Communicating for development using social media: A case study of e-inclusion intermediaries in under-resourced communities
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South Africa is committed to accelerating the roll-out of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to support development at all levels. E-inclusion intermediaries (e-IIs) are used in the country to bridge the digital divide and to create equal opportunities for citizens to benefit from using ICTs. E-IIs are established mainly in under-resourced communities by private, public and third-sector organisations to provide physical access to ICT services for free or at a very low cost. The aim of e-IIs is to make ICT services affordable for and accessible to marginalised and poor community members, who can use the ICT to support community development. The debate is ongoing regarding the contribution of e-IIs towards community development due to, in part, the lack of quantifiable evidence to support the impact that the e-IIs have on development in the communities. Furthermore, despite the existence of e-IIs in communities, there still are community members who do not use the e-IIs. This has been attributed to the lack of awareness of the e-IIs and the services they provide. This lack of awareness is often blamed on the ineffective communication strategies of e-IIs. E-IIs are accused of relying heavily on traditional communication channels and conventional mass media, which do not share information and create awareness effectively in the communities. The increased uptake of modern technologies, such as the Internet and mobile devices, in South Africa has created new opportunities to communicate with community members to share information and create awareness. Social media, for instance, which are mostly accessed through mobile devices, have made communication more accessible and inexpensive for community members with limited skills and resources. Social media have also become popular among development actors in their attempt to direct policy, create awareness and garner community members’ support for development interventions. Arguably, e-IIs could also benefit from using social media, which have become popular in some communities, to communicate with community members in order to create awareness of the e-IIs, the services they provide and the benefits of using ICTs to support community development. The investigation undertaken in this study was twofold. Firstly, the quick-scan analysis method was used to analyse fifty e-IIs. Using this method it was possible to explore the services that are provided by e-IIs as well as how e-IIs communicate with community members and other development actors. Secondly, using six in-depth case studies this study further investigated how e-IIs’ services support community development and how the e-IIs communicate for development, paying special attention to their use of social media.