When universities across South Africa announced a substantial fee hike for the 2016 school year, students were understandably upset. Shackled to unrelenting student loans, a weakening economy and the reality that life was becoming more expensive, something had to give.
What resulted was a coordinated protest organised over social media and spread through word of mouth. A single hashtag was able to cut through the noise and bring a single movement to the attention of students across South Africa as millions watched on.
The #FeesMustFall campaign demonstrates the singular power of word of mouth and the ability of social media to disseminate it.
Word of Mouth influences what we buy and think
At VavaVox, we have long advocated the power of word of mouth. Nothing influences buying decisions more; nothing has a more profound effect on the way we act. From university tuition fees, to video games, driving lessons and food (the very fuel that drives us) , word of mouth can dictate what we buy, what we do and what we think. It’s as simple as it is elegant.
We live in an age where brands are trying to tell us what to buy and what to believe. Advertising assaults us from every direction. Overt billboards sell us a dream. Yet the #FeesMustFall movement beautifully illustrates one simple fact: we want to believe the opinions of our peers, not big brands.
The power of people
If nothing else, #FeesMustFall demonstrates the power of people. Throughout the week-long protest, no billboards were needed. No, thousands of students across all of South Africa’s nine provinces came together at the right time and the right place.
Friends of friends of friends stood in solidarity. It proved successful. President Jacob Zuma has announced that the fee increase will be slashed for 2016, and a 0% increase will be affected. As the dust settles on this momentous movement (and a small minority turns their attention to other university issues), #FeesMustFall stands tall as a validation of the power of word of mouth.
Brands take note
In a world where we everything is monetized, people are sensitive to the traditional sell. At VavaVox, we have strived, since our inception, to help companies realise the power of word of mouth as an alternative to traditional advertising.
Banner blindness is common. We want to trust the voice of our peers. From organising protest marches to choosing a doctor to visit, we are more likely than ever to listen to a friend (or a friend of a friend) than a brand selling us a message.
Word of mouth is real, and with social media it’s easier to harness than ever before. Because in the end, sometimes all it takes is a simple hashtag to make us stand up and take notice.