Swipe Right: An Influencer's Connection with Social Media

Written by
Protima Tiwary

I never felt comfortable being called an influencer. Influencers were popular people on the internet getting brand deals, convincing people to try the latest trends, be seen at the newest places, wearing the best clothes…and I wasn’t one of them. I was an expressive 20-something year old sharing her heartbreaks one tweet at a time. Turns out that was enough to get me attention, and even though I was not an influencer in conventional terms I was a certain somebody garnering popularity through her words. I allowed them to flow. 

It was in December 2012 that I first started food blogging, and a couple of weeks were enough for brands to notice me. Social media was still picking up, I was living in Pune and the food blogging scene had just started to bloom. I started to get invitations to launches, I had recently quit my job and had a couple of newspaper gigs in my kitty, I didn’t have to pay for my food and drinks anymore so the savings were practically untouched, and freelancing was looking like a good pass time until I figured out my next steps. Life was good. 

As blogging picked up, professional gigs started coming my way. I use the word professional because these gigs paid me money. Instagram was new, and I was learning my way about it.Before I knew it, I was 18 months into this new career and realised it was time to take this seriously. 

My social media updates were the reason brands noticed my writing. Over 2013-2014 I was noticed for my opinions, and the social validation gave me enough dopamine to rebel. 

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Social media - a place to express and network

The journey was filled with its ups and downs but what I enjoyed about social media of the early 2000s was the access to networking opportunities. I didn’t share much of my work, but these opinions got me closer to those who appreciated my style of expression. A tweet about Pune would bring me freelance clients from the city, my travel updates brought me some of the social media gigs with travel brands and growing up I could never have imagined that. Social media was all kinds of awesome, a space to express, network and find your people. 

In my opinion 2018 is when I truly peaked as an independent gig worker. I had a few solid clients who trusted me with their brands, I was heading the social media and communication for a global travel brand, I was exploring some community building gigs with some new age startups and I was creatively satisfied. I enjoyed this for 2 years before realizing the importance of collaboration for growth, and as someone who had only taken risks until now, entrepreneurship felt like an exciting next step. As the pandemic hit and my new career began, I took a step back from the glitzy world of social media. 

It’s been 3 years since then and I’ve undergone another change- or is it an existential crisis? 

Like any creative entrepreneur, my self-worth is closely tied to my sense of purpose. Not being able to show up on social media is making me question everything that I do, since social media has been such an integral part of me. I re-read my old writing and I refuse to believe those are my words. For a major chunk of 2023 I worked on my relationship with work, art, productivity and self-worth in therapy. 

15 minutes of fame - then, what?

I often find myself going back to this Andy Warhol quote “we’re all going to be famous for 15 minutes” and I believe we live in an age where social media has given everyone access to this fame. We’re all going about our days to achieve 15 seconds of fame on our favorite social media platform, and every thing that we do now has a content bucket of its own. Technology is addictive, it’s turning us into self-obsessed narcissists, and the lure of fame is overpowering the reason why we started this journey in the first place. I find myself thinking about this because I miss the social validation that came along in the initial years. Back then all of this was so new, we didn’t prepare ourselves for this burnout. That constant high that we got through likes, comments and shares was a new experience and we didn’t realize when the shift from art to entertainment took over our lives. 

Take music for example- we’re discovering songs on reels, we don’t stumble upon something new on the radio or television anymore. We see hook steps and catchy lyrics, but for so many of us the music and the art/ artist are so irrelevant. Trends are easy to follow, we all want to feel like we’re part of something new and creative, we all want a little bit of that attention. Is that all that there is to this? 

Now I’ll apply the same idea to my career as an independent gig-worker and entrepreneur- I started because I saw the chance to change the way the freelancing industry worked in India, I saw the space for slow and intentional creative work that could help me earn a decent livelihood. Somewhere down the line it became about the numbers, and I lost the plot. I was using social media to entertain, and not express anymore, and that’s the reason why it got exhausting. How much can a person push themselves if they don’t have a strong enough reason to drive them? Gaining popularity on social media was never my “why”, my aim to be here was to express, create and inspire lives around me. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/Cz0W6-1Pmyo/?img_index=1

Social media, commoditising art?

Social media democratised fame, and we got comfortable being famous for…being famous. Fame came easy, and the average person, living an average life, started wondering “why can’t this be me?”  Micro-celebrities were on the rise, because thanks to the power of a well-timed tweet or Instagram post, agents and publicists were no longer needed to get access to fame. It makes me wonder- in the next decade will we have social media stars as the new artists? What will art be like, would creation now become a race? 

Is our culture’s obsession with one’s self growing deeper every day? We’re airing our dirty laundry on social media; our breakups, relationships, celebrations, grief, all of this is demanding social validation. Is this the new age, that scary, dystopian future we read about while growing up? I understand that social media does have the potential to unlock new aspects of human creativity and potential, and there are a lot of talented folks who are finding their voices through Instagram and TikTok, so maybe it’s not all that bad. But who’s going to teach us how to keep a check on our north star? 

Is your north star social media fame or are you creating something that you’re passionate about?

In the grand scheme of things I am grateful for social media, but are my life experiences only limited to that?  Social media has been there for me when I needed work, and now when I need support as a creative, I’ve had my community find me through Instagram posts and tweets.  I may not enjoy the toxic hustle of social media or the vanity metrics and pointless trends, but I’m enjoying my connections and discovering stories and art that help shape my character. Capitalism will make me want to put a monetary value to my posts to feel like I’m worth it, but I’m slowly trying to get back to feeling brave enough to say- what next? 

While I do take baby steps to get out of this funk, I am also exploring new ways to be imperfect. In the hustle to get things right, put things into boxes and processes, I forgot what I felt like to flow, to create something without keeping in mind the end result, and I hope with this piece I get some of my mojo back.

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