‘It’s not a viable career’: Social media influencers share the highs and lows

Nurin, a business graduate from a Malaysian university, said she had the opportunity to stop her studies and become a full-time influencer, but insisted on finishing her tertiary studies.

Faleena Aziz and Iylia Marsya Iskandar

Faleena Aziz and Iylia Marsya Iskandar

The Star


Smile for your public: German fashion influencer Leonie Hanne takes a selfie with fans while arriving at the Fendi show during the Fall-Winter 2023 Fashion Week in Paris. — AFP

August 10, 2022

PETALING JAYA – The public perception is that it’s a career filled with glamour and glitz, but the reality is that malicious comments and hate are also part and parcel of the lives of social media influencers.

And although they can earn hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of ringgit with a single post, the question is: how long can this carry on?

Content creator and entrepreneur Nurin Afiqah said being an influencer is not sustainable over the long term and often, you would need a backup plan or job to fall back on to support yourself financially.

“Being an influencer is not sustainable. You need to have something as a backup for you to survive and it is a university qualification that will help you when you apply for jobs.

“In my case, I do make money from being an influencer by charging for reviews. But I also wonder, how long will this last? One cannot be doing this until one is old,” she said, adding that it is not a viable lifelong career.

Nurin, a business graduate from a local university, said she had the opportunity to stop her studies and become a full-time influencer, but she insisted on finishing her tertiary studies.

“I am always on the side of pursuing higher education. Jangan sebab duit korang jadi tamak (don’t be greedy just because you can earn money).

“If you have the opportunity to pursue your tertiary studies but you don’t, then it’s your loss because knowledge and the university life experience are gold,” she added.

Despite the glamorous life her followers believe she is living, Nurin said being an influencer is not at all easy and it has the potential to affect her mental health.

Besides having to learn about a topic she highlights and shares with others, she has to make sure she looks attractive.

“I had to learn how to do make-up, diet and make sure I don’t gain weight.

“They (my followers) don’t know the struggles I have to go through,” she said.

She said it could also be demotivating because an influencer has to please others to engage the online audience and get the much-needed “likes” on social media.

“Your mental health will be really affected when you receive negative criticism.

“Don’t believe everything that you see. They (influencers) always try to portray the good things and that’s why everyone wants to be them, but people don’t know the struggles behind it,” she added.

Fatin Syasya, 23, better known by her stage name Syasya Madu, said even though life as an influencer is rewarding, it also makes them vulnerable.

“We have ‘cancel culture’ where even if you innocently share your personal opinions, the tables can be turned to make you the bad guy and it will eventually affect your social media presence, reputation and career as an influencer.

“Youngsters want to become influencers because they see only the good things – getting free products and food, a lavish lifestyle and being recognised by many people.

“What they don’t see is the drama behind it.

“Your mental health can be affected by just your social media presence – the burden, the responsibility, and the malicious and hateful comments that people leave daily,” she said.

She added that an influencer’s family and friends would be exposed to the hate too.

“When there’s a negative narrative being put out online against you, it will affect your friends and family too. If you take one wrong step, you’ll be doomed for the rest of your life – especially with the fickle online community nowadays,” said Fatin.

She agreed that being an influencer is an unsustainable career path.

“If you don’t post for one day, some other people might replace you. Your engagement might be affected by the amount of time you are absent.

“When your engagement level is reduced, your opportunity to be paid more is reduced as well.

“I don’t like being in the competition and it tires me out, so I try to leave this (content creation) as only a side job,” she added.

Comedian Gajen Nad, who has been making a name in his industry, said that before anyone ventures into the world of influencers, they must ask themselves why they want to become one.

“Many people still don’t know their ‘whys’ in life.

“It took me six and a half years of doing stand-up comedy part-time before making the switch to full-time,” he told The Star, adding that he assessed the risks before making the jump.

On the dark side of being online, Gajen said, “Cyberbullying is just as harmful as physical bullying but many don’t see it that way because mental health is not as tangible as physical health. Hence, people think bullying via comments have not much effect.

“Not true, they are very dangerous. Anyone who wants to be a content creator needs to be aware and align their expectations (to the fact) that there will be negative comments.”

He said it is best to ignore those comments as it consumes a lot of mental energy.

Gajen advised individuals wanting to be an influencer to do it as a hobby or a part-time gig to build experience first while having a stable job.

“There are people who do stuff that they are not passionate about, all just for the sake of money. It will lead to burnout in the long run,” he said.

Ariena Ali Azman, 20, who started out during the movement control order, said her biggest challenges are time management and dealing with clients.

“I’m still a student so I have to divide my time between studying and making videos.

“We have a tight deadline and creating just one piece of content requires a lot of time and effort.

“A one-minute video is actually five hours of work,” she said, adding that she sometimes has to go without much sleep too.

The difficulties don’t stop there as she has to deal with late payments.

“Sometimes you only get paid after three months and some don’t pay at all, so there are a lot of arguments,” she added.

Ariena, who has just completed her Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia exam, said despite the fact that she could make money as an influencer, she still believes education is a priority.

“My goal is to earn at least a Bachelor’s degree. Education and skill are the two things that will take us far in our life as an influencer.

“At the end of the day, we want to be a good influence on Malaysians as well,” she added.

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