RICE

ASIA, UNFILTERED

×
Top image credit: Withfluence

If you had mentioned @chiamhuiy, @societyofsnobs or @melissajaneferosha to me before today, I would likely have returned a blank look. I don’t think I’m alone – in life as in influencer marketing, few people remember those who aren’t top-tier.

When one’s pay cheque and brand recall are dependent on social media follower count, medium-weight influencers can feel the unfortunate burden of not having enough followers. Yet there are perks to coming in second, third or even tenth place.

Maybe the aphorism is true: the secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have.

Keryn Wai's (@guesswai) instagram feed
Looking at Keryn Wai’s (@guesswai) feed, replete with fashionable OOTDs and stylish selfies, you’d assume she’s just another self-indulgent airhead. That is, until she opens her mouth.

Her relatively low follower count (about 6,300) means she’s accepted that she’ll unlikely reach @dreachong standards, who boasts about 291,000 followers.

Luckily, Keryn has no desire to. She admits that there’s less of a burden to keep up her engagement because she is not a full-time influencer.

And unlike top and bottom tier influencers, there’s less pressure to either get somewhere, or to maintain one’s standing. So perhaps finding success as a medium-weight influencer is about putting one’s ego aside and being at peace with one’s place in the industry.

“The market is already saturated. Unless you have the passion for beauty and fashion, there’s no point in trying to break through. Some girls, even those with less followers than me, make it a point to shop every week. I’m more practical.”

Her fellow medium-weight influencer, Celine Chiam (@chiamhuiy), boasts a more sizeable following of about 33,000. She can get up to 10 brands reaching out to her on a good week, but what surprises me is that she genuinely doesn’t mind if these opportunities don’t come often.

“There are so many brands out there, but there’s only one Celine to test and review their makeup and skincare products. We may be beauty bloggers but we only have one face. So why bother getting upset over a brand that doesn’t appreciate you?”

The two girls tell me that to become more successful, one has to produce fresh and creative content every day. If you hold a full-time job like them, this can be difficult.

“When you go out on weekends, you need to take 3 to 4 outfits, and make an effort to eat good food and take nice pictures. Fun becomes a chore,” Keryn shares. “Some even buy a camera just to take OOTDs and go on photo shoots every other day. I guess it’s their passion and they hope fame finds them along the way.”

She also shares that medium-weight influencers, particularly those with 5-figure followings like Celine, tend to already lead the same lifestyle as top-tier influencers. So why frustrate yourself by trying so hard when your efforts start to have diminishing returns?

As Celine puts it, “It’s human to feel envy, but I just have to remind myself that I’m in a different place with different goals. Besides, I wouldn’t like the idea of being recognised by people on the street. Freedom is quite important to me.”

Beauty Blogger Celine Chiam's (@chiamhuiy) Instagram feed is perfectly curated
Being not that famous also means that medium-weight influencers have it easier if they decide to leave.

A couple of years ago, Beth (not her real name) found her frustrations increasing with the absurd pressure to constantly be on her A-game, even when tasks were downright frivolous. So when she began craving the freedom and privacy she once enjoyed, choosing to cut ties with the industry was not a complicated decision.

The dissonance between what she needed to do and who she wanted to be had become too great to ignore: “I was very disgusted at myself when I needed to post selfies with products, or just selfies themselves, for thousands of people. Even I had my limits to how much of a sellout I was willing to be.”  

“I was surprised to find that most whom I met didn’t think like me, and were largely in love with themselves,” she says. “For me, I was just a student who enjoyed the extra income. I knew having an income based on your following as KPI wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle.”

Unfortunately, not every influencer is as sensible as Beth, who credits her self-awareness for making it easy to leave her previous life. Today, she has also fallen out of touch with most of the people she met in the industry.

That said, Beth is quick to defend the enterprising spirit of these influencers.

She explains: “I don’t get why people think it’s gross and narcissistic that influencers approach sponsors. Is it gross only because it’s a ‘novelty’ industry, where people are their own brands? In any other industry, I would find it admirable that someone was proactive and keen on securing their own opportunities. Top influencers are actually really business-minded people.”

Luckily for medium-weight influencers, the tide is slowly changing. Companies are realising their strength is, in fact, their “low” follower count. They’re generally more affordable and get higher engagement, helping brands get more bang for their buck. All this means is more opportunities to carve their own niche, away from the shadow of giants they may never become nor want to be.

Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Ergo, that’s 10,000 hours of selfies, OOTDs and Instagram stories for a chance to reach the top. Even then, success is never guaranteed in a fickle and volatile industry.

I suspect that they already know this. Talking to them, I sense a sharp but resigned awareness about their harsh industry. This is balanced with the optimism that they can still be the exception to the rule if they wanted. If there were anything remotely relatable about these influencers, it would be that they may be secretly masochistic.

Mostly, I can’t stop thinking about the truth bomb that Keryn drops about an industry that chews you up and spits you out.

“Everyone wants to be recognised for who they are. Ultimately, if you don’t have fame, nobody will want you.”

In the meantime, Keryn is perfectly happy not being famous.

RICE Close
© RICE 2016