• Influence of bloggers on organisational reputation and crisis management cannot be ignored
• Strategic communication ought to put them at the heart of any communication efforts
When Kenya Red Cross Society secretary general Abbas Gullet rose to the podium to announce that his organisation was seeking Sh825 million to help alleviate the impact of drought in 17 counties, he was not prepared for the backlash the appeal would attract.
No sooner had the appeal been made than opposing voices led by social media influencers and bloggers emerged online pitching a case for why Kenyans should not respond to and support the appeal.
A much-needed and timely humanitarian intervention received cold reception that will no doubt impact the amount of money that will be raised for thousands of victims.
In my view, the appeal was caught up in a context of negative atmosphere occasioned by the failure of county governments to improve the lives of the people they represent, which is a key mandate of devolved units.
One day before the appeal, Kenyans on social media had questioned governors in arid counties on what they had done with development and equalisation funds. Using the hashtag #GovernorsOfDrought, they demanded accountability and compared the luxurious lives of governors with those of the people they represent.
The hashtag, which was the leading trend on Wednesday, March 20, therefore had overall effect of setting the tone for any relief food appeal efforts.
From an organisational communication perspective, Red Cross should have studied the environment and consulted the internet and particularly the notable social media influencers before the launch of the appeal
So when the Red Cross made its appeal, the environment was already populated by citizen voices demanding accountability and sound governance.
From an organisational communication perspective, Red Cross should have studied the environment and consulted the internet and particularly the notable social media influencers before the launch of the appeal.
It should have considered meeting social media influencers to build support and coalitions for the initiative.
Social media influencers and bloggers command an army of followers who support and amplify their voices, often without question. They can set the agenda on issues with varying levels of success.
Further, the influence of bloggers on organisational reputation and crisis management cannot be ignored. Therefore, strategic communication ought to put them at the heart of any communication efforts, especially where positive perception is desired.
Secondly, there exists a cold relationship and competition between the mainstream media and social media influencers, who are seen as more legitimate, are listened to and are capable of swaying the masses to action. Any effort that seems to openly recognise one side over the other is likely to be resisted.
While the influencers derive their power from their informal approach to issues, a situation which often appeals to their audiences, they are also diverse in principle and ideology.
However, it is important to note that they can coalesce around an issue of interest in support or opposition as the situation may demand. In this particular case, they put aside their differences, embraced each other and read from the same script.
The vigour with which they approached the issue and managed to blow cold air into the appeal definitely serves as a lesson to organisational management on the need to mainstream social media in their communication strategies.
Many organisations find it easier to deal with the mainstream media because they rarely go against established ethical principles and ideals in the pursuit of their work.
But it is social media that needs to be strategically mainstreamed because they can openly express cynicism, question, make fun, memes, and abuse or support an organisation's officials with massive impact on a campaign.
The problem is that the influencers are many, diverse, wield different levels of influence and operate as "one-man armies". Therefore one needs to identify those among them that will add value to a campaign.