‘Never ever try to be an influencer’, Like MC Lively

November 21, 2020

The thing about this influencer business is that it may not be described as a business at all. What’s a business, anyway? A fantastical venture, the type you could plot on a graph? 

An influencer comes into money by chance. His growth cannot be prophesied. Routinely, many who dare to try for a livelihood as influencers, sorrowfully fail. Which is why when Michael Sani, whom you probably know as MC Lively, declares that, “influencing is not a career,” it just makes sense. 

On the social media stage, the difference between a shining star and a messy flameout may come down to a couple of days. Two days in which the star loses absolute control over her power of sway, watches herself helplessly circle the drain and then—snap—gets swept into oblivion.

See, Lively should know what he’s talking about. It took him at least five years to finally find his voice as a comedian and skit artiste on Instagram, and in real life. 

Having been sent to Obafemi Awolowo University—OAU—to study law, he’d spent a good chunk of his time pretending he was an authentic stand-up comedian, much like Ali Baba or Okey Bakassi or Basketmouth or Bovi, the permanent kings of the genre. However, the first time Lively tried to do standup, he was booed off the stage. If you knew OAU culture, you might easily picture the euphoric glee at which his audience must have dished Lively his public humiliation.

“And this happened on Freshers Nite,” Lively recalls now. “I thought, with this [egg on my face], how was I ever to catch any new female student?” Freshers Nite, as it is on many Nigerian campuses, is the festive shindig organised by the student body to welcome new entrants. 

As if the general school population wasn’t prickly enough, Lively’s roommate and closest friends—his “boys”—happened to be even harsher critics. At one point, when he started to feel confident that perhaps he’d found some good material for a solid five minutes of performance, it was they who slammed him out of that smugness. “Wait, you only tell one joke, man. Don’t you have more than this one joke?”

Cohort 1 of the SBI Media Workshop, with founder Rotimi Bankole

That sort of dispassionate poke would refocus anyone, wouldn’t it? So, MC Lively kept working at his comedy. “Since I’ve been young,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to make people laugh.”

And there, in that statement, lies what he means by “influencing is not a career”. It cannot be an end in itself. Instead, stand-up comedy could be the career; acting could be the career. And the influence comes from that. Even without a hit show on TV or the big screen, the other thing a famous actor does to better his followers’ ordinary lives is still appreciated, and his influence is certified genuine. 

Sadly, for those whose solitary purpose is to recruit followers that could then be monetised, the long, arduous and snail-pace climb towards a respectable profile is eventually not worth the trouble. Besides, the industry is beset with such an awfully low barrier to entry, which ensures that hundreds of fiery romantics flood through the gates every single day to join the bloody scramble for brand partnerships—often sparse, commonly fickle. 

So what is an aspiring influencer to do?

“Pick something you won’t get bored talking about.” 

It’s a bit of common-sense advice, coming from Fisayo Fosudo, Nigeria’s top tech YouTuber. This is the only way you get through the drudgery, he says. 

Secondly, “Do the kind of work you want to be paid for,” suggests Fisayo. Build it and they will come? Nope. More like, find them, then build it for them. Fisayo’s audience, for instance, are Nigerians who would benefit from more info before shelling out their stiff kobo on the latest mobile phone. On the other side are the companies who’d like to sell those phones to these Nigerians.

Now known as a knowledgeable and consistent reviewer of mobile devices, Fisayo’s decision to offer clarity as value in his selected niche is paying off. This clarity is why, when you google Tecno Camon 16, Fisayo’s video on that phone is on page one. It is also why phone manufacturers now pay him “a lot” to have him look at their gadgets.

But being a person of value alone barely makes what Fisayo does a business. What makes it a business is the organisation he’s built into it—before the rolls in, content type must be defined. Once he knows the type of content he would like to produce; then comes the challenge of making that content reach the people that matter.

As Chidi Okereke, a top-10 influencer, has proven, content doesn’t get shared unless it is amplified—by paid promotion, organic re-posts, celebrity push or a combination of all three. To this end, Chidi’s formula is pretty direct: Offer value, build bridges, build a community, become an influencer, then get paid.

Meanwhile, MC Lively, Fisayo Fosudo, and Chidi Okereke are models of what is possible in an industry that is so open yet so impenetrable. Together with other facilitators, the trio presented their influencer guidebook at the first edition of SBI Media Workshop last weekend. 

The workshop, which was founded by SBI Media CEO Rotimi Bankole, intended to wake young Nigerians up to the thought, however strange, that when it comes to social media influence, one might be right to first think of it as an organised exchange of value. Why? Because, as it turns out, there’s a method to this madness—a kind of scientific equation you could apply to a sustainable commercial enterprise.

This story was first published in The Guardian (Nigeria) on November 21, 2020.

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