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Under the influence: Making bread and butter on social media

In 2020, over 3.6 billion people were using social media worldwide. This is projected to increase to almost 4.41 billion in 2025, according to Statista, a German company specialising in market and consumer data.

This translates to approximately 45 per cent of the entire population.

The unprecedented movement into social media platforms resulted in the creation of social media influencers. Using creative posts and pictures, stories and reels to make a name for themselves over time, social media influencers are now attracting brands big and small for partnerships on their platforms.

This is especially true for influencers with niche audiences. Previously, brands struggled to get their products to reach the grassroots on hefty charges and reputable mediums. With social media they have been absolved to reap the fruits of connectivity and social influencers.

Precisely, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube combined, like the three musketeers, have a reach far much wider, faster and more intimate than any TV or newspaper ad could ever conjure up.

Today, even start-ups with no testimonials or historical backing can get into the game through social media and emerge victorious without necessarily breaking a sweat or bank. All thanks to a tool far more superior - social influencing. This speaks to the power of social media influencers, so much so that these days being a social media influencer is a job.

Social media is more than a social platform to engage with, it is where they make their bread and butter, and so they have to be strategic and business savvy about their post. So, it is no wonder that their posts are often well calculated, curated and targeted to reach their specific audiences.

Whether they are at brunch with friends, at a nail parlour, installing the latest wig in their collection or on the endless holidays in tiny bikinis and perfect bodies, it is all business. And like any other job, social influencing comes with its perks and pitfalls. For some, being an influencer does not end well.

Stacy Anyango, for example, had everything blow up in her face before she took a pause from social media. She lost her family, relationship and was plummeting in debt when reality checked in.

“I had a lot of followers, I was not a celebrity of some sort, but the pressure to keep up and “please” my fans was more than I could take,” says Stacy.

“I started getting private messages of people telling me to show off my booty and stop covering up so much. Some people loved what I did and constantly cheered me on. However, when my mum called in between tears claiming I was selling myself in the big city, I knew I had to stop.”

Her parents cut all communication.

“I sank into depression, and after two months of inactivity on social media in an attempt to find my way back, I decided to take it all down and seek a new path free of public scrutiny.”

While some may share similar experiences with Stacy, that is not everyone’s story because there are those who have mastered the world of social media influencing to build brands and earn a living.

The Nikki effect

 (@sheilamwanyigha/Instagram)

Sheila Mwanyigha first got into the social media world of influencing back in 2016.

“While working in media, I already had accounts, and I would post things I was interested in and nothing more because at the time I really did not understand the potential of social media. In 2016 I had a major blogging assignment for Estonia, where they wanted us to promote the country using social media. After I started to get partnerships to promote everything from hair to lifestyle products and the rest, as they say, is history.” 

Currently, Sheila has over 1.3 million followers on Instagram and has worked with brands like: Rémy Martin, Adele Dejak, Nobri Kenya, Wildlife Works, Ashley Furniture Homestore, Dettol, Mac and More, Huawei, several embassies, missions, hotels and resorts. Further, she has had the opportunity to travel all over the world.

 (@sheilamwanyigha/Instagram)

When asked if she is able to earn a living better than when she was a top radio presenter and sought after TV presenter, her answer is: “Yes, but like everything, it takes time to build yourself as an influencer, and earnings depend on a client. Some clients have bigger budgets. Also, the perks of being self-employed is that I choose my working hours and which brands to work with.”

“My advice to anyone who dreams about being an influencer is to first be authentic and clear about who they are before getting into this because if you are not, you can get lost. Once you are clear with who you are then you will also be specific about which brands you align yourself with. Also, if you are clear about who you are then you will not compromise yourself for followers or likes. You will not have to pretend to be something you are not or live a life that is not yours. My reason for building my social media following was to talk about health and to share stories that encourage and inspire,” says Sheila.

Mabel’s touch

 Mabel Oginga

Another influencer, Mabel Oginga who runs Mabel Homestyle and Mabel Kichenstyle has not only been able to use the influence she wields on social media to help grow her business but businesses owned by others.

Mabel says that as an influencer one has the added advantage of not only promoting other businesses but creating and growing one’s own business because they already have an authentic profitable market through their existing personal brand.

“Being able to have a specific group of people you can target enables you as an influencer to grow your online worth, which I have done perfectly well with time. I have been able to expand my business from just Mabel Homestyle to opening Mabel Kitchen style; a second store born out of income earned from online influence. Also, I have gotten to work with multiple online businesses, and big brands like Rossetti.”

However, Mabel warns that although social media is a powerful tool, when used irresponsibly, it can destroy one’s image.

“My influence revolves around everything and anything home and living. Not oversharing my lifestyle and anything private to me has enabled me to have a much positive response based on my educative content as opposed to the negative.”

Murugi’s tell all

 (@murugi.munyi/Instagram)

Murugi Munyi, formerly known as Yummy Mummy, is another influencer who says when she first got into online content creation online in October 2018, she did it because she had just had her daughter. Then, she was looking for a platform to share and discuss her experience, and it quickly picked up and got many followers and a month in she was approached by her first brand.

“At the time I began I was working in marketing and communication, but after brands started to approach me, I realised that this was an opportunity I needed to take. I have come to learn that in life you only get what you put in and so if I wanted to reach my full potential as an influencer, I needed to completely focus on it. So, I quit my job. I was lucky that my husband has a good job so it made the risk a bit easier, but in the end, it paid off,” she says.

“I love that what I do for a living does not require me to go to the office. You can literally make money from your bed.

I get to do what I love and to spend time with my family, doing things that I love. When I began, my dream was to work with brands like Safaricom, Nivea, Pampers and I have done so; now I want to work with an alcohol company. They understand social media, and working with them is usually a long-term contract.”

When asked about how much she earns from working with different brands, she does not shy away and answers: “On a good month I make between Sh500,000 and Sh700,000 from being an influencer. On a low month, it costs Sh300,000 to Sh400,000. Pay is up and down and not consistent. I believe it is important for social media influencers to talk about money as this would help the community grow and know when brands are undercharging.”

Murugi, however, notes that although you can make a good living from it, that being an influencer comes with its negative side like every other good thing.

“Being an influencer, unfortunately, gives people the impression that they now have the right to give you opinions about your life, your children, your marriage, and just about everything,” she says.

“Other times because you are a public figure, they imagine that you are not human and can be cruel. You will also always get trolls, people who do not know you but want to bring you down. Also, there is a safety issue, especially with my children. When some fans meet you in public, they also want to hug your children.”

Further, Murugi has learnt to have boundaries between her personal and private life.

“Although I post my children sometimes, I do not post my husband anymore; it was having a negative impact on my marriage. I realised I needed to create boundaries. I was clear with myself from the beginning that if anything affected my personal life negatively, I would draw the line. It is not worth sacrificing what I have in real-life for social media.”

In addition, she advises that if one wants to be a successful influencer, they should always be authentic and be the “real” version of themselves.

“Some content creators give influencers a bad name, especially when they make it look like they live in this perfect universe. They are always dressed up and in make-up, and sometimes share a borrowed flashy life and paint this image that they have no bad days. I am intentional about being authentic with my followers always. I show the good and even the bad to be balanced. I let my followers know if I am having a bad day because my followers are my friends.”

Murugi says that the benefits of being an influencer outweigh the challenges, depending on how strategic one is. Apart from being her job, it has given her the opportunity to be a host on a TV show, and she has also launched The Messy In-between (TMI) podcast with a friend and former co-host, Lydia K. M.

The gift of Joy

 (@justjoykendi/Instagram)

Joy Kendi, who has been an influencer for 10 years now says there are many opportunities online, but you must be clear about who you are, and have defined boundaries between your personal and work life.

According to Joy, through her social media platform which focuses on lifestyle, travel and food she has been able to make a good living as a social media influencer. She has had the opportunity to partner with many brands, been part of advertising campaigns, and travelled all over the world.

“My job as an influencer has afforded me a life where I can work from home and where I choose my hours. I do not even have a car because I only leave my house every two weeks, and that works for me.”

She adds that being an influencer pays well, depending on how you market yourself.

“Most brands are careful about which influencers they will partner with. Having a big number of followers is great but not enough, they also look at what you post. For example, having risky content may get you followers, but put off brands.”

 (@justjoykendi/Instagram)

She continues that although the pay of influencers has got much better over the years, Kenya still has a long way to go before influencers can earn $7,000 (over Sh770,000) per post like influencers in America.

“We do not have the same reach as international influencers as only about 20 per cent of Kenyans have smartphones. Plus, followers here may not have the same spending power. For example, not many can afford to buy a phone for Sh150,000, while in the US such phones can sell out in one day because of one post by an influencer.”

On why she chooses to keep her personal life private, she answers: “I have seen the negative impact it has had on other influencers and I decided early on that I would use my platform for business and to share things that I like around travel, food and lifestyle.”

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