All it takes is a socio-political event to excite Kenyans into an online conversation. If you look at your Daily stream of Twitter trends, there is ample proof that the song remains the same for the average Kenyan Twitterati. If it’s not Ndaaani, then its Tibim. All it takes however is a cherry on top phenomenon to make the mundane political discussion even more ballistic.
This year has seen a flurry of viral conversations explode amongst Kenyans on social media from the effect of a trend-cutting trigger agent that improved the conversation. The first example that comes to mind is the case of Githeriman; an ordinary Kenyan denizen who awoke to exercise his civil voting rights on one chilly morning on the 8th of August whilst attending to a casual brunch serving of githeri boilio (boiled maize and beans).
Unknown to him, the digital paparazzi (digirazzi) were at bay, keen on capturing anything and anyone who seemed newsworthy on this news-pregnant season of election drama.
Factor 1: A news-pregnant setting
Most viral social media conversations take off in the midst of an event that has already gathered sufficient media attention. This ordinary occasion is at the heart of everyone’s attention at first. Yet what however follows is an unusual goof or spark that no-one saw coming. But since we were all here for the show, it becomes a moment that elicits rapturous emotions due to its odd nature during a rare moment. Everyone’s expectation is set on what they have already observed in the past in such a moment (e.g. rigging claims) and are ready to disburse their carefully curated knowledge towards any conversation that relates to such. But lo and behold, the significance of the event is compounded by an even rarer phenomenon which steals the show eventually, case in point Githeriman. It would then become the proverbial black swan and create paradigm shifts amongst Kenyans on what is probable and possible in any recurring national ceremony.
The outcome of such a black swan event is perfectly captured in the aftermath of the Githeriman meme craze that swept social media and traditional media alike. It spread like a fire that strengthens itself with every tree it meets. The fortunate man who was the subject of the conversation won himself heaps and heaps of rewards for enjoining Kenyans from all backgrounds in a jovial and heavily creative discourse that did not particularly have the most profound basis. It was simply funny. It made us laugh and made us human. Some even attempted to extract a deeper meaning to the conversation and depicted Githeriman as a national hero who had averted chaos and violence during the 2017 Kenyan elections by showing a side of us that we secretly relish; the inner African traditionalist.
On the other end of the social status spectrum, the leader of Kenya’s opposition movement, Raila Odinga had summarized his campaign promises with a biblical allusion to the promised land of Canaan. It was an analogy that no other Kenyan politician had coined before and therefore earned itself the unique emblem of spreadability.
Factor 2: Creative inclusion
The potency of Githeriman’s rich tale of culinary heroism, was actualized by the creative use of visual media to amplify his context. Kenyans dug into the reserves of their Photoshop muscles and depicted githeriman’s act of public snacking in the most ludicrous scenarios that defied our imaginations. The seed content, a simple photograph of him on queue, multiplied itself into dozens of crafty images that emphasized the punchline of the initial joke. Once these variations were shared on Twitter and Instagram, joining in the conversation was completely inevitable.
Canaan was also the victim of media amplification as soon as a Facebook quiz was created via the Testony app to assess people’s eligibility for entering Canaan. As more and more Kenyans fed into their curiosity to establish what the app had to say about them and their connection to the promised land, the app became a trend a week before polling day, and a critical point in the election timeline at that.
Factor 3: Relatabiliity
Githeri is a staple food for a very large population of Kenyans. And if you have been in Nairobi for a period that spans at least 2 elections you owe it to yourself to be familiar with the dish. Githeri is therefore a highly relatableand reliable agent for national cohesion conversation. The making of the Githeriman fad was something that was ripe for the taking just on account of its timing and relevance. The same X-factor was identified in a similarly well known Kenyan fruit, the avocado when a creative young social-mediaphile took to imitating the already popular Salt Bae trend with his own Avaocado- Bae rendition. Food as an element of viral content comes naturally due to its central part in a society’s culture.
Canaan was just as relatable as Githeri due to its religious attenuation. It is said that 80 percent of Kenyans are practicing Christians. So it would not take much for a Kenyan on social media to relate to a Bibilical passage when it is applied to the political arena. Furthermore my bet is that a larger percentage of Kenyans are politically religious so a mixture of the two estates forms a powerful recipe for viral content fodder.
With just these three factors and a bit of humour, anyone can harness the power of social media conversations in Kenya to viral extemes and catapult their brand (or whatever they stand for) into the limelight of national concern in a matter of days. On the other hand if you can come up with a novel way to help people interact such as the new crazed Sarahah platform, then you will by all means, develop a viral buzz using a independent platform. But then again that’s a story for another day…