Uber driver story: Writers must embrace social media

Friday February 17 2017

Social media helps you spread the word about your work by directing traffic to it. It also allows you to get real time feedback from your readers. PHOTO | FILE

Social media helps you spread the word about your work by directing traffic to it. It also allows you to get real time feedback from your readers. PHOTO | FILE 

By KINYANJUI KOMBANI
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A few months ago, someone wrote on these pages that good writing cannot be found on Facebook. I am not sure what informed the writer’s view, but I can only hope that the events of the last few weeks have given him a chance to swallow his words.

In the old times, people used to write on papyrus and cave walls. Today, Facebook is only one of many channels writers have to express their talent.

Charles Chanchori is the latest writer to smash this myth. His story, Around Nairobi in One Night, has been the talk of the country since he posted it on February 8.

 By the time of writing this piece, it had received 4,942 comments, 7,300 likes and it had been shared 5,544 times, not forgetting the many Whatsapp groups it has been copy-pasted into. Very impressive.

The story, about an Uber driver’s encounter with a wacky passenger, got the attention of publishers and filmmakers. Filmmaker Tosh Gitonga, known for his role in the critically acclaimed Nairobi Half Life posted on social media that he had received a lot of messages about the Uber driver story. A few hours later, Tosh posted. “Okay,  I got the best sound, the best editor, the best screenplay writer, actors are lining up and I got a million upfront.... I need to find Charles so we make this film...” A few hours later, the two had a physical meeting. A lot of people have petitioned Tosh to let them play different roles in the film.

Just like that, Charles’ story may become the next big Kenyan film. A lot of people, me included, have pledged to pay the ticket fees upfront if it will help the film become a reality.

BUILDING A PLATFORM

This kind of attention is what most writers can only dream of, and what every publisher salivates for. And it was only made possible because Charles posted his story on the platform available for him – social media. In my previous interactions with him, I know that he has been trying hard to get the attention of publishers. Now publishers are falling over themselves to publish him.

This is a case for writers to embrace social media. At a time when getting published on print is very hard for unknown writers, building a platform on social media is a clever move. Most publishers need to know that you have an audience ready to buy books once released.

In Kenya, very few writers are active on social media. Some, like Wanja Kavengi, have managed to build great following on Facebook.

There are three reasons why writers need to embrace social media. Social media helps you to (one) be where your readers are; (two) Leverage on your network and (three) Grow your brand.

Face it, a lot of people are on some form of social media. With billions of people on social media networks, if you do not have a presence here, you do not exist.

Social media helps you spread the word about your work by directing traffic to it. It also allows you to get real time feedback from your readers.

Personally, I have sold more copies via Twitter than in the bookshops. My second novel, Den of Inequities, has sold faster than my first, only because I engage my readers online.

The many social media platforms available give you an opportunity to engage with other writers and build a formidable network of readers, booksellers, and publishers.

In 2010, Dr Wandia Njoya, a lecturer at Daystar University, reached out to me on social media and I visited the university to speak about my book and writing.

SALES BOOST

Two years later, the university co-sponsored and hosted my book launch. And years later, the Creative’s Academy, a 13-week course that incorporated over 20 writers, was born at Daystar. This relationship would have been harder without the social media interaction.

Over the last few years, for instance, writers in the country have combined forces to hold joint events including the Author’s Buffet’. Book launches, festivals and conversations with writers are strengthened by social media.

While building a brand on traditional media is prohibitive, social media gives you a relatively cost effective way of building your brand. Even if a writer does not have a website, a simple google search will link you to his/her social media pages: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram and many others.

I have noticed a sharp increase in book sales and orders on my website every time a social media influencer posts about my work.

If you have built a strong brand on social media, it is easier to get your work published because the publisher knows they will not have to struggle too much to make sales. Social media savvy writers like Biko Zulu has mastered this.

As we celebrate the success of the ‘Uber Driver’, we writers should be reflecting on our own social media engagement. By dedicating an hour or less on engaging people on the different channels available, we can be where our readers are, leverage on our network and grow our brand.

And then the sales, event invites, commissioned work, and endorsements will follow.