Founded in 2010, Well Told Story (WTS) is a Nairobi research and production company that produces Shujaaz, a youth media initiative that combines a comic book with radio and YouTube programs. Shujaaz revolves around young, authentic fictional characters who surface sensitive issues to help youth improve their lives. These issues are usually part of broader campaigns or research initiatives conducted on behalf of WTS’ commercial and development partners and clients. Fans then engage with the characters and issues through toll-free SMS, WhatsApp and social media, including character Facebook pages and Facebook Messenger accounts, which are used to generate research insights and drive behavior change.
The WTS hypothesis is that collective discussions lead to collective behavior change, so Shujaaz values two-way and group communication with fans. For the many fans without internet access, toll-free SMS has been an essential channel for engagement. For those with internet access, social media has been equally critical. Shujaaz Facebook pages, created for each of its characters, enable fans to gather in a public digital space and engage with the characters and each other to discuss issues prompted through Shujaaz programming. Because of Facebook Messenger’s direct integration with these pages, the Facebook Messenger app quickly emerged as another key tool to engage fans one on one. While Facebook Messenger allows for group chats, they cannot be created by a Facebook page account, such as those for the various Shujaaz characters. Therefore as WhatsApp penetration began to grow in Kenya in 2015, the Shujaaz team adopted WhatsApp as a means to create and monitor smaller group discussions with fans.
All Shujaaz media calls for fans to engage characters via SMS and the Facebook pages of its different characters. The Facebook page for Shujaaz’s main character, DJ B, has the largest number of fans, who engage through comments on his posts. WTS has a dedicated social media team that manages the page, prompting conversations through posts and comments. Followers can also engage DJ B through Facebook Messenger to seek support with personally sensitive issues. The Shujaaz social media team then either asks the follower to share their story anonymously for group discussion or refers them to professional services. Since 2015, the team has also created more than 20 WhatsApp chat groups on behalf of DJ B. Some are created after in-person events for attendees to stay connected, while others focus on specific themes. Some are created as targeted focus group discussions for research purposes. Fans are also encouraged to form and manage their own groups and add DJ B’s number.
WTS regularly tracks the volume and content of SMS and Facebook interactions. Entering 2018, DJ B’s Facebook page had 567,000 followers, and in 2017 inspired 106,089 comments from 37,835 unique users. Nearly 500,000 fans sent more than 90,000 monthly SMS texts to Shujaaz’s toll-free SMS shortcode. In the same year, Shujaaz found that fans exposed to these digital channels were associated with better family planning practices and higher income than their peers. Toll-free SMS remains Shujaaz’s most frequently used channel. The company does not yet separately track Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp engagement but receives hundreds of daily messages on each. WhatsApp is especially difficult to analyze without an API or analytics feature, and the group chat size limit has stretched capacity, leading WTS to deprioritize it as an area of focus for fan engagement while encouraging fans to create their own chat groups