The Business Of Blogging: The Rise Of The Online Influencer

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A couple of months ago the story The Sackof Imperial Bank went viral. The four-part series was an expose on Imperial Bank written by a blogger called Owaahh. What was surprising to some was that he did a better job than the mainstream media in uncovering the trail of corruption that lead to Imperial Bank going into receivership. It was a clear indication that the Kenyan digital economy, on the content end at least, has come of age.

Owaahh uses the internet primarily to research stories and people, and to publish and track his work. Through his blog, Owaahh.com, which turned 6 years old last April, the blogger has built a solid profile and niche following. Today, he is one of the growing number of bloggers and influencers earning money creating content.

Before starting his blog, Owaahh would earn money writing for American freelance writing sites and he would be paid via e-payment platforms. He left hack writing to focus on building his own digital brand, with the knowledge that as more Kenyans got online, there would be a growing demand for authentic Kenyan content. He says, “I earn money through advertising: with banners, promoted content, and influencer gigs. Most advertising clients will want access to followers on different platforms, including the blog.”

Digital influence. Image from https://imaginariopropaganda.wordpress.com/2016/06/07/a-era-dos-digitais-influencers/
Digital influence. Image from https://imaginariopropaganda.wordpress.com/2016/06/07/a-era-dos-digitais-influencers/

The growth of the industry has been driven by internet access. According to The Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) Q1 2016 statistics, Kenya’s internet penetration rose by 11% to stand at 82.6%.  Internet users grew to 35.5 Million users from 31.9 Million users.  Mobile data subscriptions grew by 10.2% to 23.7 Million subscribers from 21.5 Million. These numbers represent the growing numbers of people able to access the internet for both social and business reasons. As more people go online, they are looking for content that suits their needs that may not necessarily be met by mainstream media. This is the niche that bloggers are filling.

The Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) is a community organization that promotes online content creation and free expression in Kenya. It also seeks to empower bloggers to make money. According to their records, in 2012, 4 companies carried out 2 digital campaigns at a cost of  Ksh. 394,378.  In 2015, 17 companies carried out 27 campaigns at a cost of Ksh. 4.3 million.  This is only a small part of the business available as most companies’ approach bloggers either directly or through their advertising agencies.

Bloggers offer a more targeted, engaged audience for brands. Having impressive numbers of followers is an asset as brands like to have bloggers who can also push campaigns on social media instead of hiring influencers separately. Most, like Owaahh, now occupy different roles as content creators and influencers. According to Adweek, “Influencer Marketing is becoming an effective way for brands to generate big returns on social. As new influencers emerge on different social networks, businesses are looking to connect with those influential people and their followers.” Brands look for factors like engagement, growth rate, traffic, and reputation when choosing bloggers to work with. Many bloggers say it is still difficult to get brands to spend as many expect them to work for ‘exposure.’

The age of the influencer. Image from http://www.weablemarketing.com/influencers/why-bloggers-youtubers-are-businesses-new-money-magnets/
The age of the influencer. Image from http://www.weablemarketing.com/influencers/why-bloggers-youtubers-are-businesses-new-money-magnets/

The landscape is changing. Today, brands and even government agencies are switched on to the role that bloggers are playing in modern communication. Led by multinational companies and big regional conglomerates such as telecom companies and banks, brands are seeking out online creators for campaigns. They are looking for bloggers, vloggers, instagrammers and YouTubers for marketing collaborations.The amount of money that bloggers are paid depends on several factors, including traffic (how many people follow or visit the blogger’s site), engagement with target audience, rate cards, niche and the blogger’s credibility.

Many successful bloggers and influencers have created a name and an audience of engaged followers in their different niches e.g. travel, photography, technology, fashion, food, entertainment, lifestyle and business. By working with bloggers whose interests align with the brand’s target audience, advertisers can effectively reach thousands of interested consumers at a lower rate than with traditional media. Or whose faith in traditional media is waning.

The rise in digital natives has led to challenges for mainstream media, including the fight to be the first to break a story or be the ones that create the news agenda. A couple of months ago, Nation Media Group (NMG) announced that they would be focusing more on digital media. It is not surprising as newspaper revenues have been falling as more people read the news online.  In 2015, NMG’s revenues shrunk by 7%. It has faced increasing competition from blogs and social media in terms of providing information. This is what has lead NMG to focus more on a digital and mobile friendly business model.

Many bloggers started out blogging as a hobby/passion but are now blogging professionally. Magunga Williams, for example, trained as a lawyer but is now a full time blogger at Magunga.com. He says “I am a merchant of words. I sell words in the form of stories.” He runs an online bookstore – The Magunga Bookstore as a side business. The bookstore was recently featured in the New Yorker – Bringing African Books Back Home. He confesses that he did not start blogging because it was going to make money. He did it to create a hub for beautiful stories but now it pays his bills.

Abigail Arunga and Magunga Williams at the 2016 Babishai Poetry Festival, in Ntinda, Uganda. Image from http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/bringing-african-books-back-home
Abigail Arunga and Magunga Williams at the 2016 Babishai Poetry Festival, in Ntinda, Uganda. Image from http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/bringing-african-books-back-home

So how do bloggers and influencers make money?

By putting up sponsored posts (content), banner adverts and social media. updates. Companies pay bloggers and influencers to review products and write about their experiences, or write about a company or organizations in a creative way to create awareness about the company or the brand etc.  Bloggers can also earn money by putting up banner adverts either directly or through a third-party like Google Ad sense.

Bloggers and Influencers can also be paid to create hype for an event or experience. This involves creating a buzz for an event before it happens, or during the event and sometimes even after the event. This means that the blogger will attend the brand sponsored event or travel to different locations to experience it. Many hotels, airlines, global brands, tourism boards work with bloggers in this way. This is common in the travel industry or also with technology companies.

Brands are also reaching out to bloggers to develop, implement and manage campaigns for a fee. Sometimes the bloggers also take over the brand’s social media accounts and create content for an agreed period.

Bloggers are also using their blog platform as a spring board to get into mainstream media.  There are now bloggers who have making money writing stories for newspapers and magazines, or working in broadcast either on TV or Radio.

Hosting an event/appearance. Event hosting is one of the best ways brands can collaborate with bloggers to drive brand awareness. BAKE has been able to do this through the concept of the BAKE experience, which is a sponsored event by companies/organizations that brings together bloggers and influencers. Brands get to interact with bloggers and create awareness of their products or services. The bloggers get information and story ideas. This also gives bloggers opportunities to talk business with the sponsoring company.

This evening BAKE will be releasing the Report of the Internet landscape in Kenya.  Hopefully there will be some great insights into what has happened in the blogging industry over the last year.

 

**** Update. Please find the Report of the Internet Landscape in Kenya

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