When the art of blogging started in the mid-1990s, it was a way to keep a personal diary online. Fast-forward to 2017, and nearly everyone who is digital-literate operates, or at least reads a blog. Unlike before, blogs have become public platforms with more diverse content for public consumption.
Video blogging on YouTube is one of the endless possibilities that have been heralded by the digital age, but while most vlog for fun, others do it for a livelihood.
This week, we feature five Kenyan vloggers who have turned their significant following on YouTube into a business.
Jayson Mbogo, 28
How did you get here?
I am a marketer by profession. I ventured into advertising as a content creator three years ago. I was disenchanted about my previous job at a multinational telecommunications firm.
I felt I needed a creative outlet; a food blog is the first thing that came to mind since I have a penchant for good food, which is is expensive in Nairobi. I wanted to teach people how to prepare their favourite meals.
Your content is exclusively about food and drinks. Are you a good cook?
I am a home-taught foodie. I got most of my cooking lessons from my mother, who taught me to positively take criticism, which was really hard for me in the beginning because I am a perfectionist. Through mistakes, however, I have become better and can prepare numerous foods, including those from other cultures.
There are many misconceptions about working online. Are there times when you feel as though you are in the wrong space?
I was disillusioned in the beginning. Finding my own voice was a challenge. It took time before I identified an efficient way to portray myself online. I was also lucky to meet lifestyle bloggers, Kaluhi of Kaluhis Kitchen, Lyra Aoko, Sheila Rabala, Naomi Mutua and Joy Kendi, all who had a passion for food. They taught me the importance of persistence when everything seems stuck. It has been a worthy three-year journey.
What else do you do?
As a lifestyle blogger and YouTube blogger, I don’t stop working. I am always on the lookout for trends. In 2016, I started my clothing line, @PoshByJay, which is slowly picking up.
What would you tell a young person who may wish to earn a living from working online?
Start blogging now. Stop waiting for the perfect time, or the perfect camera. The perfect time is now. Start by posting videos about what you like doing, however amateurish they look. You only learn through doing something and being consistent in it. With an audience of about 20,000 per month, I earn an average of Sh100,000 a month. To build an audience this big requires steadfastness. It took me three years to build this following.
Shiko Nguru, 32
Channel: The Green Calabash
Parenting and lifestyle
Shiko studied political science and holds a Masters of Business Administration from Loyola University in the US. Her revenue comes from brand sponsorships for telecommunication, financial and lifestyle firms and promotion of slow-moving consumer goods. Besides video blogging, she runs a digital company with her husband.
Family and parenting is a unique genre of vlogging. Why did you choose to video blog about parenting?
I started The Green Calabash as a blog in 2010, the year I got my first child. As a new mother, I found parenting to be really isolating, so I started blogging as a way to connect with other mums and women in general. The Green Calabash YouTube channel was an evolution of the blog. My husband, Rama Oluoch and I, wanted to share our parenting journey with others and to provide an open and honest take on parenting. It is a way to encourage other parents and to assure them that their challenges are not unique, and that there are other young parents grappling with similar challenges.
What are some of the areas that you cover?
Our main focus is parenting and family life as a young modern family. We focus on such subjects as family-oriented fun activities, for instance weekend picnics, shopping, assisting children with homework, travelling and general household management.
What set of attributes should one adopt to make a successful video blogger?
You must care deeply about the subject you choose to tackle. This is the only way you will manage to create a stimulating niche for yourself. Good quality content is the first step to becoming a successful video blogger, so you also need a decent camera. If you don’t have money to buy one, start off filming with your smartphone – this is how we started. You must also be disciplined and consistent. We post on a weekly basis.
As a young couple, some would argue that you don’t have enough experience to teach other families about how to parent. What would you say to this?
Our aim is not to teach others what to do, rather, to share with them our experiences and how we handle our various parenting challenges. Life can be very strenuous when children come into the picture – ask me. We are frank about the strains we go through daily, telling it as it is. We have our own share of challenges, but we learn as we go along just like everyone else. It is fulfilling to have other young parents keep tabs on our parenting journey and to learn from our experiences.
Would you recommend video blogging to the young people reading this?
Definitely. If you have a particular area that you are truly passionate about, share it; you can make very good money if you commercialise your channel, but you will have to share your content widely among your social media sites. We make a minimum of Sh80,000 on slow months.
Most of the information today is found online. Are we over-relying on virtual resources at the expense of other ways of life?
Not at all. The digital revolution has connected us to each other and to information in ways that were unimaginable before. Our six-year-old daughter, for instance, knows more than we did at her age because of the web.
Moderation, however, is important to protect children from undesirable web content. You can bet that vlogging will continue to gain popularity in Kenya as social media usage increases along with broadband Internet.
Kangai Mwiti, 30
Channel: Bellesa Africa
Beauty and travel
In 2012, Kangai was part of a group of young film enthusiasts in Nairobi who would travel to various fashion stores in the city for an intensive six-day filming project and produce content for various lifestyle blogs. When the venture wound up, Kangai was not at a loss of what to do.
“I had an interest in self-produced videos on YouTube, and decided to create beauty content targeting women of African heritage,” she says.
At first, she was afraid to get started fearing failure. Kangai however gathered courage and set the ball rolling for what would become her exclusive source of livelihood.
What is the relationship between what you blog and your academic/professional background?
I studied marketing in university. Professionally, I have worked in the IT, Insurance and health industries. I am currently undertaking my master’s degree in communication, focusing on digital media strategy and content creation. I am eyeing a combination of skills that will help me to make a worthy investment and a fulltime career out of video blogging.
How do you make money through your channel?
Through advertisements and partnering with local and international brands to promote their products. We enter into an agreement where I agree to endorse their products - they pay me for the number of mentions and the reach, which is usually the number of views and shares. I have also worked in South Africa, Australia and the US as a makeup artist during events such as weddings and given talks on makeup.
How many subscribers do you currently have?
I recently hit 100,000 subscribers, which was overwhelming because never in my wildest dreams had I imagined having so many subscribers when I set out.
Posting content on a regular basis must be taxing…
I try my best to post at least one video a week. I dedicate a day for filming and editing my work. I have been a make-up artist for over 10 years, so doing this is natural to me and so does not require lots of preparation. I simply identify a concept, say, how to do facials, and discuss it. I have my own camera and laptop, which I use to work from home to cut down on cost.
What do you do for fun away from the virtual scene?
I love dancing and participating in long-haul drives with my friends. Mostly, I love to spend time with my family and friends. My working schedule is flexible, which allows me to take time off whenever I want to.
Sonal Maherali, 37
Channel: Sonal Maherali
Nature of content: Luxury, fashion & lifestyle
Your specialty is luxury blogging. Isn’t your type of content out of touch with most people?
Most people love the finer things in life more than they would admit, therefore the content I produce is not out of touch with what people are interested in – I have more than a million combined views for all my videos. Also, I employ an educational approach, rather than mere showoff. My aim is to put Kenya on the map so that major luxury brands can spot us and want to work with us.
You have an impressive following and online presence. Share some tips on how to draw an audience…
I began blogging six years ago, so it has taken time to build my audience. My YouTube channel however is only a year old. Consistency is the secret to creating an audience. Viewers will be loyal to you if you regularly upload content. Also, be unpredictable; keep your audience guessing about the next upload. Most importantly, be relatable and honest in your posts. Strategic content creation gets a great audience. Plan ahead and establish what your audience loves to watch.
Is this what you exclusively do for a living?
Content creation on YouTube is a real job. I am a stay-at-home mum with four kids and began vlogging purely as a hobby. I have since turned it into a business. I monetise my channel through high-end fashion collaborations and running advertisements and sponsored content. Take it from me; you can make a living from video blogging. The more views your videos generate, the more ads will come your way, translating to more money. I don’t earn less than Sh200,000 a month.
Most think an online identity is not genuine. How do you balance between reality (of your life) and the impressions that you create online?
I am never under pressure to strike any sort of balance because I share my real life with my audience. The surest way to sustain an online identity is to be yourself; putting up an unreal personality eventually wears you down. The moment your audience sniffs a fake persona or shift, they feel betrayed and quit.
What lessons have you learned about establishing a successful online business venture?
There is a fine line between genuinely wanting to share information about a good product and deceiving your audience. To be successful online, you must be transparent. Building good rapport with those that visit your channel is what keeps you relevant online. Giving shout-outs to them cultivates loyalty. Patience is also important because building a successful brand online and a loyal audience is not easy. While a consistent identity is vital, constant innovation helps to break monotony.
Muthoni Muchiri, 24
Channel: Muthoni Muchiri
Travel, food, and beauty
Muthoni studied Journalism at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney Australia. She has been an active YouTube blogger since 2015.
Lifestyle blogging is a popular genre among most Kenya video bloggers. How do you ensure uniqueness in your work?
Lifestyle blogging is preferred because it is relatable in many ways; your perspective is what attracts and maintains your audience. Your videos must be authentic. How you film your videos is very important too. Simple tips such as holding your camera properly so that the footage isn’t shaking and experimenting with different angles and shots helps a lot.
What determines the kind of content that you create and post? Do you sometimes run out of ideas?
I like to produce content that I would also like to watch. It is always interesting to feature popular events and new restaurants, shopping malls and other cool joints that are coming up in the country by touring them. Luckily, I have an active audience that lets me know what they want to see next, which guides me with content planning and ensuring that I have something cooking all the time.
Do you have a video blogger who inspires you? Who is that and why?
I admire Dimma Umeh from Nigeria. Her work is always so beautifully filmed and her vlogs about Nigeria and everyday life are a favourite for me. I also fancy the diversity in the work of Patricia Bright, an English travel and lifestyle blogger and video blogger. Bright has successfully transitioned from blogging to vlogging, growing from a point when she was clueless about video blogging to now command a large international audience.
Does your YouTube channel earn you revenue?
At first it didn’t. Now it does. How much I charge for product endorsements depends with what the client wants me to do. If it is producing a travel video, the cost is higher than, say, doing a product review from home. What I earn through endorsements is able to support my expenses such as travel, personal maintenance and for hanging out with friends. I invest most of my earnings on equipment such as new camera lenses for my camera and editing software such as FinalCutPro, all which help to improve the quality of my content
How do you promote your content?
I mainly share it across Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, where I am very active and have several thousand followers. This way, my followers keep in touch with what I am doing on YouTube.
Some viewers use YouTube and other social media to spread negativity. How do you ensure relevance among your followers?
I tend to stay away from negative vibes. I believe that you attract the energy that you project. Steering clear of controversy is important.
Besides lifestyle, what other interesting areas would you advise the youth to blog about?
There are many areas to blog about, but it is advisable to blog about an area you love. Pick a subject that you know well about. Be it sports or health or even cars. Your love for that topic is what will push you through those days where you don’t feel like working. Also, always make it fun.