Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here.
What made you decide to be an influencer?
My love for fashion and pop culture. I looked up to American celebrities as a child. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a star, but I never knew how to go about it. Unfortunately, neither did anyone else around me — not my family or friends. None of us had any knowledge of the Nigerian entertainment industry or what one had to do to get into it.
I only heard a bit about how people were doing it around 2015 when companies like Mavin and EbonyLife became really active. And at first, I wasn’t sure if I should go into music or movies. I also didn’t believe well enough in my talents in those lines.
How did influencing come in?
2017 came, and I became more aware of people who were getting a lot of recognition on Instagram for basically being stylish and pretty. I was those two things, so it just clicked that I should try that. But I didn’t really do anything about it until two years later when I graduated from secondary school. I wanted to get the perfect phone, makeup and hair first, and my parents promised me everything only after I finished school with a good result.
In the meantime, I’d planned out all the content I wanted to make. I had a little lookbook with a plan for the aesthetic I’ll go for. I had everything creative down, but did I plan how I’d promote or make money? Nope.
I started creating content on IG as soon as I got into uni in September 2018. I’d do my own makeup, copying stuff I saw on Pinterest, then take cute selfies and post with captions I took days to come up with. Alongside “Outfit of the Day” posts, I posted every other day.
Fame, here you come?
I was getting like 30 likes and two comments for months until I got frustrated. “What were other people doing?” was the question that kept me up at night my entire 100 level.
I started stalking other known influencers at the time, and I noticed they didn’t just take pictures, they went out, attended events and had a network. They all seemed to know each other and had their different circles. So I became obsessed with attending events they attended and meeting the micro-influencers at least.
Were you able to?
I had two major obstacles: most of the events were in Lagos, and my school was in Cotonou. Second: actually getting invites or paying for tickets.
Getting invited as an unknown was practically impossible, so I started saving up most of my allowance to buy at least one event ticket every weekend — parties, festivals, product launches — and I’d register for free tickets where available. I’d skip school from Thursday to travel to Lagos till Sunday, and squat with one of my friends who was in Unilag.
The goal was to get there, meet people and take lots of good-quality photos. So I also had to spend on new outfits every time and do my makeup and hair well. I’d starve all week just to be able to afford it all. But at least, that helped me maintain my figure. Plus, all the travelling back and forth and walking up and down at the events was perfect exercise.
I did that my whole 200 level — the 2020 pandemic was another setback, though — and took really good pictures that got much better engagement online, especially when I tagged and interacted with organisers and some famous or semi-famous guests. But nothing impressive happened. I was getting noticed but not as someone important enough to get PR boxes, which I later found out micro-influencers were getting lots of. Also, there was so much gatekeeping.
These other influencers would recognise me offline, laugh and gist for some minutes, even dance with me. Then online they’d ghost. Others would talk to me online but shut down once I start asking how they’re doing it. I get it; I’m not entitled to their trade secrets. But a little help wouldn’t have hurt. I had to take matters into my own hands.
I’m scared. What did you do, please?
Aggressive digging. I searched for influencers I admired and scrolled all the way down to their first couple of posts — most of them don’t delete these — to get some hints on how they started.
There was a particular girl I really liked, maybe because she graduated from my uni. One of her earlier posts was a photo of her with a green sash that showed she’d come second in a pageant. I searched the pageant and saw it was IG-based and a few other successful micro-influencers had participated in it.
Without thinking twice, I paid the sign-up fee for the 2021 edition. The experience was my first taste of financial exploitation and online bullying.
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I’m so sorry. Please explain
First of all, the organiser, a woman, was quite mean. And the participants, both past and present, had to be submissive to her like she was our master, all while she outwardly preached feminism and women empowerment.
Also, she boasted that she helped young women feel confident in whatever body type. Meanwhile, in the background, she constantly emotionally abused us and made us feel stupid. Then there was the part where she’d boast that she’d made many influencers when all she did was run a popularity contest after which she’d use the winners to promote her pageant brand and get huge brand deals. The only thing the winners gain is the small cash prize, a tiara and some subpar lifestyle products.
But I also suffered from my own ambition. To win or place second to eighth, each contestant needs to get people to follow the pageant’s IG page then like their photo on the page. By the time I’d gotten my family, friends and most of my miserly 3k followers to do this, I hadn’t even scratched the surface of the kind of engagement some other participants were getting.
Tears. What happened in the end?
The organiser said we could pay her to boost our post on her page. But she was charging ten times what Meta would charge. I ended up sending her ₦100k for this, but it didn’t make much difference. At least, five girls had 20k likes while I still struggled with 5k.
Then some people started DMing me that they saw I was participating in the pageant and could help me get up to 20k or even 30k likes. I started thinking maybe that’s how the other girls were getting ahead — they had money. So I chose who I thought was the most legit option and paid him ₦50k at first then another ₦100k. All from money I made modeling for fashion and photography brands in school.
He didn’t do anything.
Not a single like.
Instead, he kept saying he hadn’t received the money. And me too, I’d go back and forth to my bank to complain until I paid him another ₦150k, while the bank “sorted out a reversal”. After one story or the other sha, he still didn’t do anything. My bank came back to report that the first transfer went through, and it suddenly dawned on me that I’d lost ₦300k to a scammer. I was so angry with myself for being so stupid.
On top of that, trolls were on my pageant post calling me ugly in many creative ways. When the voting period ended, of course, I didn’t place any position. My mental health took a dip during that period. I even found out that the organiser slotted a girl in 8th position when she only had about 7k likes — there were people with up to 15k that didn’t place. The same girl became front and centre at all the promotional events.
I sense fraud
Honestly, it was frustrating, after all the money I’d lost.
But the experience made me realise I could cough out such large amounts when needed. Meanwhile, I was scrimping on things like camera and props for my content. I worked more modeling jobs and saved my pay and allowance from my parents for about three months to buy a vlogging camera. At this point, content creation was veering towards videos, so it was a good move.
My 300-level results came in and my scores were demoralising. I lied to my parents that the pandemic and lockdown made everything “confusing”. When they gave me my final year school fees, I took it and rented a self-con in Yaba, near my Unilag friends. I used the remaining to buy hair and makeup and lived on the allowance they were still sending. The good thing about schooling in Cotonou was that they never visited.
So you dropped out? Weren’t you afraid of the risks?
No. I was studying accounting; I wasn’t ever going to be an accountant.
At the start of 2022, someone reached out to me that he’d like to manage me. I had just under 4k followers at this point and was still getting maybe 200 likes on average after Meta ruined IG’s algorithm. So I was basically still paying to attend people’s events and create content for them for free. This is why I jumped at the opportunity to be managed by someone who, hopefully, knew what I didn’t know about the industry.
Please, tell me he was legit
I probably shouldn’t have jumped at the first person who offered me a management deal.
He sent me a whole plan of what he’d do for me, and it all looked so exciting and legit. But I had to pay him either ₦1m or ₦750k in advance, depending on the package. So I spoke with my dad, who’s always been supportive of my creative side — he’s the only reason I had the slightest second thought about dropping out of uni. I told him I needed money for another camera.
He said he’d loan me the ₦750k, but I’d have to pay it back in installments for the next year. It was his way of making sure I didn’t just blow it on trivial things. Before I sent it to my new manager, I made sure I met with him in a public place. We had a meeting, he came with two other people on his team, and they presented the plan to me again. I loved everything I saw, so I sent the money and signed a contract.
Don’t leave us in suspense!
They didn’t lie. I did everything they had planned for me. I got to work with a couple of known and not-so-known brands, created content, got a few PR boxes (finally).
But I didn’t have any control over the content I created, which they posted on the brands’ pages. I got no credit. They never tagged me, so I never got any traffic to my own page. They also paid me peanuts. I’m sure my manager was getting millions, but the highest I ever got on a job was ₦100k.
Unfortunately, I have no proof of exactly what he made off me. And the team was deliberate about keeping their content creators separate from each other. So we won’t hang up against him, I guess.
My contract was for a year, so it ended in February (2023). I used most of the money I made to pay my father back because I couldn’t complain to him, especially since I’ve not even figured out how to tell him, come June, that I dropped out.
You’ve taken many huge risks, but “fortune favours the bold”. Have you figured out your next move yet?
This might sound crazy, but I have more hope than ever that I’ll soon break through in this influencing thing. I’ve learnt a lot, my content creation game is now fire, and I can only fail so many times, right?
Except those motivational speakers and “Take risk and succeed” preachers are all liars.
No, it doesn’t sound crazy
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