Kenya: The State of Social Media

Mark Kaigwa is a Kenyan communications consultant working with brands, businesses and nonprofits across Africa helping them use media across mobile and web technology to impact Africans. He blogs at mark: my words.

Collins Mbalo (CM): Tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are and how long have you been blogging or interested in the social media space?

Mark Kaigwa (MK): I've been involved in digital projects in a number of capacities over the past 5 years. I joined Twitter in '08 among other social networks and grew my interest from a passive recipient to an active participant of social media in Africa. Now I work as a consultant across traditional and new media. I've been blogging for over 4 years now as well.

Mark Kaigwa. Photo by Suzanne Lehn (@osusanna)

CM: You recently served as a judge in the inaugural bloggers association of Kenya (BAKE) Awards, is there anything in particular you would like to share about the blogs, the content, the readership and the public response?

MK: I was honoured to serve as a judge and thank the team at the Bloggers Association for the opportunity. I must say that the quality of content nominated was outstanding. There were undiscovered gems that I believe will become shining lights in the blogosphere in the months and years to come. The rest of the judges would agree with me in saying that the content excelled in variety, language, character and creativity. Happy to have been part of a process to bring that to the spotlight in one of Africa's growing hotspots of technology.

CM: As a content creator do you follow any blogs and or maintain a policy as to which types of blogs to follow?

MK: I certainly do for my work at Afrinnovator and AfricanDigitalArt respectively. Not to mention guest posting and doing columns for a range of online publications. With this in mind I follow numerous blogs and authors across the web across a range of interests. I think it would be difficult to do this without also taking part in using a social bookmarking service. For me I use Diigo, Delicious and ifttt. This way whether or not I subscribe to a blog I'm able to revisit why I picked that piece of writing or content and use it or cross-reference it later. Interests range from innovation, management consulting, business, design, leadership, African film & animation.

CM: There are a lot of new blogs coming up of late what is your take on their content, appeal and or relevancy in the Kenyan context?

MK: I think the intent is in the right place. We should stimulate and motivate more Kenyans to turn into consumers more than creators.

CM: Has corporate blogging come of age in Kenya?

MK: Definitely not. It hasn't even set itself on the starting line, in my opinion. Companies have been quick to rush into social media when for some you'll find that they're not even well established in search engines. Priorities in digital communications are warped and expectations can be unrealistic in terms of what a business will get out of interacting with customers. Blogging is a powerful tool for business and lead generation and yet I'm surprised most digital consultants are quick to build Facebook pages and Twitter accounts as opposed to making websites that convert prospects to consumers and evaluating what social means to the business as a whole.

CM: Blogging Incumbents versus Newcomers: has there been a significant change in the manner of blogging in the two groups and who best reflects the spirit that the Kenyan blogging fraternity should embrace?

MK: I'd say it's a good mix at the moment. Movements like POWO (Poets and Writers Online) are doing a great job of bridging the gap between the two and getting established voices and people who've maintained the elusive consistency behind top bloggers to share their work, ideas and give practical advice to up and coming bloggers. I did a session where I advocated for “lazy man's blogging” which was how I referred to the quick-and-dirty blogging I would do with images, text and video on my Posterous blog. That's an example of taking all the misconceptions I had about blogging and giving the practical aspect in a simple way to an audience of new bloggers.

CM: Do you believe that there is need for a bloggers’ code of ethics?

MK: I believe the entire discussion on public disclosure is one yet to be had and there's plenty of questions as blogging gains prominence in Kenya that need to be addressed. The code of ethics goes beyond just disclosure to set a clear standard for bloggers as they interact with brands, businesses and communications agencies. If someone has a conflict of interest, is being paid or receiving gifts or gains from a source, they have an ethical imperative to declare that to their audience and the public. Also this code of ethics dictates the terms of engaging fellow bloggers and subject matter.

CM: How would you describe the state of the Kenyan blogosphere now? If there has been growth, what would you attribute it to and is there room for improvement?

MK: The present in the Kenyan blogosphere is promising indeed. We have a nascent movement that's picking up locally. Also we've had microblogging pick up steam especially with Twitter locally prompting people to get familiar with consuming content and reading articles and other local/international content sources. There has also been investment in several content & media start-ups such as Ghafla! in entertainment and PesaTalk in business. However long form writing and blogging and platforms such as Blogger by Google or WordPress as much as they've grown still need people to switch from micro-blogging and consumption to content creation. Testament to this growth has been the formation of BAKE’ to represent the interests of this growing community.

CM: Do you feel that blogging has been accepted as a credible and influential source of information and news in Kenya?

MK: Definitely. We've seen bloggers hosted on television to air out differences some weeks back not to mention getting their material referenced and quoted by traditional media (at times without attribution from the journalists.) That said, blogs are a double-edged sword and so you'll find that there are some sources that exercise freedom of speech to the fullest extent and this at times has been at the expense of the subject or people they have discussed. Many in traditional media feel the threat of the blogosphere since it is completely out of their control and has an impact on search engines which everyone going online frequents. It's yet to be looked at as one of their greatest opportunities.

CM: What has been the Kenyan experience in terms of social media and microblogging platforms such as Twitter and Facebook? Is this the new frontier in blogging?

MK: The advent of those two social networks can't be understated. Kenya, along with Egypt, Nigeria and Ghana over the past 2 years are some of the markets where Facebook has occasionally beaten search giant Google as the number 1 most visited site in the country. This trend is more present in emerging markets and developing countries and shows the power of social media in these territories and across the world. Twitter's popularity has seen it grow steadily to guesstimates of +300k registered users. This is also being pushed on by adoption among popular media and social personalities not to mention politicians. I think blogging platforms like Tumblr and Posterous pose a most interesting new avenue for blogging and we've seen over time WordPress adopt some of the social features that have made Tumblr a global success. For Kenya the new frontier is lowering barriers to access and create content from feature phones and basic phones. Twitter for SMS is great, but how we take on the challenge of blogging is a whole new question.

CM: In your opinion, do you believe that Kenyan Bloggers have the necessary freedom to fully express themselves as they should or is there room for improvement?

MK: I believe they do. We've had political bloggers emerge who share their points of view and though there has been some reproach brought to some, the atmosphere favours freedom of speech online. Self censorship may be a topic that should be discussed but at present Kenya's outlook is positive.

CM: What are some of the main challenges and or limitations that Kenyan bloggers face?

MK: Monetizing content, consistency and topics remain factors concerning Kenyan bloggers. However, looking into the future one area still remains unaddressed. Technology is still a factor and perhaps functional literacy could be considered one of the challenges. The persistent and committed blogger, who isn't in a position to own a laptop, may occasionally visit a cyber cafe and type out a blog post or borrow one to create content. However, outside of the cyber cafe and universities or offices with the power of the smartphones in people's pockets and their ability to create and blog on the go it remains a challenge to make this the primary source of content creation. The advent of the undersea cables, the preparation for LTE (4G) and the great coverage in mobile network signal and competitive data pricing mean this is unexplored territory.

CM: What role if any will Kenyan bloggers play in next year’s elections?

MK: In my opinion, many bloggers don't seem as captivated by politics or the electoral process though it may just be that we are still some way off from March 2013. In general, there are a handful of those who choose to blog about the electoral process, but that's not to say each blogger doesn't have their own opinion. Politics is often viewed through the lens of traditional media sources and online with mainstream media websites and news segments via YouTube.

If we look at bloggers today, most seem to pick niches and topics of their interest and politics stirs few of them. Citizen journalism however is the dark horse that's yet to fully emerge in a single and strong platform. Interesting developments in this space include Al Jazeera's Sauti Project. Undoubtedly there will be a role to play in next year's election and it may surprise us that it comes from citizen journalism than from individual bloggers.


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