Facebook storytellers reveal how words make a mark

Esther Caleche

Beryl Wanga Itindi, a communications and public relations practitioner who is famous for the humorous stories she posts on Facebook(left) and Esther Caleche. She is behind the Facebook page called “The Nairobi Woman”. 

Photo credit: Pool

The tiny white slot poses a simple question: “What’s on your mind?”

For starters, that is where social networking platform Facebook gives room for the user to post whatever they wish. It can be text, a photo, or a video.

And, by just using text and little else, some Facebook users have found fame and made money — courtesy of their storytelling techniques.

Storytelling on a platform where users loathe lengthy posts is a craft that requires flair, understanding of one’s audience and sometimes plain good luck.

We spoke with four Facebook storytellers, some emerging and some who have done it for over a decade, and there was one moral from their stories: everyday experiences can be told in a way that can bring you fans and money.

Those we interviewed are Beryl Itindi, a 37-year-old communications and public relations practitioner who boasts 127,000 Facebook followers; and Dagitari Wanjohi Kigogoine, a businessman (different from a popular caller on vernacular FM stations) who jealously guards his real identity and with 97,000 Facebook followers to his name.

We also spoke with Diana Mosoba (real name Elizabeth Bonareri Orangi), an office administrator who has 7,000 Facebook followers and Esther Caleche, a 26-year-old with a combined Facebook following of 8,000 across two platforms she runs and who considers the social networking platform her “office”.

Beryl is known for her humorous narrations on a variety of issues. It can be recollections of family life as she grew up, her recent experiences, people she has encountered, the works.

“Most of my pieces are about my horrible experiences that I now look back at and laugh about,” she said.

Beryl has been on Facebook since 2008 and she started telling stories on the network in 2011, gaining fame in 2014 after one piece went viral.

Facebook

“That’s the same year I hit the 5,000 friend limit on Facebook and activated the ‘follow’ button,” she said as she explained the need for writers to be patient.

Beryl Itindi has been a good writer since the day she penned her first composition. She was 11 years old and in Standard Six when she topped her class in composition writing.

“This was our first ever composition. I was a bit shocked when my teacher brought back our results and read out my composition as the best,” she said.

“The main thing that stood out in my piece was the creativity and flow. From what I read from others, their pieces were somehow very plain and ideas were all mixed up. For lack of a better word, they were ‘flat’ thus evoking no particular emotion. I topped my class in composition writing all the way till I did my KCPE,” she told Lifestyle.

What ushered her into storytelling on Facebook was a rough patch in her life. In 2011, she broke up with her then fiancé and cancelled her wedding.

“Since I was still unemployed back then, I spent the better part of my days locked in my house. My only companion was my laptop as I had lost most of my friends during the break-up. To get my mind off the heartbreak, I started writing about my childhood and all the adventures that came with it. We are eight siblings with very different characters and my late mother was a comedian in her own way,” she said.

Those stories she wrote as she locked herself in proved to be popular when she shared them.

“It didn’t take long before readers on the platform started asking for more. Initially, I would write twice a week but after a while, my followers started pushing for more,” she said.

“They were always looking forward to the next episode. Some went as far as calling me to ask about when I was doing the next post so that they would stay online and wait for it. Since I had all the time in my hands and all the ideas in my mind, Facebook became my second home and not a day would go by without me engaging my followers,” added Beryl.

She has grown over the years. She still tells her stories that always have a humorous bend, and she noted that she writes whenever inspiration hits her — and that can be in the middle of the night.

Due to her success, many advertisers have engaged her to market their products.

“Because of my large following, I have attracted several individuals and even organisations who have approached me for marketing services. For instance, when I was expectant in 2015 with an unstable job, I fully depended on my writing to earn a living. If anything, writing paid my bills in 2015 and 2016. It wasn’t really much but it was enough to lead a comfortable life,” said Beryl, who is currently working on a book that she plans to launch in October.

“I am currently running adverts for different organisations, both big and small, and my charges are quite friendly,” she said.

Beryl prefers advertising deals that run over a period of time.

Aspiring writers

“Marketing is not a one-off thing,” she said. “People should know that the more they are mentioned, the more they will gain. One mention is a gamble and could go either way.”

She advised aspiring writers to be keen on coherence and capturing the attention of readers. Photography, she said, can also complement writing.

“As a writer on Facebook, I can assure you that a good photo is a plus in your writing,” she said.

On the topic of sexualising posts, where some writers bank on sexual escapades and innuendo to gain fame, Beryl said she prefers to stay clean.

“My approach is different. My audience cuts across generations,” she said.

But for Dagitari Wanjohi Kigogoine, episodes that often involve encounters with the opposite sex in entertainment joints are his stock-in-trade.

One day it will be about a man who finishes the race too soon, or one stupefied then robbed, or just an encounter between a man and a woman. The common denominator in his posts is a drinking joint.

The trader told Lifestyle that the stories he shares are mostly made up.

“The stuff I write is for fun,” he said. “Mostly, it’s to amuse myself. I write to amuse myself. And as I amuse myself, I find that other people like it. And what I write are things that can happen in bars, in people’s lives.”

He has been a famous Facebook storyteller since around 2010. He had started off on Kenyan List, a discussion platform. That is where he got the technique of using broken English and direct translation.

“I decided to do a story using broken English and was impressed to note that it was exciting, compared to writing it properly,” he said.

He chose a name similar to a famed caller of Kikuyu FM stations because he wanted to “annoy” his audiences like the caller sometimes does.

“My writing with bad English was meant to annoy people, but I found that it amused them instead of getting them angry,” he said.

Real identity

A family man, he jealously guards his real identity, and he suggested that not even his wife knows he is the one behind the account.

“If someone doesn’t know you, you won’t be shy to say things. You can write anything, including the sex subjects,” he said.

“I’m a family man, and most people who read don’t know it’s me. If I suspect you’ve known it’s me, I block you,” he said, laughing.

Dagitari is a businessman who deals mostly in construction items. Through his account, he has done business with a number of advertisers that he didn’t wish to mention.

“I won’t mention it. But I advertise for people, and sometimes I do online influencing; sometimes very indirectly,” he said.

Elsewhere, Diana Mosoba or Dayana has been on Facebook since 2010. She found fame through the once-famous group, Kilimani Mums. A post she made there attracted wide attention and she has not looked back since.

“I realised that most people relate to that because the things I write about happen to a lot of us. I write about my failed relationships, experiences in new places, things that happen to my friends, and day-to-day occurrences. Sometimes I write about my son,” Diana said.

Like Beryl, Diana says she was good at composition writing when in school. She has written short stories that have gone into two anthologies. The editors of the anthologies first noticed her on Facebook.

“Besides creating a network, I do promotional content for people. I do story-based promotional content because by now I know that my audience loves reading. I have made some good cash on Facebook, and I hope to have more sales of my upcoming book,” she said.

Diana said she mostly writes when stuck in traffic.

“Most of my articles are on things that have either happened to me or people close to me. Anything can inspire me, even the snoring dude seated next to me in the matatu,” she said.

Then there is Esther Caleche, the brains behind a Facebook page called The Nairobi Woman. Her own Facebook account has 3,800 followers and the page has 4,400 likes.

“I discovered I am a good writer when I was going through a very difficult phase of my life. I was depressed, hanging loosely on a rope but my pen and paper acted like therapy. I could scribble down what my day looked like and archive them. When I got strength enough to share, it got so many reactions that made me realise how good I could be,” she said.

“I engage in blogging as my full-time job. I am a social media manager. I do local tours and travel as well as online marketing,” she said, adding that she is a part-time student.

She went on: “Writing a story isn’t really a task to me when I have ideas flowing. It only takes pen and paper. And of course, a little bit of sadness. I realised I write well when sad or anxious.”

She shot to fame on Facebook when she responded to a post asking people to talk about their worst heartbreaks.

“I shared my story and slept, without thinking much about it. When I woke up the following morning, I had over 1,000 friend requests and 100-plus reactions on that comment plus a number of replies. I was surprised,” she said.

Humour is a large component of her posts and she says the secret to telling good stories on the social network is by having catchy introductory remarks. In all, she believes one need not be graphic about sex to be noticed.

“Good content doesn’t have to be dirty,” she said.

“From my story telling, Facebook has become my office, literally. I write stories for a travel blog; I do micro-marketing, manage social media pages for people and companies. I also run a tours and travel company and guess where my clients come from? Facebook! Writing, just like any other hobby, pays,” said Caleche.

She now plans to grow The Nairobi Woman into a reputable brand “that companies can approach for marketing gigs and stuff”.

Her parting shot is that everyone should write a story at least once in their lifetime.

“The world will always be ready to read you!”

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