Flow Communications

In April 2020 the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) decided that its premier event – the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, to be delivered by UN Secretary-General António Guterres – would be an online-only event due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The NMF developed a strategy for promoting the event to its loyal patrons who have attended the lecture in person over the past 18 years.

The brief: to bring the Annual Lecture online and to life on a virtual platform, while maintaining its brand ethos. We needed to bring the UN secretary-general in New York and the trustees of the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg seamlessly together, so the Annual Lecture could go on.

We developed the Nelson Mandela Foundation Events App, an online progressive web application (PWA) that enabled users to watch the lecture on their desktop, tablet or mobile phone.

The platform received a total of 3 769 unique users, who had 4 835 unique sessions on the day of the lecture. Afterwards, 96.53% of app users polled said their online experience lecture was “above average” or “excellent”.

The application met its objectives of maintaining the prestige of the lecture in the Foundation’s own virtual environment.


When developing the user experience, we had two major focuses – the end-user experience as well as the commentator/administrative experience.

The application was purpose-built for lecture attendees. The app is a PWA, which means it does not need to be downloaded. No sign-on or cumbersome onboarding process is necessary, allowing quick access to the platform.

We offered a split-screen experience, with the lecture playing on the left-hand side and commentary by experts available on the right-hand side. Users were able to pop up the video full screen if they did not want to view the commentary.

Three “walls” or panels were displayed to users:

  • Commentary: a team of eight handpicked commentators gave their live views and analysis
  • Social wall: a curated social wall of leading live social comments
  • Insights: a list of insights, including biographies and profiles of the main personalities as well as topical “factoids” on issues such as poverty and inequality, were displayed. These were posted throughout the event

We focused on key usability aspects:

  1. The user should never have to refresh the page and posts should appear dynamically. We did this by utilising web-socket technology to dynamically update the page, including live submission and reloading of poll results
  2. The experience should be fast. We did not overload the page by introducing lazy loading when users scrolled for more content
  3. The live video feed should still take centre stage. When loading the page the video starts automatically

For the commentators themselves, we focused on interfaces that would allow quick submission of commentary:

  1. By clicking the post button commentators could write and post an insight in less than 30 seconds. We honed the interface to be simple and efficient to use, inspired by UX best practice from the likes of Twitter
  2. We created the ability to produce dynamic embeds by just pasting a URL to a tweet or news article. This would dynamically generate the embedded item and format it for the page
  3. Posts and factoids could be created and posted quickly


We used strong content marketing techniques to drive usage of the virtual platform, including:

  • Recruiting and training eight leading social commentators to produce live insights and commentary during the event
  • Full social media coverage of the commentary and the event itself
  • Website coverage of the event to drive participation

The content published on the app was one of the strongest aspects of the application, with a two-and-a-half-hour live event stream accompanied by over 220 insightful posts from some of South Africa’s leading social activists, intellectuals and broadcasters.

The content was wide ranging, including:

  • Factual profiles of the speakers, to help viewers contextualise what they were viewing
  • Interactive polls to gauge audience sentiment on topics being discussed
  • Commentary and analysis of the lecture itself
  • Discussion between the commentators
  • Social posts from the wider audience

According to a post-event survey of users of the online platform, 87.63% of attendees said the commentary was excellent or above average.

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The app is a highly creative and innovative response to the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. We innovated in the following ways:

  1. The platform was built as a progressive web application that allowed for dynamic live updates using web-socket technology. This allowed a mass audience of over 3 700 users to access the platform efficiently and with low-bandwidth devices (web sockets only transmit the live changes to a page rather than the whole page reloading)
  2. Using app-like technology on the mobile web meant greater accessibility for users while still offering a high-end interactive experience
  3. Introducing a split screen with a commentary team enabled mixed-mode viewing of the lecture – a combination of live stream and insightful analysis kept users engaged
  4. Live polling technology with real-time feedback meant users were engaged at all times and could provide feedback. We have identified a number of opportunities to extend this next year
  5. Full objectives were achieved by building a bespoke platform that is now the intellectual property of the Foundation, rather than utilising third-party tools such as YouTube or Facebook, where considered insights are drowned out by online trolls or spammers

Client testimonials

Khalil Goga, director: dialogue, Nelson Mandela Foundation

“I have to say the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture comms from Flow was brilliant. The platform, the thinking ... was just top-class. Thank you so much for it.” (Email: 22 July 2020)

Kneo Mokgopa, communications manager at the Nelson Mandela Foundation

“There is always something special about the lecture that I always experience. It’s one of the year’s most important conversations that really rudders us as a global community, as a country, towards our best selves. And to be a part of that project, to be part of that planning and creating an environment, I’ve always found really, really special ...

“In particular, one of the areas that shone the most was the platform itself – we built a bespoke lecture-viewing platform that was really unlike anything we have seen [before] and I think we can really be proud of that.” (Video interview on 22 July 2020)