BusinessDay

From digital marketers to perfume sellers, how Twitter ban is ripping through Nigeria’s small businesses

… Looming unemployment increase, investment decline projected

Opeyemi Ajadi is a 23-year-old entrepreneur who makes no less than a million naira monthly from the comfort of her home, working as a digital marketer and influencing corporate and individual brands on Twitter, a social media platform.

She has over 30,000 followers with which she can comfortably reach millions of Twitter users at no cost, simply by optimizing retweets, likes, and shares. However, a directive from the federal government placing a ban on Twitter has hit Ajadi hard.

First, she has been forced to restrategize as she has ongoing contracts with well-known brands who are scared of defying the government; secondly, demand for her services have waned significantly since the ban was effected. This is however the least of her problems as she fears the ban may become permanent.

“Since the ban, I have lost three contracts, now the followers I struggled to build over the last year may not be relevant for me anymore,” she lamented.

Emeka Nwosu is another entrepreneur whose business is already reeling from the ban. As a perfume seller who records more sales and visibility online particularly on Twitter, demand for his product has reduced significantly.

“Retweets of my products have landed very important people on my client list, it helped me sell beyond my immediate environment and kept me updated with new trends in the business, but this ban has severed such opportunities,” he said.

Read Also: How Nigeria’s Twitter ban will stifle digital ecosystem

Just like Ajadi and Nwosu, no less than 15 million Micro, Small, and Medium scale entrepreneurs in Nigeria are in a fix on the way forward following the suspension of Twitter, a social media platform by the federal government on June 4, as business activities like buying and selling, digital marketing, etc. have been affected.

According to a 2017 MSME report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria has 41.5 million MSMEs. Economists believe that these numbers would have increased significantly particularly in 2020 when the pandemic hit.

The now-banned social media platform served as a business booster for over 20 percent of businesses via advertisement, contracts, visibility, among other things.

In Nigeria, Twitter is the fourth most used social media platform with 11 percent and is the third most preferred social media platform, according to the NOI social media poll report for November 2019.

The report reveals that Twitter has 39.6 million Nigerian users, 20 percent of who utilize the platform for business advertisement. 98 percent of the poll respondents affirmed that the social media network is the most effective in gaining attention.

Muda Yusuf, Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) said concerns are being raised over the collateral damage the ban would do to businesses especially those with ongoing contractual obligations.

“Many businesses, especially SMEs, leverage this digital platform for marketing and other promotional activities. The outright ban wields significant impact with regards to the wider implications for numerous small businesses that derive significant value from the use of this digital platform,” he said.

Subsequently, some entrepreneurs through the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) are able to bypass the ban and retain access to their Twitter account. However, this does not shield their business from the impact of the ban as customers who cannot access Twitter and do not have VPN abandon the app and make use of other social media platforms causing a decline in demand.

Furthermore, brands are scared of flouting the federal government’s directive hence, they refrain from using Twitter influencers to reach their market causing a decline in demand for the services of influencers.

In addition to this, threats from Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, to prosecute those defying the ban has further aggravated the fear of users.

Ibe Kenneth, a Twitter influencer known as Mazi Ibe said “This whole Twitter ban still seems like a joke to some of us but it is way serious to those making a living on this app, especially those that advertise for brands. Even with the VPN, will brands want to associate with something this government has banned?”

Already the ban has cost Nigeria over $72.17 million (N29.59 billion) since it was announced according to NetBlocks, an organization that estimates the economic impact of internet disruption, part of which is the revenue Nigerian businesses get daily.

Franklin Ngwu, Director, Lagos Business School (LBS) Sustainability Centre and an Associate Professor of Strategy, Corporate Governance and Risk Management, said the impact of the ban will be quite severe on MSMEs that rely on the digital space as reliance on technology will be constrained. Also, it will further aggravate the challenges which the pandemic dumped on them.

He added that beyond its impact on businesses, it will cause a cyclic reaction on the economy, affecting economic activities and government revenue.

“If these businesses are not doing well, they will try to cut costs, especially through staff reduction, which will increase unemployment, as a chain reaction of poverty and insecurity will be on the rise.

Furthermore as a result of reduced demand for products, business activities will reduce causing lower revenue, hence they may not fulfill obligations like tax payment which will affect government revenue,” he said.

In Nigeria, listed companies, small businesses, and international organizations have a Twitter account handled by either a team or an individual. The ban will definitely affect these people’s income as their roles become redundant.

The Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) , an economic think-tank, in a public statement, said that small businesses will be gravely affected, while concerns around the country’s unemployment, poverty, and economic attractiveness will be increased as a result of the ban.

Beyond its impact on businesses, the NESG noted that the directive will further cripple investment inflow into the country which is still below average when compared with other African countries.

“The temporary suspension of Twitter in Nigeria sends out a wrong signal and will stand in the way of our path to rapid economic recovery, at a difficult time like this, when Nigeria must grow its economy, plug into the global digital revolution, attract patient international capital, and sustained foreign currency inflow to address our foreign exchange challenges,” it explained

James Aboluwade who runs a consulting firm said beyond having over 50 percent of his market on the social media platform, Twitter is a very reliable avenue to get information on business grants, business development opportunities, and crucial information.

He added that Twitter also gives wide visibility to businesses via retweets unlike Facebook and Instagram where you have to run paid adverts to be visible. He however, noted that building followers on Twitter is one of the hardest things especially for a business owner.

Anna Momodu, a digital marketer said she lost contracts after the ban was issued and there is the possibility of losing more despite the VPN.

“VPN is not bringing back jobs that have been lost. Many of these companies are now skeptical of working with us Nigerian digital marketers, they are reluctant to take the risk even with VPN,” she tweeted.

Economic experts believe this may stifle growth in the country’s technology sector and consequently the economy through a decline in possible investments, as prospective investors remain skeptical about government policies.

It can be recalled that the telecommunications sector’s growth rate slowed to 7.6 percent in Q1 2021 as against the 9.7 percent recorded in Q1 2020 according to the NBS, it is believed that policies and actions of the federal government contributed to it particularly the decision to ban SIM card sales.

Other than Nigeria, Twitter has been banned in some countries like China, North Korea, Myanmar, Turkmenistan, Iran, etc. However, some of them have developed applications similar to Twitter to fill the gap like China’s Sina Weibo. India also has its Koo app which serves as Twitter for them. Nigeria has no alternative to Twitter for now.