"Never settle for less than your dreams.
Somewhere, sometime, someday, somehow, you'll find them

- Danielle Steel, Bittersweet.

Get more Insight, Inspiration and Self Discovery at The Walkabout.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Role of Bloggers in News Reporting, Generating Local Content and Online Marketing

In partnership with The Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE).

Late last month, we published this post to commemorate the blogs we once read and loved, and still miss.
Some of the bloggers highlighted were very active over a decade ago, but no longer post. Others have stayed consistent or moved on to other things.

In this post, we shall look at blogging in today's highly connected world. Why do guys blog and what keeps them going? Is blogging financially rewarding or it remains a labor of love as it was a decade ago? Also, how do corporates and mainstream media relate with bloggers?
And as we get along, we shall introduce you to enthusiastic newbie bloggers whose writing is steadily gaining a following.

First though, when and where did this blogging thing really start?

Back in the day

Well, the history of blogging is certainly interesting.

ShikoMsa started blogging back in 2007. So did Savvy, who was fresh from High School. Shiko's reason to blog was that she had a lot to say and a blog presented both an avenue and an audience. For Savvy, it was to simply post interesting anecdotes about her life.

What blogging platforms did they adopt - Blogger, WordPress, Typepad or Tumblr?
"I started my blogging journey on blogger because that was what was more common then. My current blogs are all on wordpress." says Shiko. Savvy, too, has used both platforms. "I signed up on Blogger, before later migrating to wordpress.com. Wordpress had more features and was easier to customize, and allowed lots of third party plugins and themes. Blogger later caught up but by then I was hooked to Wordpress. Currently, I use Wordpress.org because I wanted my own domain name."

Savvy initially blogged at jkuattalkshop.wordpress.com.

Kennedy Kachwanya, who heads Bloggers Media Limited, started blogging in 2008. "When I left campus in 2007, we had a Google Group comprising my former classmates where we shared our experiences and would update one other on possible job openings."

Ken carries on. "With time, many of them got jobs and the number of updates on the group decreased. I took it upon myself to write about current issues and send this to this Google Group. The guys liked this and with time, I thought I can do it online, where I can reach more people. That is how I started blogging."

What blogging platform has Ken been using? "From the beginning I registered Kachwanya.com and then installed WordPress.  It is the same one I am still using up to date." He replies.

The bubbly Kawiria, fresh from campus in 2009, had a lot of opinions on things cutting across life. "My friends prompted me to start a blog," she says. "With bursts of energy for my new found passion and on my first job – I was still trying to find myself and what I want to venture into career wise - it felt great publishing my first blog post considering I didn’t think I could write things for people to read."

Kawiria started her Stupendous Tidbits blog on WordPress.com and has stayed on the platform ever since.

To blog, or not to blog?

All writers have had to deal with writer's block every now and then. In a bid to consolidate the writing output at Complit Communciations, I've had to retire blogging at both Greening Kenya and Complit Design.

"Consistency is key," says Kawiria. "I try to blog regularly, despite the hustles and bustles of life."
Savvy, also a passionate blogger, has a similar sentiment. "I have regularly blogged, and I think the longest I have ever stayed without blogging is a month."

For Kachwanya, writing simply has to go on. "Yes, I still blog regularly, although the frequency has decreased with time as I have to handle other issues." What then do you do if you have no time to write? "I have brought in a number of writers to cover for that." Ken replies.

What if one inevitably has to go on a hiatus? Do you notify your readers that you'll be M.I.A. for a while?

"I prefer not to inform my readers, I just go with the flow, unless it’s going to be a really long time. The thing about blogging is that it’s personal, so sometimes you want to write, but you question your content and you leave it in the drafts and pick it up another day."

Savvy, who also maintains a personal touch on her blog, has a different approach. "I do inform my readers the reasons for my absence the next time I post. My blog has retained a personal touch throughout and I have a few readers whom I feel I need to let them know I have not given up on this blogging thing!"

Shiko, too, agrees that it's prudent to inform readers. "I’ve had quite a number of hiatuses on my old blog and yes, I did make a point of informing my community of an impending hiatus as well as when I came back."

Why again, do we blog?

Beth Njeri wrote her first post on October 01, 2014 on Blogger. She was encouraged by her peers and with a lot to write, she hopes to eventually be a prolific writer. Like James Michener, perhaps? Well, time will tell.
Jackie Njeru is another newbie blogger who first posted a little over a month ago.Why does she blog at Trendy Tragedienne?

"I have always been passionate about style, fashion, outfit trends, beauty, make up, etc. I also find personal style to be a unique means of expression without having to use words which could be a source of inspiration to many." Jackie, who blogs on WordPress, tells us more:  "All these informed the need to create a public platform where I could share and communicate more with as many people as possible."

Is blogging financially rewarding?

"Yes I have made some cash. I have through adsense, normal ads from corporates,  selling stuff online and blogging for the other platforms." Ken says. So has Shiko. "Yes I have, especially on my new blog. The money comes from sponsored content for brands though I’ve done a few reviews here and there."

Is this money enough to make a living?
"What I've made is not enough to live on so I've had to have a day job. I mostly blog during my free time. I blog mainly for personal reasons and if I make some money from it, then it is the icing on the cake." Savvy goes on.. "Most of the money I have made is from product or service reviews such as phone reviews or website reviews. Sometimes the returns from such reviews is not actual cash but the product or service itself."

Kawiria, has been thrice lucky thanks to her blog. And we're not talking ads here.
"The last three jobs I got, were fueled by my blog, it helped a lot in my pitching on what I can do. I use it to showcase my passion besides academic qualifications."

Have social networks killed blogs?

In the aforementioned post on blogging, we mentioned how some very active tweeps no longer post on their blogs. Milonare, Nzembi, Magaribina and Roomthinker are just a few. Others, like SupremeGREAM and Bomseh only make technical appearances with random posts years apart.
Other guys such as Kahenya and Intelligensia, have gone ahead to delete their blogs, and now only maintain a Facebook or Twitter account.

How much have social networks affected blogging and is it an adverse or complementary effect?

"When I first joined twitter, I blogged less. However, with time, I realized that it was a powerful tool for getting new blog readers. I post a teaser to a blog post, then send a link for people to read the full post. Sometimes I write for myself, so I realized I could not abandon my blog!" Savvy tells us.

"Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have all worked towards raising the readership of my blog. However, comments are fewer on the blog as people will either tweet a reply or comment on Facebook Still, my blog would be harder to discover if I just relied on Google searches and not the network of my friends's friends on social media."

Kawiria joined social networks just about the same time she started blogging. She finds them supplemental. "They don’t influence my blogging behavior. They help me find other bloggers who have great content to share and give me exposure on what’s hot or not, plus ideas of what to write about."

"Social media is priceless when it comes to sharing blog content." says Shiko. "Twitter did slow me down on blogging alright. But I don’t mind because the basic idea is to speak my mind and social media gives me a platform to do the same and connect with a whole new and different community."

Kachwanya agrees that social media slowed him down too, since Twitter provides a faster way to share one's thoughts. He however is thankful for social networks, saying, "they have made sharing easy, and at the same time helped to market the blogs better."

Beth's allegiance is to another social network. "Facebook has been my solid platform in regard to publicizing my blog as well as gaining a significant audience."

Despite being new, Jackie has had varying impact from each social network. "Social media has really boosted and simplified the reach of my blog to my current audience, especially Facebook and Instagram. I am also gradually coming up on Twitter and Google+. The future seems bright in terms of audience reach."

Blogs in the eyes of corporate organizations

The little money Kawiria has made through her blog has been from linked ads. Jackie and Beth are yet to make money. I have personally collected some Google Adsense cheques, but sponsored content, product reviews and native advertising present a more viable income stream on Connect Magazine.

Are companies now advertising in blogs and online magazines and what does it take?
"The attitudes and perceptions of corporate Kenya has changed with time. These days, most of them take blogging seriously and a number of them now go out of their way to ensure that bloggers get some of their news first, ahead of the mainstream media." Ken explains further, "A number of them do advertise." It should however be noted that it is about numbers and partly reputation for them. "If you have good traffic, then they will call on your door."

"Corporates now realize blogs do make a better medium for their ads," says Savvy. "If they haven't realized that yet, it is their loss." All is not bliss though, even for the consummate blogger. "Most corporations however, consider mainstream media primary and blogs secondary."

Shiko agrees on this, and offers some suggestions. "Corporate Kenya is coming round and working with bloggers much more than was the case a few years back. Bloggers with great content, high engagement and traffic certainly do stand to make a living from blogging. They can either market their blogs independently or by joining blogging communities and working with other bloggers."

Speaking of blogging communities, B.A.K.E. offers trainings and connect bloggers with some amazing opportunities. At the same time, through its subsidiary Bloggers Media Limited (BML), it connects the bloggers with the corporates who are looking to advertise or to reach people through blogs.

What then, is the responsibility of the blogger who seeks to attract advertising on his or her blog? Kawiria advises:
"I think corporates in Kenya respect the role of bloggers in the digital space. Yes, they do advertise in these blogs especially if they appeal to their target market. It’s just about being more aggressive, consistent and creative as a blogger. The aggressive ones identify organizations they’d like to work with, approach their marketing or digital media managers and kick it off. I have worked with a few and I think it’s a lesson to pick for myself as well."

"I think the best way to get ads from corporate clients is by in depth and informative product reviews of their products, which should mostly be relevant to your blog. You can still approach a particular corporate client, give them your strategy and ideas and let them know how well you will help advertise their product, then work your way to a deal." Jackie adds.

There however is the inherent risk of naive creatives getting exploited by corporates, which Jackie addresses. "There are some (corporate clients) who want to ‘use’ bloggers by requesting to advertise their products on the blogs for free and claim it will be great for their exposure which is really upsetting."

How does mainstream media treat blogs and bloggers?

In a highly connected world, news now breaks on the Internet and bloggers will even put it in context way before the top of the hour radio news bulletins or evening prime time news can deliver it to the masses. By the time the newspaper prints it next day, there is the risk that it may just be stale news. Savvy points out why this is so. "Mainstream media in Kenya did not at first regard bloggers highly. However, with the increase in social media use, and crowd-sourcing, bloggers can get news faster than mainstream can publish it, because it has to go through editing and verification of facts and so on before it can be published on mainstream."

Mainstream media outlets now have to contend with embracing citizen journalism and recognizing bloggers as credible news sources.

"I think they do they do promote bloggers, maybe not their blogs. They definitely recognize bloggers as news sources – because sometimes they “borrow” information without due attribution." says Kawiria.
Jackie has witnessed the growth of some blogs thanks to mainstream media involvement. "There are both online and conventional magazines that have featured bloggers on their opinion pages which is certainly great."

That said, do their opinion pages have dedicated external content as the case is with CNN iReport or The Guardian's Commentisfree?

"We’re not yet at the level of CNN’s iReport and the like but blogs cannot all together be ignored even by mainstream media. Currently, a blogger is more likely to be recognized as a news source by his or her audience than by mainstream media."
Hmmm.. when you consider who a blogger's audience is, this then, is not a problem. Shiko goes on. "This is never a problem though because bloggers write for their own audience, not for the media. All in all we’re getting there albeit slowly and sometimes amid a bit of bad blood"

Beth doesn't think enough is being done. "Promotion of blogs on Kenya's mainstream media is quite minimal. Aside from the Bloggers Association Kenya (BAKE), the impact is still very low key."

As a key person at BAKE, Kachwanya knows this only too well, and admits: "The mainstream media had a bit of an issue with bloggers but they have come to the realization that blogging and citizen journalism are here to stay. They have had to embrace it, and most of the journalists have become serious bloggers now. Some of them were even founding members of BAKE." It is worth noting at this point that the Nation Media Group CEO and Capital Group CEO are active bloggers.

"We have heard Capital FM and Nation Media Group sponsoring BAKE events, especially Kenya Blog Awards in the last few years.. So yes they do."

Connecting with audiences, check. Connecting with people?

Bloggers  often connect with readers through the comment threads or their blog contact pages whenever a fan leaves a message. Do they get to meet these people offline? What avenues are there to do this and what kinds of interaction do such encounters herald?

"I have  not met in person with any of my readers yet, but I hope to some day. I would love to get a one on one insight from them because I believe they do have a lot to offer." Beth says. And we agree, she's fairly new on the blogosphere.

What about Jackie? "I still have not had the pleasure of meeting with any of my blog acquaintances (both the audience and fellow bloggers) apart from the ones I previously knew but I hope to meet them soon, and that it'll be a memorable moment."

Shiko has met a whole lot, and she finds them most welcoming. "I recently moved to Nairobi from the Coast and the old school blogging community has ganged up to offer a very soft landing for me in the big bad city. I've met Wamathai, Kachwanya and SupremeGREAM to mention a few."

Kachwanya continues to meet guys, largely thanks to his involvement at BAKE. "Back in 2011 when the  idea of BAKE came to mind, I had  met very few bloggers. I had to get a way to meet them in person and talk to them about the idea of BAKE. Moving forward I have continuously met many many bloggers whom I had known online for sometime."

Savvy has met a good number of her readers (including yours truly) and many fellow bloggers. BAKE has so far enhanced this interaction. "When BAKE started having monthly meetups of bloggers, we would meet and connect offline."

Kawiria sums it up with the kind of dialogue that ensues whenever she meets her reader in person:
Reader: So you’re Kawi?
Me: Yes, I am.
Reader: I read your blog and (insert gratifying feedback)…
Me: Thank you. (acting calm, but inside I’m doing cartwheels and somersaults).

"It’s an inspiring feeling to meet someone who’s been an avid reader, not because they’re a friend or family, but because they genuinely enjoy reading your stuff." concludes Kawi.

* * *

Are you wondering if your blogging effort makes any sense? Are you hesitant to revive your long abandoned blog? Do you intend to make money from your blog someday, even grow it into a large media organization?
Dionne Farris has some words for you:

With many thanks:
B.A.K.E.: @Bake_ke, Bake.co.ke
ShikoMsa: @Shiko_Msa, FemmeHub
Savvy: @SavvyKenya, SavvyKenya.com
Kachwanya: @Kachwanya, Kachwanya.com
Kawiria: @Kawiria, Stupendous Tidbits
Jackie: @TrendyTragedienne, Trendy Tragedienne
Beth: Beth Njeri, A link to my World