With many arguing that the fourth industrial revolution is upon us, the world as we know it is becoming more digital and connected. ICTs have become an integral part of how we function in everyday life. Social media for instance, have completely reshaped the communication landscape. Additionally, ICTs have been linked to social and economic development, emphasising even more the need for all citizens to have equal access to ICTs and the skills to use them.
In South Africa, for marginalised individuals and groups who cannot afford to buy and or pay to access these technologies, e-inclusion intermediaries have been a common strategy to assist them. They provide free access to ICTs namely, computers and the internet (for example e-centres and public libraries). They also intentionally promote the use of ICTs to enhance the socio-economic inclusion of marginalised community members.
The challenge however, is that there is a lack of awareness among community members about the existence of these intermediaries and or the services they provide. Community members cannot access and utilise the services if they do not know about them. Furthermore, other community members know about the intermediaries, but they choose not to use the services because they cannot relate to them. They lack adequate and accurate information about ICTs and the (social, economic, and or personal) benefits they can reap from using them.
This has been attributed in part to inadequate communication strategies and media used by the intermediaries. They fail to sufficiently reach the intended audience to therefore, create awareness, share relevant information, and encourage the use of ICTs. To gain more insights into this challenge and identify possible solutions, a PhD study is currently being carried out on e-inclusion intermediaries operating in selected disadvantaged communities of the Western Cape province.
The aim of the study is to explore how these intermediaries communicate with community members and how they use social media to support their community development goals. A better understanding of how social media can be used for development purposes can provide helpful insights to intermediaries and other development actors on how they can utilise these popular and powerful tools to enhance their current communication strategies.
Through a qualitative multi-case study approach that included, site visits and interviews with the intermediaries and community members preliminary findings indicate that social media have great potential as communication for development media. However, they need to be used strategically to be effective and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.