Social media has without a doubt grown in unimaginable leaps and bounds.
At some point, it might have been hard to fathom that Facebook and Twitter, two of the most popular social media platforms founded in 2004 and 2006 respectively would grow and become part of the huge internet and online culture that they are now.
Clearly not just a fad, social media has evolved into an obsession. It is in fact, a way of life for the online community.
The need to like and share huge chunks of our lives has completely changed the way we communicate with our friends, colleagues and loved ones.
All pointers show that social media is far from being just a fad, it is a way of life. Trending topics, more so on Twitter have become so addictive that we cannot wait to see what hashtag is causing ripples.
When it comes to Africa, Kenya is a social media giant in terms of usage and it was just a matter of time before someone started making a living off studying and analysing how Kenyans interact with social media.
Author and founder of Nendo Ventures Mark Kaigwa recently created The A-to-Z of Kenyan Twitter, a publication that seeks to give insights on the different social media forms, in particular Twitter.
Like the publication suggests, it contains widely used Kenyan terminologies from personalities to brands using the 26 letters of the alphabet.
Though some of the letters might one day change, the basis still remains that the topics and trends will still be the same issues that are talked about by Kenyans and the rest of the world.
Using the hashtag #AtoZofKOT, Kaigwa’s publication is a strong reflection of how Kenyans On Twitter (#KOT) and other social media platforms are a driven, open-minded and powerfully opinionated lot.
The #AtoZofKOT features some of the hottest trending topics that have taken place since the year began like the subject of quails, ICC and Westgate.
But things got more comical when the hash tag #SomeoneTell was adopted by KOT who briefly forgot their differences and instead rallied behind each other and the country to tell off any organisation or country that dared to paint us in bad light.
CNN has been on the receiving end of this hashtag more than once for what many termed was a skewed look into Africa. Kenyans have fast embraced social media and according to Kaigwa even “sparked international interest.”
“Estimates show approximately 700,000 Kenyans on Twitter are active each month out of a possible 2 million users. The A-to-Z of Kenyan Twitter celebrates the culture, quirks and characters behind the millions of updates that are shared with the world,” says Kaigwa.
As we continue to see noteworthy spikes in topics like entertainment, politics, business, television and technology that trend frequently, there is a noted gradual shift in the way we communicate.
Not only that, how people gather information, interact, create and do business and make decisions has also been altered.
Companies and business owners have figured out that the more people in the social media community like, recommend and talk about their product, the faster the search engines find their websites relevant and also acquire a higher position on the search engine results.
Early this year Aromat, a seasoning product from Unilever, embarked on a campaign that was aimed at enhancing flavour to meals. It featured the catchphrase “…but with Aromat” to show the difference it made to boring meals.
But in true Kenyan fashion, Kenyans on Twitter transformed the catch phrase into a hashtag #ButWithAromat to hilariously show its level of transformation from normal every day things.
The hashtag gained massive popularity as KOT went as far as creating ridiculously funny memes of before-and-after pictures of celebrities and politicians alike. Through television, Aromat achieved its goal of building awareness but social media practically helped it “sell itself”.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
The marketing and advertising team pretty much sat back and watched social media do their work for them.
Kenyans on social media have time and again helped in championing worthy causes like “Bring Zack back home” and “Kenyans For Kenya”.
But at times it is funny to see how they also push other agendas without actually knowing or understanding what they are about.
Last week on the hashtag #NoBraDay it was clear some of them did not understand that the message behind women going without bras was to raise breast cancer awareness and support other breast cancer survivors.
But to be fair to them, the message was lost on other users around the world too and instead some of the tweets looked like they were raising awareness on creepy men more than the cause.
Social media trends have made it possible for the integration of social and traditional media especially on television.
The “Tweet Television” generation has become so popular that anyone without a television set but owns a smartphone practically never misses out on anything. In most cases, the timeline is more interesting than the show being tweeted about.
Tujuane, one of the most popular TV shows in the country continues to ride high in its popularity each week as it almost never misses to trend either on Facebook or Twitter.
It goes without saying that each week, one or both of the participants suffer the wrath of the unforgiving masses as they are ridiculed; cyber bullied and on the rare occasion, get praised.
The amount of chatter generated on social media has become the measuring stick upon which producers gauge the success and longevity of programmes.
That said, the amount of negative Twitter conversations that Teacher Wanjiku’s show generated could not have allowed it to carry on on Citizen Television.
The show was brutally attacked for being bland and Teacher Wanjiku forced to go back to the drawing board.
After that debacle, any producer will shy away from airing any below par show just to avoid getting shot down publicly.
Aside from pushing the news agenda news anchors are always begging for new followers on their platforms as more followers gives one more credence and the higher the number of followers, the bigger the bragging rights.
It may be argued that this integration has come at the expense of hard hitting journalism and analysis but it has also gotten anchors closer to their audiences.
A once moderately known Vera Sidika, a “socialite” and video vixen progressively climbed up the fame ladder by using Twitter and Instagram as her platforms towards achieving celebrity status.
Though her tweefs (Twitter beef) with fellow socialite Huddah Monroe helped her, it was not until she publicly revealed that she had lightened her skin that she became a national discussion.
Vera, who still trends on Twitter from time to time sets Twitter ablaze with discussions ranging from her supposed Nigerian oil tycoon boyfriend to her before and after photos and why she bleached herself.
Social media trends, now part of the online culture are not just about fun and entertainment as demonstrated by the Facebook page Deadbeat Kenya that brought so much controversy on the naming and shaming of alleged negligent and absentee fathers.
It might not have been fun for the ones exposed but it was pure entertainment for the rest of us standing on the side lines watching, or reading.
Nevertheless, as much as the site seemed overly intrusive, it was also a statement about seeking social justice for those whom the courts do not work fast enough.
In future, it could literally be the way women and men check out potential partners to sieve the desirable ones from the “tainted” lot.
Trends are just that, trends, they will come and go, but Kenyans will always take the initiative and find something else to be passionate about. Every now and then the topics may be disturbing, cruel, empathetic and even funny.
“Kenyans on Twitter have long distinguished themselves globally as a community who demonstrate the potential for social media to take topics, trends and stories global,” says Kaigwa.