The South African Book Fair (SABF), presented by the South African Book Development Council (SABDC) and the Fiber Processing & Manufacturing Seta (FP&M Seta), was the country’s only official national platform for the book sector to come together and celebrate #OURSTORIES. Before the closure of the SABDC, in 2021, we had a long and fruitful relationship working on the digital aspects of the Fair.
This began in 2018 when I (Shakirah) joined the SABDC as a freelance Social Media Manager just two months before the event was set to take Newtown, Johannesburg, by storm. While the SABF had existing platforms with a decent sized audience, it was clear that there was little to no strategy behind the social media. I worked closely with the CEO, Elitha Van Der Sandt, to develop a strategy that would help us reach new audiences while also communicating the purpose of the Fair and its multifaceted offerings. By the time the Fair came around, our official hashtags were trending and our on-site team of six made sure that every corner of the Fair was being communicated to the public in thought provoking and meaningful ways. This meant having a command center from which all media and digital aspects were managed, while also sending members of the team into the field. Our role during this year also included briefing the photography and videography teams, ensuring that all key moments were being captured, while also coordinating and executing numerous partner interactions.
In 2019, the Fair moved to Constitution Hill in Braamfontein and while our team kept all the original responsibilities of running the social media, pre, post and during event, we had taken on the added responsibility of managing the Book Fair’s website, and running digital Ads across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google and YouTube. Having had some experience from 2018, we spent the first half of the year developing a solid long-term strategy that would help the SABDC achieve its goal of creating the most inclusive, accessible and diverse book sector event in the country. This included a strong paid Ads strategy, supported by high quality organic content & design, and a strategy to tap into the audiences of the publishers, authors, sponsors, speakers, service providers and partners of the Fair.
We developed digital brand guides, tool kits and were constantly in communication with partners to optimize our relationships. Once again, the Fair’s official hashtags trended across platforms for majority of the weekend and those who were unable to attend, got a sense of the myriad of offerings through a well co-ordinated on-the-ground social team.
After two exciting years working with the Book Fair to grow the brand and further develop the book sector in the country, COVID19 hit. The SABDC and its constituents remained dedicated to its mission and purpose, and thus… #vSABF2020 was born. One of the continents first virtual book fairs to ever take place, with only the Nigeria International Book Fair happening a few days before the virtual SA Book Fair.
While very few things in life can beat the thrill of flying to Johannesburg, working with a dynamic women-led team and bringing joy to the faces of hundreds of little ones, the virtual Book Fair was by far our company’s biggest and most challenging project up until that point. The virtual world was new for everyone, and transporting a multi-day day event with a children’s tent, dozens of panel discussions, live poetry and music, cooking demonstrations, author signings and more to the digital world was going to be something new for EVERYONE.
We spent months working with the team at Realm Digital to design and develop something that could handle the traffic to the platform, while also being able to cater to the variety of activities that would need to take place simultaneously. Now, while continuing to fulfill the digital marketing needs of the Book Fair as in previous years, our responsibilities grew tenfold. We brought on board our sibling company, THAT Network, who took care of all the Fair’s video needs, along with smaller design elements – this included remotely coordinating, recording, editing and branding more than 40 panel discussions and two dozen children’s videos, such as theatre productions, storytelling and interactive home activities. We project managed and implemented loading content onto the event platforms, production of content, streaming of Live content, community management, guest support and the roll out of blog posts and other informative pieces that would help guests easily understand the new virtual format of the Fair.
For the 3rd year in a row, the Fair’s official hashtags trended and the entire SABF team was able to pull off another successful event – albeit in a new environment.
The work we did with the SA Book Fair and the SA Book Development Council has and always will be been near to our hearts, it was an honour being able to contribute to social discourse in this way and to play our part in cultivating a reading nation. The closure of the SABDC in 2021 was extremely sad for us to hear, and should be seen as a great loss to the country and our book sector. We salute the work that the CEO did, not only to develop the sector, but also to support small, black owned businesses such as our own. We would not have been able to grow into the thriving business that we are now without the support and business of the Book Council.
xx Shakirah MD & Founder TN Communications
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