When Kenyan writer and blogger Jackson Biko, better known as BikoZulu online, was subjected to what tens of Kenyans experience every day at the UK Home Office applying for Visas to the UK only for them to receive an unsigned letter denying them, he did what any blogger would do, he ranted about it endlessly on his blog Bikozulu.co.ke in a post he titled ‘ Visa Denied‘.
BikoZulu is great at his craft. Pick any of the top Kenyan Magazines or Newspapers and chances are, he is either the Editor or has a weekly/monthly column in it.( If we start listing them here, this will seem like a sponsored post).
The question of whether he knew that the post would go viral or not is still subject to debate which we will briefly highlight (It has something to do with being an online influencer )
The article in form of a blog post went viral within just days of publishing it. The effect, The British High Commissioner to Kenya Dr. Christian Turner responded to Biko via twitter apologizing for the bureaucracy and promising to look into the matter.
@bikozulu Asante for powerful piece on visa refusal& your experience with bureaucracy. Will look at details & get back to you.
— Christian Turner (@HCCTurner) September 16, 2014
Just what made the post go viral and would the same have happened had Biko’s article appeared in any of the other numerous offline publications that he writes for? Below are some of the reasons the post went viral highlighting the sheer power of Social Media.
Freedom of Expression & Editorial Policies
If you are a writer, then a blog is the most powerful tool you could ever own. This is especially so if you are just starting out and are still making a name for yourself in the trade, before the likes of Msafiri, True Love and the Print Media Houses pay you any attention.
In Biko’s case, the blog has always been a labor of love. There was a time he even contemplated closing it when the pressure of writing for over 5 publications became too much. In a very candid post some years back, he informed his High School gang (that’s what he calls his cult of readers) that he would have to reduce his posts to 1 every month. This seems to have finally paid off.
Blogging gives you the freedom to express yourself, write about the things you love, don’t like, write about nasty experiences in places (restaurants) and once in a while, it helps you find release for all the anger built up inside from an incident which may or may not be happening to thousands of other people everyday. Because of this nature of blogs, nuances like editorial policies do not apply.
If Bikozulu had submitted this Visa Denied article to the various publications he writes for, the following would have happened to it;
– Declined by the editor
– Heavily edited to the point it looked like a breakdown of how the UK Embassy politely denies you a Visa
– The sell by date would have expired by the time it was published
Platform Choice & Duration of Publication
Had the article made it through editorial and finally appeared in the dailies or Lifestyle Magazines, it would probably have appeared 1 month later (monthly magazines) or 2 weeks later. The publication of the post would not have been as immediate as it was.
He wrote the post within 30 minutes of receiving the letter and within a day, the blog post went viral. It is still being shared via twitter and Facebook even as we publish this article. By the virtue of him blogging about it, he was able to share the link with all his followers on all other Social Media platforms thereby increasing his blog’s reach and readership. I bet many who discovered him yesterday are scrolling through his other older right now.
Distribution & Reach
Perhaps this is the greatest show of the power of Social Media. According to Keyhole – a tool for tracking social media campaigns and hashtags, the key words ‘Visa Denied’ has so far reached 548,000 people whereas the hashtag #VisaDenied reached 579,000 unique readers.
It is because of the ability of KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) to share the link to all their friends that the post reached the British High Commissioner. It is through Twitter that he, and Biko, were able to cut through the bureaucracy and have a direct instant conversation on the matter.
We will be honest here and state the obvious, had this post been by any other not so well known blogger (read smallwig), it would not have had the same effect. Thus Biko’s influence online was the catalyst.
Changing the Status Quo
It would have been unwise of the UK Home office to remain tight lipped as a blog post tarnishing their good name and their policies on Visa applications was becoming a trending topic for its viral sharing with Kenyans Online discussing the British show of snobbery because of the manner in which Biko dissected that unsigned letter.
That post earned him a call from the UK High Commission for another Visa Application appointment. Since the post’s link was shared even to the president via twitter by the Senator of Elgeyo Marakwet County, Kipchumba Murkomen. Maybe, things will change.
— SENATOR MURKOMEN (@kipmurkomen) September 16, 2014
This incident has set a interesting precedent and many Kenyans online have been questioning whether those denied Visas can now tweet the British High Commissioner to get preferential treatment.