This is what NTV’s 1m Twitter followers mean for journalism

Wednesday December 16 2015

This week, NTV’s Twitter handle, @ntvkenya,

This week, NTV’s Twitter handle, @ntvkenya, becomes the first Kenyan brand to attract one million followers. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By LARRY MADOWO
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This week, NTV’s Twitter handle, @ntvkenya, becomes the first Kenyan brand to get to 1 million followers. It is a major milestone that my bosses upstairs are excited about, especially because of the significance of this moment for the future of journalism.

For the station’s digital team, which I have the privilege of leading, it is another first in an extraordinary year where we have consistently topped multiple independent studies on Kenya’s top brands online.

Overall, only President Kenyatta, with 1.2 million, has more followers than @ntvkenya on Twitter.

For journalists, news junkies and other stenographers of history, Twitter’s rendering of updates in chronological order is an addictive drug.

Interestingly, it is for the same reason that the microblogging site’s growth has almost stagnated, since new users find it difficult to understand and quickly drop off.

Facebook figured that out and presents a curated feed giving users the most popular content or a customised look at whatever is attracting the most interest from, or among your friends. As a result, your Facebook home page has a lot more relevant content compared to your Twitter.

GREAT MILESTONE

That might explain why Twitter’s core user base was only up 19 percent in the first nine months of the year to 307 million. Facebook, in contrast, had 1.55 billion people who had logged at least once in the last 30 days.

Twitter though, is still the medium people turn to when history unfolds, and in Kenya, they come to @ntvkenya. For the last six months, NTV was consistently ranked the top brand on Twitter by social media monitoring solutions company iStats.

It was also named the top media brand in Kenya by Africa Brand Index and fourth overall, behind Airtel, Safaricom and KCB. The top three all handle customer care on social media, so have lots of customers engaging with them to handle their issues.

When I went to journalism school, digital journalism was still a distant idea in newsrooms, and in Kenya for that matter.

Even after I had dropped out for three years and returned to complete my undergraduate degree in Communication, professors didn’t pay too much attention to how social media was upending the practice of journalism.

Now, every media house worth its salt has social media roles beyond the traditional webmaster or online editing jobs. Entire departments have sprung up in newsrooms, such as mine, to handle this new world order.

Even though NTV has nearly 1.9 million ‘likes’ or ‘fans’ on Facebook, hitting the 1 million follower mark on Twitter is more important because of a fundamental difference in how the two social networks operate.

It is virtually impossible to reach all of those 1.9 million people at once with any post because of Facebook’s deliberately throttled organic reach.

The Mark Zuckerberg ecosystem wants you to pay to promote a post before it can reach more people even though they already signed up to receive updates from you.

In theory, we could reach all those 1 million people who now follow us with one tweet if they all happened to be online at the same time.

SECOND SCREEN

That is a powerful new extension of our reach beyond the traditional screen we broadcast on. This is noteworthy because people increasingly watch television while simultaneously using their phone, tablet or computer - the second screen.

I often tell my digital team that our job is like trying to interest a distracted child in an activity you want to involve them in. The child in this case is the viewer, who is not watching your channel, but staring at their phone’s screen. Your intention is to get them to pay attention and watch the TV.

We create videos specifically for Twitter, craft language that is likely to grab that particular audience, and use every trick in our playbook to ensure they’re actively engaging with our content.

They have rewarded us with useful feedback on news and programming, pronunciation and dressing advice and some memorable putdowns.

When Pope Francis was elected, a member of the team assumed the Latin ‘Habemus Papam!’ (We Have A Pope!) was the name of the new Pope and tweeted as much. Though quickly deleted, screenshots ensured that it will live on forever.

More recently, another online producer live-tweeting a newscast I happened to be anchoring had a fatal typo: Murang’a School for the Dead, instead of the Deaf. That too entered what I like to call our Greatest Hits.

There have been countless great moments too, times when a tweet was so pithy and perfect, it was basically a piece of art in 140 characters. Twitter acts as an active billboard for our channel, and for the digital repositories of the on-air product.

Thanks a million to our viewers and followers for helping us navigate this disruption.

 

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REASON TO CELEBRATE

Do we really need Jamhuri Day?

John Pombe Magufuli is turning out to be an annoying un-African president with his relentless insistence on accountability, integrity and servant leadership. He’s firing corrupt, non-performing state officers so frequently, the famous ‘Mganga Kutoka Tanga’ (Witchdoctor from Tanga) has a potion to help protect you from Magufuli’s hammer. But his symbolic cancelling of Tanzania’s Independence Day certainly drew my attention.

Professor PLO Lumumba heartily endorsed that decision in an eloquent BBC Swahili interview, and he’s much cleverer than I can ever hope to be. The truth is, Kenya’s national holidays have become supremely boring and a waste of time for everyone involved. They are so dull and unmemorable, that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

Jamhuri Day is only remarkable for its unremarkableness; the same tired choirs, the same fly-past of old fighter jets, the same everything. The only people that must still love the national celebrations are those involved in the procurement of stuff for it because they can inflate figures and make an extra dishonest shilling.

For President Kenyatta, at least he gets a captive audience to lecture on whatever catches his interest that day. Is it time to go the Magufuli way and use it to clean up the streets or do something else more productive?

 

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SOCIAL AGE

Social media is changing service delivery in an important way

A friend sent me a video on WhatsApp of his encounter with staff at Machakos Level 5 Hospital. They appeared unconcerned that he had driven in a hit-and-run victim and needed help to carry him from the car.

I posted the video on my Facebook page, and 85,000 people saw it within the first 12 hours. He was criticised for trying to frame the workers, for using harsh language and for filming the encounter.

But Governor Alfred Mutua acted within just a few hours, ordering an investigation and promising action. More criticism poured in for him, and me, for posting the video.

The argument was that he had endangered the jobs of those innocent health workers who are just part of a bad system. I did not play the video on television, yet it still had a big impact and started a national conversation.

That is power that is both useful and dangerous, depending on who wields it.

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Referring to last week’s column, it is extremely sad that such serious issues concerning our universities are discussed in a newspaper article, rather than form the basis of an inquiry into the appalling standards of university education in the country. 
Anonymous 

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That was a good article last week.

Nowadays, no student fails exams in our universities. They are like those Indian owned colleges in the 80’s, where, as long as you paid school fees, there was a guarantee that you would pass your exams. Our institutions of ‘higher’ learning are like a super market – you walk in, select a degree, fill forms, pay, and after three years, hold a party and invite your relatives and friends to celebrate for a degree you did not work for. I am an employer, and only employ graduates from two or three universities because I no longer trust the ability of graduates from our universities.
I dare say that a diploma holder from an Indian university who has studied, say, marketing, is more qualified than one with an MBA  from one of our major public universities. Many only study for an MBA just to get a job upgrade or get a promotion at work, not for the sake of knowledge. Others just want social recognition.
Mwana wa mau mau

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I agree with you that our universities are slowly degenerating into centres of mediocrity going by what is, and is not happening here.

Degrees nowadays are simply viewed as a means to a better life only, not as a means of gaining knowledge that can transform the country or the world for that matter. That is why some go to extreme extents to gain that degree, including sleeping with lecturers, cheating, and even hacking into the university system to change grades, while others pay people to sit exams for them.
Gerald Thoithi 

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Larry, you hit the nail on the head regarding the behaviour of university students in Kenya.

It seems those charged with running these institutions are more preoccupied with minting money at the expense of molding students, what with our universities competing to outdo each other with advertisements for intakes on a daily basis. It is time the ministry charged with higher education in this country stepped in to stop this insatiable greed and bring in some much needed soberness that can be reflected through the graduates they churn out every year. Keep on provoking the conscience of our nation by your incisive pieces.

ZackG