Being an “Influencer” is one of the IT things to be in today’s time and honestly, they’re sprouting like weed. However, if you’re a Pakistani + an Influencer on foreign soil and have manged to narrow down your interests/niche and grabbed attention based on your point of views and visual appeal amongst so many Pakistani expat Influencers then you’ve definitely done something right. Therefore your audience relates to you and follows you, takes your advice, criticizes you at times, but appreciates you, nonetheless.
Blogging has become a saturated platform in Pakistan, however there are a few people who are coming up with some brilliant and unique ideas to stay on top of their social media game. But we were more interested to get into the details of how Pakistani Expat Influencers are trying to work around with a mash up of audience. While for some Pakistani Expat Influencers”blogging” is a full-time role that pays them, for others it has helped them find their voice in a large community.
So, we got to talking to Anum of The Spice of Adulting, – a mommy as well as one of the Pakistani Expat Influencers based in Toronto, Canada who blogs about everything lifestyle. We’re so glad that through this series, we’ve gotten to learn more about Anum’s life, how she got here and what her take is on the current “blogging culture.”
SiddySays: Tell us about yourself: who you are, where you come from, where do you live and what do you do etc
SOA: I was born and raised in Lahore, did a few years of schooling from Karachi and later moved there to start my career. Also spent a year working in Islamabad after I got married and had the best time in the city! Been living the expat life for almost 5 years now , from Taif to Jeddah to Toronto, it’s been quite a journey of transforming multiple houses into homes but also a lot of travelling and growing-up. I am a mother to the sweetest soul, my three and a half year old son, and moved to Canada last year where my husband is currently a full-time student and I’m counting down days till he finishes and we can get out of this crazy routine of student life with a kid.
The ‘what do you do’ part of the question is difficult to answer because I’m always experimenting with what I do. I chose to leave my corporate career and moved to Saudi Arabia with my husband because I wanted to try something new. Ventured into blogging as a creative outlet that turned into part-time work. Coming from a brand building/marketing background, it was also a project for me to build my personal brand that has been a valuable addition to my resume. I’d primarily been working-at-home since my son’s birth and only recently went back to full-time work outside of home.
SiddySays: What is your blog about? And what made you decide that this is what you wanted to do
SOA: My blog/ Instagram has always been about sharing certain parts of my life in a way that they could add some value to other people’s life. From sharing the raw, unfiltered feelings about pregnancy and motherhood as a first-time-mom to sharing my attempts to normalise talking about struggles with religion, my online space is an evolving story of my personal growth. And I tell it with the hope of making my readers think about theirs.
When I started in 2016, Instagram was still mainly used for promoting blog posts and the insta-blogging landscape was nowhere near what it is today. I was in the later half of my pregnancy and was itching to learn some new skills. I thought making and running a blog would push me to learn photoshop and some basic designing to come up with visual content for my blog. But that never happened. Instead, I discovered my love for writing and it became the focal point of my content. I started out anonymously because I wanted to see if I could attract an audience because of my writing alone and not because people knew me personally. Nobody in my friends or family knew about it and it was only after I’d started getting consistent organic engagement that I put a face to my blog and decided I wanted to continue doing it.
SiddySays: How did you decide to blog about (your niche) or shift towards it
SOA: Back when I started, there were barely a few desi bloggers who wrote about motherhood. As a first-time expectant mother wanting to be prepared for the roller coaster of motherhood, I looked for emotional experiences of first-time-moms but while there were a lot of western content creators spilling the beans as millennial parents, I couldn’t find any desi moms who I could relate to. That made me want to talk about my experience as a millenial a.k.a google mom trying to find a balance between my will to make parenting decisions influenced by today’s global world and the plethora of well-meaning advice we get from the people around us . The focus of my content has definitely shifted over time. As the noise and fluff in the content creation space increased, I found myself wanting to shift towards topics that are not as ‘instagram popular’. My idea of the kind of ‘value’ I want to add to people’s lives has also evolved over the years and I’m now a lot more mindful and selective of what I put out there for my audience to give their time to.
SiddySays: How do hate comments affect you?
SOA: I’ve learnt to differentiate rightful criticism/disagreement or genuinely uneducated comments from ‘hate’ because the two are not the same thing. I’ve had several instances where a quick glance at someone’s comment/message seemed hateful but forcing myself to respond politely and asking them to elaborate on the seemingly problematic part of what they said made it evident that the person either genuinely did not know any better or accepted the problem with their comment and apologised. People often don’t know the best choice of words (or the right number of exclamation marks), especially if they’re using a language they’re not the most comfortable with, and the smallest of things make a huge difference in how something is read/understood in written communication. My first response is to try to give the benefit of doubt and assume the best of the other side. Engaging is time consuming and often emotionally exhausting but it’s also the only effective way to change attitudes.
Having said that, there have been a few occasions when I got actual hate messages, where engaging made it obvious that the other side’s intention is to troll. In those cases, I choose to disengage and ignore.
SiddySays: Share one favorite post of yours that actually helped make a positive difference amongst your followers?
SOA: I’ve done two series that gave me a reality check about the magnitude of the opportunity I have to make an actual impact in people’s lives.
The first was an informative/educational series about breastfeeding which included posts about the kind of challenges women face because of myths/misconceptions prevalent in our society. I did two Facebook live sessions with a lactation consultant that covered almost all common challenges that new mothers face and often have nobody to seek advice from. It’s been over two years since I did those sessions but I still get regular messages of appreciation from moms who were able to overcome their breastfeeding struggles after having traumatic experiences in the past because of lack of education and support.
The second one was my recent Ramadan 2020 series. After always of shying away from talking about my growing interest in educating myself on religion, I finally made it a big part of my content and the kind of feedback I got made everything else I’d ever done pale in comparison. I got messages from people who confessed that they only called themselves Muslims to be accepted in society but had stopped believing years ago. People who didn’t remember the last time they prayed. People who felt lost because of their complex relationship with religion but couldn’t be open about it because there’s no space for those conversations in our society. To hear from them that my content had made them pause, reflect and had made them start their personal journey of educating themselves … it completely changed my perspective on ‘making a difference’. I’d never dreamt of making that kind of impact in someone’s life.
SiddySays: What is the worst and best comment you’ve ever gotten about your work?
SOA: The comments that always leave me feeling super awkward are the ones saying something about how I look on a post that has a completely unrelated conversation happening.
Best comment: I’ve gotten teary-eyed way too many times. There is this one incident that I remember very fondly. I was caught off-guard by a girl in a mall once who was all emotional when she told me I’m always a part of her prayers. She had benefited from my content during some hard times as a mother and that hug I got will always be very special.
SiddySays: Who are your 5 favourite bloggers/influencers in Pakistan
SOA: Ahhh there are so many doing amazing in their own niches. It’s hard to pick!
SiddySays: What do you think is the difference between a blogger and an Influencer?
SOA: A blogger is anyone with a website where they host their blog and publish original content. You could be writing blogs for other people or for yourself. The objective of that blog may or may not be to establish authority in a certain niche.
A social media Influencer can be one anyone with a key audience that they’re effectively able to persuade by virtue of their authenticity, credibility and connection with the audience. They’re able to change opinions and shift perspectives. People give weight to what they say because they’re either an established authority in a certain area or have gained their audiences’ trust with their knowledge and transparency. A blogger may or may not be an Influencer and an Influencer may or may not be a blogger.
There is also a difference between being influential from a typical marketing standpoint and being influential in terms of holding actual power to sway people’s beliefs and opinions. The former usually requires reach and engagement numbers that do not necessarily reflect the latter.
SiddySays: What are the challenges you face as an expat influencer catering to the Pakistani Influencers VS Pakistani Influencers in Pakistan?
SOA: It can be challenging to work with your local agencies / brands as an expat when the majority of your audience is from Pakistan. On the other hand, working with Pakistani agencies/brands may not be feasible given the currency differences and payment methods. One has to be a lot more intentional about growing the audience from a specific location and that may require creating a certain type of content that may not be true to your style or adopting certain strategies that may not align with your values.
I personally also feel added responsibility/scrutiny when talking about social issues/cultural problems that are specific to Pakistan. Not because living outside of the country makes me any less of a Pakistani but because I enjoy certain privileges as an expat and I feel the need to be extra sensitive about the language I use and how I communicate that message.
SiddySays: What are your views on the “blogger culture” and one advice you’d like to give to all the new bloggers
SOA: Content creation, as a profession, is still fairly new in Pakistan and many people seem to be figuring out their place in the online space. Some aren’t interested in benefiting monetarily and are just looking for something to keep them busy and some don’t even know why they’re running a public page in the first place. Every other person seems to be doing it so why not? But I feel it is due to this lack of clarity on the ‘why’ of becoming a blogger/content creator that we see this sense of desperation to get more followers and better engagement. It sometimes feels like a blind rat race of sorts that has led to people employing tools and strategies like engagement pods and follow loops and what not to artificially inflate numbers. Not knowing if and how those numbers are of use to them. I personally have a lot of ethical issues with these growing trends and feel they impact the credibility and general perception of content creators negatively.
Advice: Don’t do it for the free stuff or for the money. Not only will it take a long time and a lot of effort for those to come, it will only be sustainable in the long-run if you truly develop a relationship with your audience (and by audience, I don’t mean your peers who are commenting on your posts to support you only as long as you comment on theirs). Your time and effort has value so think about how much value you’re willing to put in without any monetary gains. There has to be another motivation, other than the money, to keep you going. Social media also comes with significant unhealthy mental stress and depending on your niche, you may also be giving up a lot of your privacy and opening yourself up to public commentary. Attach a value to all these factors and have a clear answer for ‘why do I need to do this?’ before you decide to jump in.
Anum has been one of Guest Contributors on SiddySays and gave us a detailed insight on The Truth About Nikkah Nama.