The Online Battle for Influence During Kenya’s 2017 Elections

Political bloggers have been some of the most vocal voices on social media during Kenya’s protracted 2017 elections. In Kenya, the term blogger often refers to someone who is active on Twitter and they are frequently hired by organizations to shape the information space. Sometimes these bloggers also run actual blogs through which they amplify their views.

The two main political contenders in this year’s election, the National Super Alliance (NASA) and the Jubilee Party, allegedly paid some bloggers to support their political communication campaigns while other bloggers voluntarily back their favored party. A blogger’s stature is typically measured by their follower count, though this is a sub-optimal metric for influence.

Against this background, we launched a study on September 1 that analyzes 18 bloggers affiliated with the Jubilee Party and 19 NASA affiliated ones who are prominent in the Twittersphere. Taken together, these 37 bloggers reach 3.1 million followers who in turn can easily share posts by clicking on the retweet button. Moreover, it is not uncommon for a group of influencers to collaborate and attempt to create trending hashtags or keywords.

The first level of analysis of the study simply looks at the tweet volumes over time. NASA affiliated bloggers are clearly generating more chatter than their Jubilee affiliated counterparts, by a factor of two-and-a-half times.

But the tactics employed differ dramatically when looking at how much original content each block generated. Jubilee affiliated bloggers are kings of reposting content: for each original post, they had four reposts. NASA affiliated bloggers have a much lower ratio of two-and-a-half times.

The second level of analysis is the amount of noise these influencers are producing on Twitter. Not only are NASA affiliated bloggers tweeting more often, but they also have a larger follower base. This results in higher figures for both impressions and reach. The latter refers to the estimated number of users exposed to a post when it was published.

These statistics seem to give NASA bloggers an edge, however it is important to see how their content resonates and engagement scores give important insights. This score, the third level of analysis, takes into account the number of times a post is shared, commented on, or marked as a favorite.

Again, the NASA affiliated bloggers come ahead since they have the top 68 posts ranked by engagement score. Top of the list is a tweet by @NelsonHavi that got 3,845 reposts, 43 comments, and 2,313 likes. This compares to a tweet by @PolycarpHinga, a Jubilee affiliated blogger, that had 628 reposts and only one comment.

So it appears as if the NASA affiliated bloggers are winning the social media battle on Twitter though the real impact of their activity will be seen on October 17. Additionally, it is critical to remember that social media reach an audience predominately in Nairobi, as we concluded in a study entitled The Tyranny of Numbers on Social Media During Kenya’s 2017 Elections. While Twitter and Facebook are the dominant social media platforms in Kenya, more research is needed to assess the role of WhatsApp in shaping public opinion.