How to Handle Online Publicity: Interview with Mwirigi



Today is the social media awards day and in the spirit of recognizing various personalities that have made an impact in their own way on social media, we had a chance to interview Robert Kunga, who is widely known as Mwirigi on Twitter. We talked about the incredibly popular #PoleKwaMwirigi hashtag, if his life has changed after that incident and pointers on how to handle such attention on Twitter.

Q: Who is Bobby?

I am Mwirigi on Twitter, Mwirigi is my middle name. When I joined Twitter, I didn’t want to use my actual name. People who call me Mwirigi are people on Twitter and my grandma. I can distinguish my work friends, personal friends and internet people by the name they use.

Q: The journey that was Sharon and how it transpired on Twitter

“It’s not like that I’m famous in my own regard, it is that people related first to the situation.”

Contrary to popular belief, I have only met her 2 or 3 times before the thing (#PoleKwaMwirigi hashtag) happened. She has been a nominee for Bake Awards 2 years in a row. So with the exception of just “Are you coming to the awards on Saturday” and “Thank you for coming to the awards”, that’s it. That is the only discussion I have had with her.

I had introduced her to my friends. You know how as tech guyz for the longest time I was associated with Nokia, guys will talk to me as Bobby yule wa Nokia” Now on the day she got engaged, what happened is that one of my friends went on the time-line and was like “That Ess of Bobby has gotten engaged” Unfortunately the gentleman is very well known on Twitter and that tweet got very may retweets and people picked up on that. The thing is that people had the impression that me and her had a relationship.

One of the reason that the thing lipukad the way it did is that a lot of guys in relationships were suddenly faced with the reality of the fact that the bar was raised so all of that stress was being taken on that Mwirigi person that they don’t know. It’s not like I’m famous in my own regard, it is that people related first to the situation.

Question: Throw in some numbers about the outcome of the hashtag (Interactions)

The interactions were crazy. There is a company called iStats who tracked it and apparently I was averaging 2 tweets a second between 10am and 4pm. The only trending topic that had velocity greater than that one was the #MyDressMyChoice that was doing 1.67 tweets per second. That hashtag was trending for 4 days in a row and by 6 in the afternoon had generated 40 million impressions. All in all, in the 1st week, if I was to pay for such publicity, the value of that would be Kshs 1.5M.

“You could see very clearly which brands understood social and which didn’t”

The reason it blew up is the way corporates acted because it is one thing for guys to just jump into a trending topic that is happening and then it is a different thing when corporates are acting as human beings. Another interesting thing about this is that a lot of corporates that guys liked is different from what I liked because this is what was happening to me personally.

“It was organic”

Nobody was trying to sell anything on #PoleKwaMwirigi, it was organic. Nowadays the TL is like a market-place. There were people who had no idea what was happening (corporates and individuals) who were congratulating me and Ess on our engagement. You could see very clearly which brands understood social and which don’t because some were clearly off. Everyone assumed I was being offered stuff. If you look at the tweet themselves, I was not being offered anything for brands.

I didn’t get paid by corporates, the only corporate that came through with anything was Store 66 where they gave me a pair of shoes and lots of love from their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. The only other benefit is that I have visibility in that now it is easier for me to start a conversation with a brand

Q: What were you thinking as a brand?

Usually when you are thinking about our brand, you have a 5 year or 10 year plan. I was in a situation where I needed to figure that out in around 2 weeks. One of the best things that came out of this is Caroline Mutoko bought me lunch and spent time discussing about this matter.

There is a lot of stuff in the works, you are not going to see it right now but it wil materialize probably by the end of the year or early 2016.

Q: Are you one of the 36 government bloggers?

I wish I was

Q: That was then, how is it different now? How better or worse are you now that happened?

First things first, Twitter fame is the definition of 15 minutes of fame. I have seen a lot of people trying to get attention online. It is fickle, it will come and go. At least to an extent, I was aware of that, don’t let this go to your head.

“I am very choosy which corporates I want to work with”

Obviously the number of followers jumped up, interest from corporates also came up but I’m very choosy which corporates I want to work with. Whatever brand I’m working with must align with my personal brand. It is not like the offers weren’t there, at the end of the day when the fame dies down, what do I want to be associated with?

“Online is important but offline is very critical”

Online is important but offline is very critical, offline being who I am as a person. The online will open the door, it is me who has to walk through it. You need to realize that you have online is intangible and how it will turn into something valuable/nonsense/money is you as a person. Do you have a strong character? Good interpersonal skills?

Q: You got a lot of attention on social media and also on mainstream media. Did someone schedule an interview with you?

The only interview I had was by the Pulse and I was misquoted although it was not that bad. Also, the distinction that my Twitter handle and name are not the same thing to some extent. Like I said earlier, my friends call me Bobby, my Twitter handle is Mwirigi so people think Bobby Mwirigi is a full name by itself. If you are writing me a cheque or were are doing something serious in a corporate setting, I would introduce myself as Robert Kunga. It allowed to some extent the Mwirigi thing to blow up and then it is not affecting my day to day operations.

“It was interesting to see in real life what people think about you”

Until that happened people didn’t know how I looked like. My Twitter handle doesn’t have my picture, my Instagram account is locked. In fact I was enjoying the whole thing because I would be sitting in a bus or in a bar and I’m hearing these guys describing this Mwirigi thing. It was interesting to see in real life what people think about you so I realized that my personal brand is not bad and people regarded me with a certain level of respect.

“Kenyans are tired of paid promotions online”

It just showed that Kenyans are tired of paid promotions online. Sometimes people just want to have fun. A lot of things guys said was like mchongoano back in high school, it was not malicious. I’ve seen some people in other forums saying it was cyberbullying, cyberbullying nothing! It was just funny. It was only in good fun and you could see.

Q: Much later, has it ever popped up in a boardroom or in a place you were pitching?

“Most of the time it has come up as an icebreaker”

Let me tell you where it has popped up. People forget I have a family that reads the newspaper so at a family function and guys come to me like “mbona hukuleta huyu msichana?, you should have brought her, we meet the family…”. My family found out like a month later. Most of the time it has come up as an icebreaker and it doesn’t hurt me in any way.

Q: So, you’ve been nominated for the Social media awards

Oh yeah! I have been nominated for social media awards: Best Twitter personality and my competitors have been trending on the timeline for a while. I’m up against Moseax, never heard him, Chief Kariuki, Paula Kahumbu and Brian Mbunde

Q: As a summary, if someone is caught in a situation like yours, what pointers can you give them?

Breathe in and out, it is never that serious. My situation was unique in that it was positive, for the most part it is not. If it is negative you have to very quickly get in touch with what is happening and start responding.

The reason it remained positive is because I didn’t respond in a negative way.  People are looking at you to see the cues are going to be. People are very confrontational nowadays, I didn’t position myself as a target. You also need to look at 2 things: The thing that has happened and how it can spread. The response will depend on their reach where prioritize with people with more reach.

You also very quickly nip it at the bud, where you feed as much right information as possible. If you find that the underlying problem is coming because you made a mistake, apologize. If there is a misunderstanding, clarify as fast as possible because once it goes to the general timeline, for the most part they are not responding to what has happened but what they think has happened.