A random Google search has left me terrified that in spite of picking up all sorts of healthy habits, I have contracted something netizens call the “smartphone pinky". Thanks to the way I hold my smartphone, I now have a dent on my little finger. The said dent has appeared recently, and I can only blame the lockdown.
Because, like so many other millennials, I have spent a good part of the lockdown scrolling through Instagram and Facebook, learning to connect on LinkedIn, and spending unhealthy hours binge watching shows on Netflix. According to a report by Broadcast Audience Research Council and market research firm Nielsen, the average time each user spent on a smartphone had already gone up by 6% right at the beginning of India’s lockdown.
Thinking that I was headed for imminent doom, I decided to delete the apps from my phone. This self-imposed diet lasted an honourable seven hours. Which is when I realized that how I use social media matters more than how much I use it.
Look at Instagram, for example. From a photo-sharing platform that once encouraged people to take pictures of every single meal they had, the Facebook-owned platform quickly reinvented itself as a place for collaborations and conversations. Music concerts held virtually by known celebrities gave way to music collaborations by upcoming indie musicians. Chefs, stuck at home as restaurants staggered towards a recovery, hosted cook-along shows and shared their trade secrets. Several MBA graduates—including those whose placement offers got postponed or cancelled—took to LinkedIn to offer guidance on how to crack the GMAT or write a cover letter.
Then there is the devil of the hour—TikTok. My friends have often shared videos from the platform, but I have also heard people bashing it equally, and not just because of its country of origin. TikTok has been the great leveller of social media platforms, where the chances of finding a following are equal for those with money and those without. Many have found a career through brand associations on TikTok, and the recent ban might hit their pockets hard, especially if they do not have any alternative sources of income. But reports suggest that TikTok stars have already started ushering their followers towards other social media platforms so that content creation and engagement suffer no disruption.
For many of these new influencers, it is a good way to kill time—I don’t know what I would have done with my weekends if social media suddenly disappeared. And if you have a talent for something, why should you not share it? But more than that, millennials have begun giving brand building a go. With jobs on the line and people having a hard time planning ahead, they reason that if they have to pivot, this might be a good place to test the waters. Connecting with thousands of people earlier was only possible for high-profile influencers. But now, anyone with a smartphone and basic skills can make a page for him or herself and share their thoughts. Look at the number of accounts now which teach you dance and daily posts on “home workouts to keep you in shape" or maybe even the “easiest, ten-minute lockdown kadhai paneer". These are largely unknown people, hardly “influencers", and most seem nowhere close to celebrityhood. But what they offer is relatable content that is refreshing and helps many like me pick up skills, some of them professional and some not.
But the game is not as simple as that. Finding followers on any social media channel requires planning and a strategy. (Ask the social media managers who are burning the midnight oil).
First, there is content. No matter how fast we evolve, content remains king, or queen—if we want to be politically correct. If you are posting stuff about things that people have seen much too often before, they will not follow you. The content also has to be curated for your target audience. One of the nutrition accounts I started following during the lockdown is a hit because the account holder does not talk about quinoa and fat versus protein, etc, but rather about“desi daal chawal" and how it effects your body if you aren’t a professional weight-lifter. Average people, average demands—tweak the content to see what appeals to your audience.
Planning assures consistency. Every influencer I have spoken to keeps an hour daily to chalk out the posts to be published the next day. Most of them post regularly, and almost always at the same time. Discipline is the key.
Essentially, you must treat social media platforms as virtual networks. Just as you would not go to a networking event and only talk about yourself, similarly, you must use social media to also hear what people have to say. Connect with your audience. There are more than enough tools for that now, from snap polls to question-answer rounds, from live chats to formal webinars.
That said, I should go and start posting on the Instagram accounts I have over-ambitiously created in a bid for two seconds in the limelight. Social media might come cheap, but it certainly doesn’t come easy.
Sohini Sen is a journalist at Mint