Social media isn’t just for posting selfies. In the years since Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok launched, the platforms have become a place for activism, building social networks and, for some, a ticket to fame.
We all follow someone on social media who seems to have cracked the algorithm — the ones who keep appearing on our feeds, collaborate with new brands every other week and seem to have photographers following them everywhere. To most of us, these Instagram-savvy creators are known as “influencers.”
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, a lot of people want to be them.
But, building a social media strategy is harder than it looks. Behind any influencer’s perfect photos and seamless videos is a lot of work. Days — even weeks — are dedicated to staging, photographing and creating a strategy to grow followers, keep them engaged and attract business.
On social media, part of this means finding your audience.
Sarah Elnaffar, an incoming education student, is an influencer who boasts over 50,000 Instagram followers, a feat she claims was not easy.
“Hitting 10,000 was a milestone, but the most difficult part was going from 10,000 to 20,000,” she says. “You have to keep showing your followers that you’re dedicated to them and your profile's active, almost like their friend, if you want to gain more.”
Elnaffar uses social media to show her Muslim heritage. Her content includes everything from modest fashion to Middle Eastern food — a niche she believed was lacking in the influencer community.
“I felt like a lot of people were shy to show their Muslim heritage [on social media] and that they’re proud of their culture,” she says. “I wanted to show people that you can dress modestly and still be successful.”
Elnaffar posts content almost daily, posing in bright and colourful outfits, trying new local restaurants and providing information about Muslim culture.
She says that once her outreach started growing past the 20,000 follower mark, more opportunities started coming her way.
“Collaborating with businesses wasn’t as easy in the very beginning as it is for me now,” reflects Elneffar. “I would reach out to countless brands and just get ignored. But I kept going.”
She explains that collaboration requires more than just posting good content.
“The more you reach out, the more you’ll get to collaborate [with brands]. And the more you interact with your followers and show that you have a personal connection with them, the more brands will want to partner with you.”
Similar to any job, building success as an influencer is a result of consistency. Identifying your niche — or the type of content you’re going to post — will help you stand out from the crowd.
Megha Kurbiz, a second-year computer science student and TikTok influencer with over 300,000 followers, found her niche after receiving negative comments from users about her appearance.
“People were thrown off [by my confidence] because I didn’t have the ideal body or the Kim Kardashian hip-to-waist ratio that everyone wants,” she says. “I realized that I could help people be confident with their bodies by showing them that I was comfortable in mine.”
Kurbiz’s videos — some of which have reached over 18 million views — consist of dance moves and stage-worthy outfits, encouraging viewers not to care about others' opinions.
For Kurbiz, being an influencer is a full-time job.
“It’s not your typical nine-to-five where I dedicate certain hours to creating content,” she says. “I’ll be working late or trying to sleep and suddenly get an idea, so I take a mental note and wake up the next morning and start working. You can’t spark creativity on demand, so it’s very consuming.”
She says if you're considering becoming an influencer, do it for the right reasons.
“If you only want to be an influencer because everyone else is doing it and it pays well, you won’t have much chance of success. Ask yourself why you want to do it, find your niche and be ready to commit.”
Influencing means knowing your audience, having a plan and most importantly, being yourself.