with this Samoa. Admit the problem. Enforce the laws and engage with the people transparently both inside and outside of Samoa, and you will win friends and influence people. I quote Mitch’s excellent words:
If your default position is to hide information and keep it secret, the new world is going to cause you many sleepless nights.
You are media – People will blog, write, comment and do much more online about Samoa than you can even imagine. SWAP‘s goal to develop and introduce systems of online communications shows that we understand that we are media, and an increasingly powerful media. I quote Mitch again:
…every individual is (or can be) a media channel.
- Publishing has changed – You betcha! The PM is starting to understand the importance of web based communications and User Generated Content. Unless there is a major shift away from traditional publishing (and that includes advertising and marketing activities) towards understanding the principles of Web Thought Leadership, Samoa will always be a very poor also-ran. Taking a Thought Leadership role on the Internet involves developing well branded systems for viral replication, rather than running a Top-Down managed structure. The first option is best understood by Google who provided a branded Search Engine, basically a system that “manages” the entire world’s online information without owning it The second option is best understood by Microsoft who owns proprietary software, develops it, brands it and markets it. Samoa has the opportunity to leap-frog over the Tsunami issues and launch itself as a key player in the Social Media and online marketing if it chooses to do so.
- Information travels fast – We as a country need to be ready to disseminate important information fast. If we don’t do it, others will. Twitter feeds are essential in a time of emergency or crisis. Blogs and stories need to go out as they happen. Understanding the importance of immediacy of communication is both for the recipients AND for Samoa’s sake.
- Decentralization is real – STA (Samoan Tourism Authority) cannot do a Social Media presence. This has to come from a wide net of participants. Tourists on island, ex-pat Samoans, willing helpers the world over can all contribute to Samoa’s online presence. Control of information must be passed out to others, as this is where the power of the Internet lies – distributed information, systems and participants.
- Credible Anonymity – I’m not sure that I agree with Mitch on this issue or that it applies to Samoa. I’ll need to think more about this concept before commenting! Think . . . think . . . think!
- We are not ready – Alvin Toffler raised the concerns about the impact of the speed of change in his book Future Shock. Forty years on and information overload and overwhelming accelerated technological and social change are concepts foreign to Samoa. To say that Samoa is not ready is an understatement, but in a strongly patriarchal society, with a strong informed progressive leadership in the PM, the potential for healthy growth and development exists.
Samoa needs to be ready to deliver a hybrid solution to handle increased exposure. It must be done with a sensitivity to a people who do not want to change; who want to protect the good things about their lifestyle; and yet a leadership who want to continue to develop the country for its own good.
A major part of this process will engage with what Wikinomics co-founder Don Tapscott calls “mass collaboration”.
Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google says that “Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams’ insights about the power of collaborative innovation and open systems, and their call to ‘reboot’ our institutions-business, education, media, government-haven’t come a minute too soon. Macrowikinomics inspires by chronicling these path breaking developments and pointing the way forward for all of us.”Source
The secret here is not to open up a thousand FaceBook pages, nor to engage in traditional marketing efforts but online, it is to develop systems of mass collaboration that are moderated, focussed and effective.
Copying the practices of the wild west of online pirates and cowboys is not appropriate for a country popping it’s head out of a hole about to engage with the world, but we can surely learn from these guys. Time Magazine had an interesting article about those Pirate Kings. It had some wise advice:
What you need to hit it really big in legitimate commerce is an authoritarian sensibility that limits users to doing what you want them to.
That’s our goal – to harness the goodwill, manpower and resources of those interested in helping Samoa, but to do it sensibly so that we get what we want for Samoa – increased exposure.
* I’ve blogged previously that I had presented a proposal to the Tourism Minister at the time for less than 5% of that budget but that was all ignored. We setup the SWAP Foundation as a Samoan Charitable Trust to do the work that needed to be done. Bringing bloggers and marketers and passionate people across to Samoa who can and will put Samoa online is a much smarter use of money and resources than splashing cash at a TV. It’s not so much a money thing, it’s just the way the world works now – people connecting to people. We’re creating systems that understand Social Media and the incredible goodwill and intrigue that exists internationally toward Samoa, post-Tsunami.