Pre-2010, if primary students were asked the cliche question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” you would get the cliche answer such as a doctor, lawyer, lecturer, or engineer (now this is the typical answer that will appease most Asian parents). For a glamorous answer, you will get an actor, astronaut, musician, or writer. The author himself answered to be a musician (I am nowhere close to this) when his teacher asked. All these answers were the result of popular occupations that my generation knows and available pre-2010. It was also occupations that we were exposed to through the television, our parents’ occupation and career day in our school canteen.
Nowadays however, if you were to ask primary students “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I assure you that most of you will get social media influencers as an answer. If you are not aware of that term, social media influencer entails youtubers, tiktokers, instafamous, and the likes. “Were there any social media influencers during my time?” If you are in your twenties like me, the answer is yes. During ‘our’ time, social influencers were bloggers (now we have vloggers). So what differentiates a social media influencer and your run-of-the-mill social media users? A social media influencer is a social media user who has established credibility in a specific industry. They regularly update their content and has a huge following and fanbase behind them. So no, your elderly family members who often share political memes or funny commercials from Thailand are probably not social media influencers.
So where did it all start you ask? Social media influencing started mostly in the early 21st century. However, in 2006 Ted Murphy launched PayPerPost, the first marketplace for bloggers to get money by creating content for brands – and so began modern influencer marketing on social media as we know it today. If you can remember, social media was used for us to connect with our friends online, meet new people from the other side of the globe, and searching for love. However, some were smart enough to use their social media to upload their content be it a hilarious one or informative. We can google cute and hilarious videos from the olden days of Youtube and you will encounter the likes of “Charlie Bit My Finger” and “David After Dentist”. Before social media, we can only see these videos from America’s Funniest Home Video (AFV) on television or you might encounter funny videos from your friend’s mobile phone and you asked them to share them with you through Bluetooth or Infrared sharing.
It was the emergence of YouTubers and streamers such as PewDiePie that boomed the whole social influencer jig. So what PewDiePie did that turned him into one of the most successful social influencers with a net worth of 35-55 Million Dollars (not Ringgit) you ask? He uploaded his reaction when playing video games on Youtube. He literally made millions by only playing video games at its core. This narrative blew most parents’ perception of study hard, get into a good college, and get a good job to make a lot of money. Sad news to you parents, most of us are still not making money after we went through the whole shebang. PewDiePie managed to become the embodiment of most boys’ dream which was getting a lot of money through playing video games. It’s not just PewDiePie, there are also big names of early social influencers such as Lele Pons and Logan Paul. In Malaysia, we have Luqman Podolski who got famous through his Vine videos in the early days. It didn’t take long before social influencers started popping up like mushrooms here and there. We can get various content from varying degrees of social influencers in social media, there are social influencers for almost everything on this planet. In time, famous people such as celebrities, athletes, and scholars also joined the fray of social influencing as it is the easiest medium for them to increase their fanbase and share their content.
The idea of making money by streaming your PUBG gameplay, dancing on Tik Tok, or getting famous by getting yourself viral through negative means then opening up your own sketchy beauty products might seem easy, simple and exciting. Trust me, the glamour of it is only the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg is bigger below the surface than you can anticipate and it can sink your ‘Titanic’ motive or drive easily. It is a fact that there are occupational hazards (a risk or consequence of a particular occupation) in every single occupation or career path. Be it the long hours as a doctor, the dangers of being a police officer, and getting scolded by customers in service center operators. Being a social influencer is not without its own special occupational hazard.
It Is Draining
At first glance, being a social media influencer might seem easy. You just need the gadget for it and away you go with your dance or gameplay recording. This is just the surface of it, there are a plethora of things you need to consider before truly becoming a social media influencer. As a counsellor myself I came across young clients who aspire to be a social media influencer, be it a streamer, lifestyle advisor, or just want to get ‘viral’ and do paid reviews for products afterward. When I asked so what were the steps they have taken in order to be where they want to be, most of them gave a vague and uncertain answer such as “Oh I can just google it later” or “I am currently playing a lot of game” (without proper training and goal). They were so enticed by the glamour that they forgot to weigh in the hard work behind it. Being a successful social media influencer takes more than just getting yourself viral, good looks (this is a plus), or being good in PUBG. There are editing skills to your content, the timing of your upload, multiple different shots and takes due to errors during recording. You can never stop uploading videos or your content will get drowned by the algorithm and will be at the bottom of search results.
Without good and consistent content, your fanbase and following will die down and you will lose them (getting viral will only get you 30 seconds of fame nowadays). It is exactly like a full-time job but without the medical benefits and 14 days leave. It is true that you have more freedom, however, that is a challenge itself as it is easier for you to become lazier day by day. This resulted in most people leaving their Youtube channel and streaming channel halfway, wasted their time and started blaming others as the reason why he/she did not become famous as intended. Only the most consistent, hard-working, or lucky in order to gain a solid fanbase and get scouted by big companies to become a social media influencer under their company. So be prepared to give it your all if you aim to become one.
Mental health hazards are prevalent in the social media influencer field. You can find social media influencers with anxiety, stress, depression, and the whole nine yards or the whole DSM-5 book. The most common mental health issue related to social media influencers is anxiety. This is due to the fact that they are exposed to criticism from others. Regardless of the content you upload, there will always and I stress this out as strongly as I can ALWAYS be haters. Some people on this earth make it their mission to undermine others. There is no perfect content, you can talk about positive things such as living healthily, exercise video, or weight loss transformation video and you can still see haters commenting and criticizing. Imagine you being a regular person just uploading your vacation photo on Facebook and suddenly a spiteful aunty from your mother’s side commented “Oh gosh, you look fat in this photo hehe” (I hate this kind of hehe). That puts a blow to your self-esteem and you will be left by yourself cursing behind the screen while replying “hehe” with a smiley. Being a social media influencer is like that but on a bigger scale.
Some of you might believe that you are impervious to criticism and haters. To you, I quote a famous line by Mike Tyson “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth“. Regardless of how impervious you think you are from criticism, there will always be a person than comes along and really know how to push your button. An advice I can give to you as a counsellor, do not retaliate instantly. Take few moments to calm down and think of the most sarcastic comeback you can come up with. Replying with anger will only escalate things negatively. Aside from that, you will start comparing yourself to other influencers in the same category and this can push you further down in the anxiety hole. “Why am I not getting as many likes as this person?”, “What did I do wrong?”, “Am I not pretty enough?”. Be careful if these kinds of thoughts are running through your mind constantly.
Danger to People Around You
Occupational hazards often come with a package to people around you. If you are a doctor, you will most likely spend less time with your family and they will feel your absence. Being a police officer will give your family members the feeling of fear of you not returning to them at the end of the day. For a social media influencer, your actions and words will affect your family directly. In Malaysia alone, we have seen multiple cases where family members of certain social media influencers (I won’t put a name) were bombarded with negative comments and some death threats even when if it was not their fault. This might result in your family member being cyberbullied and in a state of fear or deteriorating mental health. Malaysia despite being a small country, has a high percentage of cyberbullying that is on par with big countries such as the United States. You have to be extremely careful with what you do online as it can come back and bite your whole friends and family members.
To any of you who aspire to become a social media influencer, I would say go for it. You have the freedom to be what you want. However, you should be aware of the risk and consequences that come with it so that you would not waste your time and be in a situation where you cannot back out of.
Haziq Talhah is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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