Those who can, should teach: Online training for Media organizations

Say you are a media owner, editor or content developer with a strong niche and a captive audience. One way to monetize your expertise is online training.

Online learning, or e-learning has grown into a $200 billion industry, with most e-learning being concentrated in healthcare, education, ICT and retail studies. But if you look around you can find e-learning resources on everything from starting a business to making sourdough bread.

e-learning is not just about making money, it’s also about sharing knowledge both within and outside your own organization.

SAMIP held a webinar that featured speakers who are running online training initiatives, including Fray College founder Paula Fray, former brand and product marketing manager at GetSmarter Claire du Preez, Smart Film School founder Robb Montgomery, and Hashtag Our Stories’ Yusuf Omar.

The lessons learned from this webinar include:

Why you should and why you shouldn’t get into online training

Before you jump into launching an online training initiative you need to know why you should and why you should not set one up.

Claire says that there are three reasons why media organizations should not get into online training. Firstly, online training initiatives can be time consuming and expensive to create, maintain and sell with the pay-off from them taking time to show. Secondly, they can be brand damaging if not done properly. And most importantly it’s not worth your while if online training does not fit your existing business.

But for those who believe that online training fits their business model, Claire believes that the following reasons are why you should get into online training.

Firstly, there is huge demand for online training, especially with people from junior to senior level looking for ways to upskill themselves in their busy lives. Online training also offers you a source of passive income once you have it set up and correctly priced. Online training is also a great marketing tool and allows you to position yourself as a thought-leader on specific topics and niches.

Teach what you know

Paula Fray advises media workers to start looking for content by first assessing your skills and finding your strengths and weaknesses.

“Teach what you know rather than trying to learn something and teaching that.”

Paula goes on to say that your training content needs to demonstrate real-world impact for it to be valuable to your target audience. The best strategy is to look for the demand in skills in the industry you are targeting to train (i.e. mobile journalism, data journalism, podcasting) and then marry your current skillset with that demand in order to craft a compelling offering.

Designing your course

When putting together a lesson plan the best advice from the speakers was to pay attention to pedagogical theory, which are theories on how people learn, and use those best practices to develop a formal plan.

“The key is to make sure that your participants’ user experience is a good one because that experience is your brand experience,” says Claire.

A great pedagogy practice to use in lesson development is the ADDIE Model for instructional design which is used for designing and developing education and training programs. The acronym ADDIE stands for: Analyze Design Develop Implement and Evaluate.

Most importantly focus on the outcomes of the course for participants and transitioning from one section to the next. Paula explained how Fray College has experimented with gamification to encourage course completion for their students.

Where to host your course

Online training platforms are a dime a dozen and each come their own strengths and weaknesses.

Platforms like Thinkific, teachable and podia are best used for hosting courses; platforms like Kajabi and Karta provide an all-inclusive business for online training; platforms like Skill Share and Udemy have a built-in audience which you can more easily but are challenging for newcomers who have to compete against a lot similar offerings; and if you are looking for more bespoke solutions you can look at LifterLMS and moodle that give you more leeway in customizing the learning experience.

Know the business and pricing models

Online training has several business and pricing models which can be employed. In the beginning you can develop a co-branded product which would entail partnering with a well-known brand to develop and also market your course. Curated content from experts in a particular field is another business model you can explore. Or you can experiment with a standalone training or white-labelled solutions.

Pricing strategies for your course include: once-off fees that users can pay to access the course content forever; fixed-term pricing which allows participants to pay for course content that they can access for a particular period; memberships and subscriptions are another way to price courses and these are best for recurring revenue; and if you opt for a co-branded course offering you can look at splitting the revenue between you and your course partners.

Be your own hype man

Building a course and then waiting for people to find it organically is one of the biggest pitfalls you can fall into according to Claire. You’ll need a go-to market strategy to create awareness for your course and attract participants to it.

Hashtag Our Stories’ Yusuf Omar says that for people to know about your course offering you need to be your own hype man and take every opportunity to promote yourself and your work especially your online training product.

Robb Montgomery advised that you should build off each online training you develop as they may lead to more opportunities.

Ultimately online training offers media workers and organizations more opportunities to increase their unique selling propositions as well as to potentially add more revenue streams to their businesses.

The Daily Vox celebrates Youth Day and its birthday


In marking six years since the launch of The Daily Vox, the youth media start-up ran a week long anniversary campaign: #TDVTurns6. Along with social media videos and retrospectives, The Daily Vox hosted a digital event tackling how COVID-19 was affecting students – one of the emerging struggles for equality and inclusion in higher education.

The Daily Vox also launched a weekly podcast, The Critical Stans 2.0, focusing on the politics of pop culture.

South Africa’s most trusted weekly

A poll by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that the Mail & Guardian is the most trusted weekly news publication in South Africa. The M&G, a SAMIP participant, has responded to the economic pressures of the pandemic by launching regular sponsored webinars, refining their email newsletters, and even piloting an African journalism project over WhatsApp.

Food chains in a pandemic

This week’s episode of FoodForMzansi’s podcast, The Farmer’s Inside Track, features Nezisa Sogoni, a business school graduate turned poultry farmer, and agricultural economist Lunathi Hlakanyane talks about the role of street.

Food For Mzansi also hosted a ‘young farmer’ webinar, in partnership with Grobank, focusing on the role of water in agriculture and the need to balance water conservation and food security.

Tracking coronavirus data in SA

Media Hack Collective continued updating their Coronavirus in South Africa dashboard as SA’s coronavirus numbers grow. The total number of confirmed cases is now 83890, with 1737 death and 44920 recoveries. Media Hack recently added graphs of the daily cases in three provinces, Gauteng, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape, to their provincial data page so we can better track how quickly cases are rising.

Media Hack co-founder Alastair Otter recently reported that the dashboard has clocked close to 1.5 million views since its launch.


Children’s Radio Foundation bags COVID-19 podcasting grant

New podcasts, new funding, awards nominations and a million hits: here are some highlights this week from the South African Media Innovation Program.

Youth developing through Covid-19 podcasting

Children’s Radio Foundation, an organisation using radio to create opportunities for dialogue, leadership, advocacy, and community building among youth, received a Population Services International grant towards podcasting on Covid-19 in Africa over the next six months.

Coronavirus dashboard reaches one million views

This week Media Hack Collective’s Coronavirus dashboard reached one million views since its launch in March 2020. As Media Hack continues to update their dashboard with the latest coronavirus numbers, South Africa has conducted over one million tests, confirmed cases have reached over 58,000 and the death toll is at 1284.

News from the frontline podcast by Volume and Tekano

Volume in partnership with Tekano launched a new podcast: News From The Frontline, focusing on putting health equity in Covid-19 on the agenda and amplifying the work of Tekano’s Fellows and other organizations at a local community level. Episode 1 focused on sex workers in South Africa, and their struggle to enforce their rights because sex work is criminalized.

Award nomination for Yusuf Omar

Yusuf Omar, co-founder of Hashtag Our Stories, has been nominated for the One Young World Journalist of the Year award. He is one of the fifteen young journalists across the world shortlisted because for impact they’ve made to the field of journalism. Five winners will be announced in mid-June and will be presented with the award at the One Young World Summit in 2021.

Daily Vox profiles solidarity funds for man killed in lockdown

This week, The Daily Vox profiled two fundraising campaigns set up for Collin Khosa, who died after soldiers assaulted him in his home during South Africa’s lockdown. In keeping with The Daily Vox’s roots in solidarity and social justice, it was the youth outlet’s top-performing article this week.

Food for Mzansi speaks to Edward Kgarose

In the latest edition of Farmer’s Inside Track, Food for Mzansi’s weekly podcast, the digital agriculture news organisation catches up with trendsetter Edward Kgarose, a Limpopo-based entrepreneur who invented a sweet potato drinking yoghurt.


Shining a spotlight on police brutality – at home and abroad

This week, while protests against police brutality spread across the United States, SAMIP participants used their platforms to raise awareness of issues of police violence and accountability in South Africa, while others kept audiences informed on how the pandemic is playing out in education, sports, and agriculture.

Police brutality receives attention around the world

Highlighting the parallels to police brutality issues in the US, The Daily Vox reported on some of the names of those who have died in police encounters during South Africa’s lockdown.

Viewfinder, an investigative journalism startup that has exposed police brutality before and during the lockdown, published a series of videos this week highlighting what needs to change to fix police oversight in South Africa.

School reopening during COVID-19

We learned this week that school re-openings have been postponed to 8 June. Health-e News showcased views of activists and public health officials on what needs to happen to send children back to school during COVID-19.

COVID-19 cases, deaths and recoveries by province

As South Africa entered level 3 of the lockdown, there have been over 40,000 cases of COVID-19 reported and over 20,000 recoveries. Media Hack Collective’s Coronavirus in South Africa dashboard continues to track COVID-19 cases, deaths and recoveries by province in South Africa.

Reporting on women’s sports during COVID-19

The lockdown may have put a temporary hold on sports, but women’s sports platform gsport4girls continues to highlight the achievements of female athletes and members of the women’s sporting community. Their monthly Newsmaker list features achievements by women athletes in the fields of cricket, football and rugby.

Food for Mzansi speaks to the agriculture minister

This week’s episode of the Food For Mzansi podcast, Farmer’s Inside Track, features Thoko Didiza, the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development. The agricultural digital media startup speaks to Minister Didiza about the payout-delay with COVID-19 relief vouchers for small-scale farmers, and how the pandemic revealed “fault lines of South Africa’s past”.




What happened in April & May at SAMIP

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a challenging year for us all. South Africa went into a nation-wide lockdown at end of March and life has not been the same since. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted all industries and for media it has been likened to an extinction level event.

At the start of the month we saw the closure of Associated Media Publishing, the publishing house behind Cosmopolitan SA, House & Leisure and Women in Wheels.

But despite this disruption people still need news media and it is because of that need that the South Africa Media Innovation Program (SAMIP) continues its mission of accelerating innovation and transformation in South Africa’s media space.

Sheltering in place but still working

SAMIP began remote work in the middle of March. At that point the program had plans to travel to Nairobi to attend Africa Podfest, the first pan-African podcasting conference which, like most major events this year, has been indefinitely postponed.

Since we began our remote work set-up and we had to pivot our operations and plans for the program and its participants. This started with the program offering immediate support and authorization for the re-purposing of grant funding that had been awarded to go towards activities and functions related to the effects of the pandemic.

Like most remote operations we’ve had to also optimize our communications both internally and with our participants and since April we’ve made sure to be in constant contact with our participants through online channels including Slack, email, and Zoom calls.

Reference groups help build our knowledge-base

The program began a series of reference groups that invited select participants to engage in a group call where they’d discuss, and debate issues around specific topics related to their industries.

Since the calls began the program has run reference groups on the following topics:

  • Podcasting – 27 March
  • Remote work – 03 April
  • Newsletters – 09 April
  • Media sales and rate cards – 17 April
  • Online events – 24 April
  • Digital publishing using WhatsApp – 15 May

The reference groups have evolved from being once-off discussions to being an additional step in planning out events, workshops and training for capacity building.

Events, workshops and training

Over the last two months the program has had to change our in-person workshops and training into a series of webinars in keeping with the lockdown guidelines implemented by the South African government.

From the end of March, we held the following webinars:

Newsletters – 14 April 2020

SAMIP held an advanced newsletters webinar for our participants as well as invited quests from outside the program. The goal of the webinar was to take a deep dive into what would make an organization’s newsletter go from the spam box to the top of the inbox.

The speakers that shared their insights during the webinar included: Arena Holdings reader revenue lead Julia Harris, and managing editor for digital Riaan Wolmarans ; Daily Maverick newsletter editor John Stupart and product manager Rowan Polovin; and Inbox Collective consultant Dan Oshinsky who also runs the monthly newsletter Not A Newsletter.

Media sales strategy webinar – 21 April

On 21 April Burn Media general manager Carl Davis led our cohort and invited guests through media sales strategy webinar aimed at taking them through the ins and outs of developing a sales strategy, pricing their products and closing sales meetings.

Online events webinar – 05 May

We organized a webinar on online events for our participants which was appropriate for the times we’re experiencing with in-person events no longer being possible for the foreseeable future. The webinar saw organizations that included Daily Maverick, Mail & Guardian (M&G) and Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism sharing their experience from organizing successful webinars and virtual events.

Publishing via WhatsApp webinar – 21 May

As publishers look for new platforms to engage their audiences on, we’ve seen a number of them turning to the chat app WhatsApp as a distribution platform. We decided to hold a webinar on using WhatsApp as a publishing platform where our participants got to hear from the Praekelt Foundation, M&G and What’s Crap on WhatsApp (a joint project between SAMIP participant Volume and Africa Check) on best practices for using the platform.

We celebrate the wins, big and small

Over the past two months, on a weekly basis, we have been we highlight the work our participants have done in that period in reporting on the pandemic and its effects on society. The goal has been shine a spotlight on work that is not only monumental but also indicative of how our participants continue to perform in such tough times.

Our participants have managed to produce the following work:

As June begins and the year progresses into new territory, we are evaluating our activities considering the pandemic and our plans for the rest of the year. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue our work as we have seen how important it is.

SAMIP participants capture the last days of lockdown level 4 in South Africa

According to government plans, no more than a third of students will return to campuses in Level 3 of lockdown. In their latest newsletter, The Daily Vox spoke to two university students, Siya Shazi and Njabulo Mhlambi, about how they’re dealing with online learning. While most people have raised issues of data for students, Siya and Njabulo also spoke about the need to manage their mental health, bad connectivity, and increased workloads.

The youth offer solutions on COVID-19 reporting

During times of crisis, community radio stations play a crucial role in sharing information, mobilizing community members, and directing listeners to the health care services in their communities. Children’s Radio Foundation hosted a webinar on youth solutions in reporting on Covid-19 across the African continent. The conversation brought to light the challenges faced by youth across Africa in this moment — lack of accurate health information, school closings, limited access to technology, loss of contact with peers, precarious futures — and how our broadcasts are addressing these uncertainties.

More women+ experts on COVID-19 emerge

Quote This Woman+ has an existing database of seventy women and since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have created a database of experts in that field.  In their latest newsletter, QW+ shares a database of women experts that can speak to new aspects of the pandemic including the contact details of  Dr. Thokozani Chilenga-Butao and Dr. Sara Black who can speak to the opening of the schools.

Season 1 of Media diaries comes to a close

What happens when our journalists, the people we expect to be out in the world for us, are forced to stay at home? At a time when we vitally need reliable reporting, how are editors managing the COVID-19 crisis? Listen to all the 8 episodes of Media Diaries: Covid-19 Edition by Volume and get a sense of how SAMIP participants have continued their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media Hack’s dashboard remains up-to-date on the Coronavirus in South Africa

COVID-19 tests, infections, recoveries, and death numbers continue to rise.  South Africa has conducted 655,723 tests and has 27,402 coronavirus cases, 143,370 recoveries, and 577 deaths. Media Hack Collective’s coronavirus dashboard keeps us updated with the latest COVID-19 numbers and 12 areas identified as coronavirus hot spots.

Food for Mzansi shares inspiring stories of unity in agri-business 

This week’s episode 27 of Farmer’s inside tracker by Food for Mzansi tells a story of two Northern Cape farmers who realised that unity is the key to their future. The podcast reveals how partnerships are a secret to a successful agri-business.

gsport shines the spotlight on excellence in women’s sports journalism

gsport for girls reporter Celine Abrahams got to interview football reporter Lee-Ann Mpofu in their ongoing series called ‘The Big Interview’. Mpofu was the winner of the 2019 Momentum gsport Woman in Social Media award at last year’s ceremony.

Publishing for WhatsApp? Here are three great ways to do it

With 90% of internet users active on its app, WhatsApp is the biggest social networking app in South Africa. It’s bigger than Twitter, Instagram, and even Facebook. So it’s no wonder that publishers have turned to WhatsApp as a way to reach audiences.

The South African Media and Innovation Program (SAMIP) recently hosted a webinar on using WhatsApp for publishing, where three innovative WhatsApp projects showcased their work.

  • Gustav Praekelt, founder of Turn, presented on the COVID-19 HealthAlert service, a WhatsApp-based information helpline that was piloted by South Africa’s Department of Health in March 2020. The platform is now used by the World Health Organisation and several other national governments, with over 20 million users worldwide.
  • Paul McNally of Volume and Africa Check’s Kate Wilkinson presented on the distribution of What’s Crap on WhatsApp, a fact-checking podcast that’s packaged for mass distribution on WhatsApp. (Each episode is a 5-minute voice note, broadcast to nearly 5000 users over WhatsApp.)
  • Simon Allison and Kiri Rupiah of the Mail & Guardian showcased their experimental publishing of The Continent, a new weekly newspaper that packages high-quality reporting from across Africa into a format that is easy to read and share over mobile phones. (Inspired by Zimbabwe’s 263Chat, it’s designed to look like a high-quality broadsheet, but laid out on a PDF the size of a folded postcard. Every article is trimmed to about 250 words.)

Here are a few key takeaways from the discussion.

It doesn’t have to cost you (but you get what you pay for)

Gustav unveiled two main options for most businesses – WhatsApp SMB (WhatsApp for Business), a free option that is limited to businesses with fewer than 5000 users, and WhatsApp Business API, a premium option with a starting cost of about $200 per month – with potentially unlimited audience sizes.

In just a few short weeks, Turn’s HealthAlert app – built on the premium WhatsApp Business Api – garnered over 7 million users in South Africa.

By contrast, the What’s Crap team maintains a community of nearly 5000 subscribers using the free WhatsApp for Business app. Every subscriber is added manually to a set of broadcast lists (with a built-in limit of 256 members per list); each subscriber must also add the What’s Crap account number to their contacts in order to receive messages sent via broadcast list.

Screenshot of HealthAlert app

Automation isn’t for everyone

The principal benefit of WhatsApp Business API, other than its unlimited audience size, is automation. Turn’s HealthAlert service is being used by the World Health Organisation with 10 million users – Gustav estimates that this audience is being supported by about 10 people. However,  bots can’t do everything.  “If you have a model where you really need to support people, you should have one human operator for at least 1000 of your end users,” he says.

Certainly, the manual option requires some manual labour.

Kate says Africa Check had to hire extra help to maintain What’s Crap’s subscriber database during lockdown. Every time a broadcast message goes out, a human operator needs to scroll through the list of contacts to look for the classic ‘single tick’ sign of non-delivery – and engage that user to ask them to add What’s Crap’s number to their contact list.

Though What’s Crap is reaching the 5000-user limit for its WhatsApp for Business account, Kate says they are unlikely to migrate to the WhatsApp Business API: the main limit of the platform, aside from cost, is that it does not allow for broadcast – which is the very purpose of the project.

Make it personal

“WhatsApp is a very personal communication mechanism,” says Gustav. “Broadcast can be conceived of as being spamming, whereas one-on-one interactions can work very well.”

The personal touch is one reason why the small M&G team behind the Continent team has opted for an even more manual form of distribution. Every edition is sent out to WhatsApp users individually, one at a time. (Users can also subscribe via email or download the edition from, and Kiri also sends editions to a few discerning users over Signal.)

This is in part to avoid WhatsApp’s very sensitive block rates (“Not even 1%; 0.01% blockrates can get you flagged,” says Gustav).

The What’s Crap team also relies on personalised interactions with their users as a basic part of their project. Users are encouraged to submit dodgy messages and media that are circulating on WhatsApp, giving Africa Check’s fact-checkers a unique insight into what kind of disinformation is circulating in private, encrypted networks.

“Lots of people discuss WhatsApp as a distribution mechanism, where you’re sending content out, but we also use it as a way to gather information,” says Kate.

Get creative to measure engagement

While the hefty pricetag of a WhatsApp Business API platform comes with detailed analytics and audience insights, users of the no-cost options have to make do without. What’s more, WhatsApp’s content encryption means that publishers have very little insight to what happens to their message once it’s out in the wild: there is little way of knowing how many people share it, and with whom.

The What’s Crap team tries to get audience feedback by sending simple questions out to users. Users were asked to rate the latest episode on a simple emoji scale: thumbs up, thumbs down, heart, or poop. It was mainly thumbs ups and hearts, says Kate.

For The Continent, Kiri says they have built one sneaky engagement feature into the newspaper itself: a news quiz, buried on page 19 of the paper.

“The quiz is not just a brain teaser. The quiz is to see how far into the content people are going,” she says. You won’t find the answers to this week’s quiz in next week’s edition – the only way to get the answers is to send a request, via WhatsApp, to The Continent’s account.

Clearly, whatever they’re doing is working. In just four weeks the mobile-first newspaper has garnered thousands of subscribers across Africa.

Subscribe to each of these innovative projects on WhatsApp:

SAMIP’s participants top the charts and empower citizens

South Africa has now been under lockdown for 60 days with no end in sight. Despite the odds, the South Africa Media Innovation Program’s participants have continued the hard work of reporting the news and creating innovative products.

In this week’s episode of Food For Mzansi’s weekly podcast, Farmer’s Inside Track, the digital startup speaks focuses on the importance of indigenous crops. Qinisani Qwabe, an agricultural researcher and soybean farmer, speaks about his love for indigenous vegetables – traditional crops that have been family favourites for decades. Farmer’s Inside Track recently reached the top of Apple Podcast’s business and entrepreneurship podcasts.

Media Diaries highlights Hashtag Our Stories’ new kind of journalism

This week’s episode of Media Diaries: Covid-19 Edition looks focuses on Hashtag Our Stories, a citizen journalism organisation that has gathered together a global network of storytellers, trained them to use their mobile phones to create videos, and post them on social media platforms for millions of people. This series started 8 weeks ago when the lockdown began and it’s still not over. With any luck, there will be a second season.

Empowering you when getting into a lease agreement

Not Yet Uhuru’s latest episode of What’s Love?! focuses on one woman’s struggle with residential harassment. What’s Love?! is a feminist podcast series that empowers South African women with knowledge about love, money, and economic equality. In this episode, financial expert Magauta Mphahlele helps Melanie deal with getting harassed by her neighbour. A must-listen for anyone who is getting into a lease agreement!

Public-health star Dr T part of a growing community of women

QuoteThisWoman+, a non-profit committed to getting more women’s voices heard in South African media, now offers a database of more than 70 expert women’s voices to help journalists understand the impact of COVID-19 on our society. Their latest newsletter profiles gender commissioner, medical doctor, and author Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng.

Appreciating frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

Frontline workers are working hard to take us out of the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, The Daily Vox profiles Bhelekazi Mdlalose, a nurse with Doctors Without Borders assisting in the government’s contact tracing programme.

Coronavirus in South Africa dashboard

As of 22 May, South Africa has conducted over 525 000 tests and recorded over  19000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. There have also been 369 deaths and 8950 recoveries. Media Hack Collective’s Coronavirus in South Africa dashboard has all the latest update on COVID-19.

Viewfinder’s accountability journalism gets the Taco Kuiper nod

As South Africans hope for a further easing of the lockdown and a gradual opening of the economy, three of SAMIP’s participants were shortlisted for the 2019 Taco Kuiper Award for investigative journalism – Daneel Knoetze of Viewfinder, Pauli van Wyk of the Daily Maverick and Sipho Kings from the Mail & Guardian.

It marks a highlight in a week where SAMIP participants continued to keep audiences up to date with the latest news, updates and analysis of the day.

Viewfinder, a South African investigative journalism startup, was named as one of the top four finalists of the Taco Kuiper Award for their investigations of police abuses of power and failing oversight. Viewfinder’s work was also featured this week on the Media Diaries podcast, co-produced by SAMIP participant Volume:

QuoteThisWoman+ now features over 60 women experts to speak on the public health crisis

QuoteThisWoman+, a non-profit start-up that is committed to getting more women’s voices heard in South African media, now offers a database of 64 expert women’s voices to help journalists navigate stormy COVID-19 waters. Their latest newsletter features experts that can speak to public health, the future of work, Africa’s pandemic trajectory, and a host of other issues.

COVID-19 information challenges for rural farmers

In this week’s episode of Food For Mzansi’s weekly farmers’ podcast, Farmer’s Inside Track, the digital media startup speaks to 25-year-old Andile Ngcobo on how limited access to information about COVID-19 has impacted the rural village in which he farms.

Tracking the uptick in infections, death and recoveries

The Coronavirus in South Africa dashboard by Media Hack Collective continues to provide updates on COVID-19 national and provincial infection, death and recoveries rates. Media Hack Collective is a data journalism and digital storytelling organization that aims to make data understandable for a wider audience.


Pivoting to webinars – 5 lessons for small media orgs

As media organisations race to adapt to life under lockdown, many are turning to online events – to reconnect with audiences, make up for lost revenue, or to establish themselves as agenda-setters on the key questions of the day.

Last week, the South African Media Innovation Program convened an online conversation with four media outlets – the Daily Maverick, the Mail & Guardian, Food for Mzansi, and Bhekisisa, to discuss what they’ve learned in the past six weeks as they pivoted to hosting online events. Yes: we had a webinar about webinars.

If you missed the event, here are a few big takeaways.

1. There’s revenue in them hills

Fran Beighton, who heads up the Daily Maverick’s Maverick Insider community, told us that DM never set out to turn webinars into a revenue-making exercise. The first goal was simply to connect with members. But, she said, once her team started organising events, sponsors quickly came forward – suggesting that even ad spending has dried up across many sectors, advertisers are still looking for somewhere to go. According to Fran, in the weeks since South Africa’s lockdown began, Maverick Insiders has hosted webinars and online discussions that netted anywhere between R0 and R35,000 in sponsorship per event. Their main cost – a R13,000 yearly subscription to WebinarJam.

2. It’s easier than you think

Taahir Hoorzook, CFO for the Mail & Guardian, told us that the organisation understood the need to move to online events – M&G’s physical events had made up 30% of its revenue – but at first they’d been hesitant to dive in. “We overthought it for the first few days,” he said. But after getting quotes from production companies that ran to tens of thousands of rands, the M&G team realised it would have to organise the webinars themselves.

The lesson learned, according to Taahir: “It’s easier than you think.” After getting a trial version of WebinarJam, the M&G hosted its first webinar in late April – a discussion on the psychological impact of Covid19, in partnership with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group. Since then, the organisation has hosted at least one online event per week, with commercial partners ranging from the South African Human Rights Commission to e-learning giant GetSmarter.

3. It doesn’t need to cost

While the other outlets opted to pay for webinar software, Bhekisisa hosted their recent webinar with two leading coronavirus experts on an ordinary Zoom call. More than 1400 people tuned into Bhekisisa’s interview with Quarraisha and Salim Abdool Karim, two of the scientists helping to guide South Africa’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

In their input to SAMIP’s discussion, Bhekisisa’s Rosaline Daniel and Gopolang Makou explained how they used rigorous pre-planning, and some of Zoom’s more advanced features, to ensure a smooth-running event that was free from disruption. Ros and Gopolang later shared some of their tips on the Bhekisisa blog.

4. Great things can happen

Kobus Louwrens, co-founder of Food For Mzansi – a digital media outlet catering to small-scale farmers and agribusinesses – shared how #TeamFFM went from complete webinar newbies to hosting a wildly successful event in less than a week. When lockdown hit South Africa, Food For Mzansi had been forced to cancel a series of events planned for a roadshow in April and May. By mid April, they had struck a deal with an agribank to sponsor a half-day online event to discuss how the pandemic would affect the agricultural sector, which would be hosted on GoToWebinar. (Cost: starting at R2000 per month.)

“Expectations were low,” he said – webinars are uncommon in the agri space, and they anticipated a minimum of 70 people attending. In the end, over 1300 people joined the event, a success that Kobus attributes in part to right-place-right-timeness of the topic, and in part to the fact that many of Food For Mzansi’s audiences live in small towns and rural areas that have historically been left out of such events.

5. Experiment, adjust, repeat

Each of these outlets has found a way to make webinars work to their advantage, but that doesn’t mean it’s all gone smoothly. Everyone’s had their share of webinar woes – from dodgy internet connections, to panelists having to cancel at the last minute.

What’s worked for each of them is a willingness to forge ahead with webinars, learning as they go – knowing that every mistake is a lesson for what to do differently the next time.

In the likely event that the world stays socially distant for the foreseeable future, there will be plenty of time to practice.