Flow Communications

When it became clear that the Covid-19 pandemic would affect the delivery of the 2020 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, Flow Communications was ready with a solution to ensure the event went ahead with the least disruption possible.

We built a bespoke digital portal for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, allowing it to offer users an engaging and immersive experience of its premier annual event. And so the first-ever online-only Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture took flight, with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres delivering a message that continues to spark debate.

While the digital portal was the most striking feature of our efforts to ensure the 2020 Annual Lecture went ahead smoothly and was a seminal experience for viewers, it was not the only service Flow provided. Over more than a decade, we have helped the Foundation present most of its Annual Lectures, featuring global leaders such as former United States president Barack Obama, Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu and Wangari Maathai, and philanthropists Mary Robinson and Bill Gates.

While each Annual Lecture has a unique tone, what Flow does to ensure their smooth running and wide-as-possible reach is in many ways a well-oiled machine.

On the day of this year’s lecture, Flowstars worked in tandem to ensure the Foundation’s online guests had the best possible experience, that social media was abuzz with Guterres’s thought-provoking words, and that website visitors had articles and the full speech to read, the latter within 15 minutes of it being delivered. Through social media, the message reached more than 1.3-million people.

The Annual Lecture, delivered on Saturday 18 July, received worldwide coverage, including in The New York Times. Google Analytics reported that the Nelson Mandela Foundation Events App received 3 769 unique users, and 4 835 unique sessions on the day. Just under 40 000 people watched the speech via YouTube.

Creating the digital portal

Nearly 4 000 people took advantage of the extra features the Foundation offered via the app that Flow developed to enable users to watch the lecture on their desktop, tablet or mobile phone while receiving expert commentary and analysis from leading political and social commentators.

The app’s features included live commentary from eight thought leaders, including lawyers, activists and international journalists; a repository of supplementary information; and a curated wall, offering the best of social media commentary and interactive polls. The app, which can be amended, will now be used to host other Foundation events, especially while Covid-19 rages across South Africa and the world.

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(Image: Flowsa.com)

Flow’s brief was to create a digital experience that would bring the essence of the physical Annual Lecture to life on a virtual platform. We considered the needs of both the end users and the commentators in creating the platform.

Because the Nelson Mandela Foundation Events App is a progressive web application, it does not need to be downloaded and there is no sign-on required.

The app offers a split-screen experience, with three “walls” – commentary, the best of social media, and insights, including, for the Annual Lecture, biographies and profiles of the main personalities and topical “factoids” on issues such as poverty and inequality.

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(Image: Flowsa.com)

Key usability aspects were built in so that viewers never had to refresh the page, and those who did not want the comments could make the video full-screen.

For the commentators, Flow ensured they could write and post comments in under 30 seconds, and could create dynamic embeds by just pasting in a tweet or news-article web address.

Flow also offered the commentators an online training session to make sure they were comfortable with the interface ahead of the Annual Lecture. Commentator Shaeera Kalla, co-founder of The Mbegu Platform and a member of the Covid-19 People’s Coalition, says: “The preparation and training went very well and made the whole experience very easy. Some of the views of the other commentators surprised me!”

Her words were echoed by fellow commentators Ottilia Anna Maunganidze, head of special projects at the Institute for Security Studies, and University of the Witwatersrand lecturer and author Rekgotsofetse Chikane.

“I’m particularly proud of this app. It is a highly innovative response to the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Flow head of digital Richard Frank.

Spreading the word

As in previous years, Flow helped the Foundation manage several social media accounts on the day of the Annual Lecture.

Over the course of the day, the #NMAL2020 hashtag reached more than 1.3-million people across the world.

Tracking results:

  • 3 549 unique mentions
  • 154 mentions/hour (average)
  • 1 356 885 people reached across all social media used
  • 114 873 people reached via other digital platforms

The future

“It’s always an honour to work with the Nelson Mandela Foundation on an event as globally important as the Annual Lecture,” says Flow managing director Tiffany Turkington-Palmer. “This year, however, was especially affirming. It feels so good to have helped the Foundation ensure that this pivotal event went ahead almost as usual.

“Even better, the app Flow has developed will now be used by the Foundation to spread its message on the importance of dialogue on critical issues.”

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Flowstars worked in tandem to ensure the Foundation’s online guests had the best possible experience. (Image: Flowsa.com)
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