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Interview with Alexander Leibner, Digital Media Entrepreneur

Meet Alexander Leibner, digital media entrepreneur, radio & podcast host, global speaker, creative mind and founder of the Sandton Media Group, which includes The Sandton Times. With over 24-years’ experience working for some of Africa’s leading media organizations, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes in senior management, he shares some of his insights into the current digital landscape, locally and abroad.

Describe yourself in 3 words.

Curious, Creative and Competitive. 

Tell us a bit about your first job in Digital?

I was barely out of school, and met two budding media entrepreneurs who had started a student website in the early 2000’s. Founder’s John and Gareth took me onboard as a contributor to look after entertainment content. Websites were in their infancy at that time, as Google wasn’t even a concept yet and most people used Yahoo! as a search engine. There was also no ounce of social media on the horizon. It was incredibly exciting and looking back on it now, so ahead of its time. I went on to work on a few web related start-ups after that.

How have things changed since then?

The change has been exponential. We how have Google, social media and so many tools to make websites, cheaper, faster and better looking. The whole web has rearranged itself around SEO – back then we had to rely on media stunts with a ‘shock factor’ to get into newspapers, to gain exposure and web traffic. The internet had both a novelty factor but also wasn’t considered a serious competitor – now, all of that has changed. The analytics have vastly improved and digital is in a very different place to where it was 20-years ago.

Tell us a bit about how and why you started The Sandton Times?

I woke up on 1 February 2010 and registered the Twitter account @sandtontimes for fun. We were in the early days of social media and I felt it would be good to be on the platform and posting about the area I work and live in seemed like a reasonable place to start. The Gautrain wasn’t operational yet and the 2010 World Cup was around the corner. The account soon garnered significant traction and growth and now, 13 years later, it’s turned into a boutique media business with multiple channels and an ever growing audience that started with a single tweet.

How would you describe your content strategy?

Overall the main principles of media apply: relevance. If the content is relevant, the audience will be attracted to it. I then layer a few additional things on-top of that like high frequency, quality content with original video or photography, content that I find interesting or makes for a great dinner party conversation, and finally it has to live across different platforms in different formats. It’s a very simple strategy yet complex in execution.

How do you think ChatGPT will change the way people consume information?

Interestingly enough, it will require human creativity to establish how to use it ongoing. For now, it has a novelty factor and people are testing all sorts of use cases to see what the technology can do. It is certainly hard to tell in what way it will change the consumption of information yet at the same time, we are in a prime position to determine what would be the wisest route for this technology before it becomes unmanageable. We need to be wiser in an ever smarter world.

Will ChatGPT kill the content creation industry?

I believe it is hard to kill great story telling and human creativity. I believe it will be a huge enabler and assistant to creatives but should not become a 100% alternative. It’s a bit like comparing a home cooked meal to a take away – at some point, we all want that authenticity in some shape or form.

How does The Sandton Times use social media to attract new readers?

Consistency and relevance is the most important element. There is so much more I can do, but if it can’t be done consistently, it’s not worth starting with it. I post to all social media account almost on a daily or weekly basis, and each platform attracts a different type of person to the brand. Some like getting their info in 280 characters, whilst others like the photos or scrolling through videos and then again, there are those who like to listen to the podcast. I rarely find someone who follows The Sandton Times across all accounts.

What would you say are the key ingredients for a successful Digital Strategy?

I’m starting to sound like an old record (the predecessor to Music Streaming for Gen Z’s and Alpha’s) but it boils down to consistency, relevance, quality and exclusivity. Sure, there is space and time for understanding each platform, your audience, when and where to speak to them and all the analytical elements but those doth butter no parsnips if the content isn’t top-tier.

Best advice anyone has ever given you?

Let’s put it this way – I’m a product of good advice and there have been so many pieces of good advice that I have been given over the years that it is hard to narrow it down to a single one. However on the subject of advice, don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from and if someone gives you good advice, it’s only worth something if you implement it.

When I’m not working, I’m…

Attending auctions, cooking, travelling, finishing up an MBA, exploring, shopping, spending time with family, streaming content and I am a big believer in a 20-minute power nap.

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