Beyond borders: 12 digital creators from India and Pakistan disrupting the social media game

In commemoration of the 76th Independence Day, we present to you the power towers of social media from India and Pakistan, who have taken the internet by storm



By Sadiq Saleem

Published: Thu 11 Aug 2022, 6:10 PM

Last updated: Sun 14 Aug 2022, 8:19 PM

Social media has clubbed the larger world into one societal construct, always near with that palpable sense of urgency and participation, and in reality, quite far to actually entail interpersonal feelings. A necessary evil in the modern age. Like it or not, we can’t possibly do without the agonies and ecstasies of it. But there are some who know how to harness the power of the online world to reach a larger audience, and use it to their own benefit, to propel them to a certain stardom.

They say that social media is the ‘beast in the backyard’ that needs to be fed consistently, but the people in the list below have taken this beast by the horns and have tamed it like no one else.

Masoom Minawala

Face of Indian fashion, Global Influencer, Entrepreneur and Investor

When and why did you start your digital journey?

My journey in the industry started over a decade ago when the influencer community was at a very nascent stage. I started with an internship at a fashion house. That's where I stumbled upon blogging and fell in love with it. The digital space gave me a unique platform to explore fashion and once I started doing that, there was no looking back.

What changes does the work undergo once you have acquired a robust following on social media?

The community strength never reflected in the kind of content that was going up. Quality content has always been our topmost priority regardless of the follower count.

Recount a hilarious anecdote of your online presence.

It's quite funny when people mistake my name as ‘Masooma,’ ‘Masoomi,’ ‘Mausam,’ you name it!

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up?

There have been several instances where my team and I have noticed that the content we’re putting out isn't performing as we’d hoped. But we never let that deter us from doing and creating better. We take it as learning lessons that help us improve, as a motivational force, and as a sign to do things differently.

Social media can also be an overcrowded space. What can one do to stand out?

The trick to standing out is aligning your vision and passion with your long-term goals, which in turn helps you stay consistent.

Kusha Kapila

YouTuber and actor

When and why did you start your digital journey?

I was only 22 when I started my digital career as a writer. Before I came in front of the camera, I had been a copywriter and content manager. My journey as a content creator started at my last job where I was the junior fashion editor and the office required us to make videos. It was a blessing in disguise.

What changes does the work undergo once you have acquired a robust following on social media?

I think one must constantly update and educate oneself. The wider your reach goes, the risk of getting misunderstood also increases. What you are putting out there may seem fine to you but could be perceived in a very different way. Very recently, I recreated the Tortilla challenge and immediately got this feedback that I was wasting food. I understood where they were coming from and I made sure I fixed it.

Recount a hilarious anecdote of your online presence.

There are plenty. But the one that made me really happy was the comment I received from Falguni Pathak, who is such an icon. I had made a video on her and she commented that she loved it.

Was there ever a time you felt like giving up?

Social media is hustle with no end and the following and views do take a toll when you grow in the digital space. The imposter syndrome grows as you grow. I have three releases coming up but sometimes I still question myself. So, there are dark clouds hovering sometimes on my mind but I allow myself a break, which fixes it all.

Social media can also be an overcrowded space. What can one do to stand out?

I don’t look at it that way because the Internet is supposed to be a free space and that’s the beauty of it. Now more and more people are getting a chance to emerge. I love to see new creators popping up and I have a dedicated list of creators that I follow and absolutely admire, and they are all different from each other. The digital space is not new now; the viewers also understand when you are not being real and call it out quickly. So, stick to what you do best and keep updating yourself.

Aamna Haider Isani

Publisher and editor-in-chief at Something Haute

When and why did you start your digital journey?

I began writing a blog in 2012 and sensing the readers’ shift from print to digital, registered Something Haute officially in 2015, managing it like a publication rather than a personal diary. We continued expanding our online properties, eventually to YouTube in 2018, and there has been no looking back.

What changes does the work undergo once you have acquired a robust following on social media?

It’s a whole new world of instant news and knee jerk reactions. You’re suddenly working 24/7 instead of eight-hour shifts. There is almost no room for error and you’re lucky if you’ve got a following but it’s almost always fans or trolls. Nothing in between. The advantage of having trained as a journalist is that you carry the ethics online and the reader detects that work ethic. The bigger the following, the greater the responsibility.

Recount a hilarious anecdote of your online presence.

If I got a dollar for each time I suffered a slip of the tongue in a live session, forgetting that live videos can’t be edited or retracted. It takes some getting used to!

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up?

No, never. On the contrary, there has always been a pressure to expand further, be it on Snapchat and TikTok but I’ve managed to avoid these expansions so far. Luckily, Something Haute transitioned from fashion to entertainment at a time when Pakistan’s TV and film scene was at a high. We’re still riding the wave.

Social media can also be an overcrowded space. What can one do to stand out?

Be original, true to yourself and most importantly, consistent. As a critic, be unafraid of ruffling a few important feathers every now and then. Nothing stands out stronger than an honest opinion.

Ranveer Allahbadia

Digital content creator, entrepreneur, podcaster and investor

When and why did you start your digital journey?

I started my digital journey in 2015 with the intention of launching a fitness startup. I was told that expanding your social media reach is the best way to market it, so I started making videos and uploading them on YouTube. I quickly fell in love with the creative aspect of it and decided to continue my digital journey.

What changes does the work undergo once you have acquired a robust following on social media?

In all honesty, that is up to the creator. You can have it easy because this job pays well. If you want to keep growing year on year, the game becomes a little more difficult. It is all about reinvention, team-building, intellectual property development, and shows. If your goals are that lofty, you will need to flex your creative muscles.

Recount a hilarious anecdote of your online presence.

I was grabbed and kissed at one of the YouTube Fanfests, which was extremely unusual for me as an engineering graduate who had never received any kind of attention from the other gender. Because it was fresh, new, and different, it opened my eyes to the realities of being a sort of public figure.

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up?

The thought of giving up used to occur to me frequently; it no longer does, perhaps because I have done it for so long that I know what I am capable of even in my lowest moments. But, yes, you constantly consider giving up because that is one of the curses of having a creative mind. You go off on tangents, overthinking and honestly, distribution is a treadmill, which basically means that if you want to maintain your social media presence, you have to sacrifice a lot in the process.

Social media can also be an overcrowded space. What can one do to stand out?

In the overcrowded social media landscape, having a distinct style, feel, and theme in your content is the only way to stand out. I truly believe that excellent editing and writing will set you apart. Create content you’d like to see on your feed.

Amna Riaz

Known as ‘Kitchen with Amna’ on the Internet

When and why did you start your digital journey?

It started in 2016. I would always receive immense love from my family and friends for my cooking, so I thought I must share the recipes and my style of cooking with the general public. That’s how my YouTube channel was born.

What changes does the work undergo once you have acquired a robust following on social media?

My format has more or less been the same as it’s a cooking show. I have definitely added more cuisines to reach a wider audience. Besides my food channel, I have recently started ‘Life with Amna’ where I give the audience a peek into my life outside the kitchen. The kind of confidence boost I have experienced over the years due to an overwhelming response from my followers drives me towards improvement.

Recount a hilarious anecdote of your online presence.

During my initial days, people used to comment and mock the way I used to look and talk and that I did not even have proper utensils at home. I continued doing what I had set out to do and now they say that not a day goes without watching my vlogs!

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up?

Kitchen content has a tendency to get monotonous, but you can still do so much. I try different kinds of cuisines to keep it engaging and bring different guests to the show. But I never think of giving up. This is an integral part of my life.

Social media can also be an overcrowded space. What can one do to stand out?

Yes, it’s becoming overcrowded by the day. One should stick to what one does best and not get into the number games. Good content will get a loyal audience. Don’t worry about the discouraging comments, just focus on those who appreciate you and spread positivity.

Freddy Birdy

Copywriter, ad agency owner, artist

When and why did you start your digital journey?

About three years ago. Initially, I started my Instagram account as a method of showcasing my art. But suddenly it took off on its own and I stopped plugging the art. It became more of a commentary of the times, a non-serious way of looking at commonplace, everyday things. I would like to think of it as a daily point of view of everyday urban life. Food, living, cinema, love, travel, restaurants, eating out, laughter, relationships, and all the little unimportant things that encompass everyday life.

What changes does the work undergo once you have acquired a robust following on social media?

No real changes as such. You just reach out to a much wider audience, so that is lovely, more people read you. And brands are happy and willing to pay the price you charge without grumbling for a commercially sponsored post.

Recount a hilarious anecdote of your online presence.

The question I get asked the most is: ‘Is Freddy Birdy your real name?’ Yes, it is! Ha ha. Why would I invent a name like Freddy Birdy?

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up?

No never. I started with 230 followers. My dream was to have 2,000. I now have 370k. By the grace of God, the followers are far, far more than I had ever imagined. I read every single comment posted on my page. I fear that most people come for the comments on my page, not my posts!

Social media can also be an overcrowded space. What can one do to stand out?

I think you have to have a voice that is entirely your own. Either visually or in words or thoughts or whatever. But it has to be your own unique voice. And it must resonate with readers or viewers. People should be intrigued enough to want to continue following you. Without your readers you are nothing. And I have the best!

Ayesha Omar

Actress and fashion icon

When and why did you start your digital journey?

My digital journey started with my Facebook account. I remember I was one of the last few people from the industry to join Instagram because I couldn’t be bothered. My friend Tabish Khoja pushed me and told me that it’s a good tool to promote your work, so he helped me make my page. My first film Karachi Se Lahore was releasing, so I went ahead and joined Instagram in 2015.

What changes does the work undergo once you have acquired a robust following on social media?

When you have millions of people following you then your content needs to be strategised in a way that it creates awareness. It has to have a purpose irrespective of the number of followers. I created my own YouTube channel about three years ago and the purpose of that has always been to talk about my healthy lifestyle and wellness, show them how we work and to give people a peek into my life.

Recount a hilarious anecdote of your online presence.

People assume a lot of stuff about us and sometimes it’s really funny.

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up?

Yes, there are times when you see that some of the work is not getting the kind of traction but I think the only way to draw people towards something is when you keep it authentic. Internet users have access to the world, and they are smart enough to spot stuff which is staged, over-designed and contrived. No one wants to look at photoshopped images anymore, natural is the new way to go.

Social media can also be an overcrowded space. What can one do to stand out?

Overcrowded is an understatement. You spend few minutes on the net and you are filled in with information and content from all corners. I would emphasise that you have got to be authentic. Social media has given opportunity to countless stars to show their real selves and that is what really attracts followers.

Anupama Chopra

Digital film critic and journalist

When and why did you start your digital journey?

It started back in 2014. My husband suggested that I should start posting on YouTube and his idea was that if I want to be a film critic then the content should be available when people want to watch it and not by appointment viewing, which is the case with television. I knew nothing about YouTube but I knew how to make content. That is pretty much what I have done all my life — to create. So from the mega sets of the star production, we started creating for the online portal. It was like moving from a Karan Johar film to a very small budget independent film. But it has been an extremely rewarding and challenging journey and the hustle continues.

What changes does the work undergo once you have acquired a robust following on social media?

I don’t think that the work changes with your social media following. At least not mine. I am a film critic and it’s important for me that my review is honest, informed and has integrity. I have been a journalist for 30 years and back in the day, our only way to get feedback was through the ‘Letter to the Editor’ section which frankly nobody cared much about. But today, the feedback is almost instant. You get a sense of what connected and what did not with the audience. For instance, sometimes I have been told that I give away too many spoilers, so I am mindful now that I’ll filter out some of the information.

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up?

Social media is an ongoing saga and a never-ending struggle. There are times when you think that content is not engaging enough. But did that stop me or deter me from doing anything I believed in? I would say no. I am not someone who quits. I have accepted that social media is relentless and it’s a beast that needs to be fed.

Social media can also be an overcrowded space. What can one do to stand out?

Do what comes naturally to you. Be who you are as people want authenticity. People will come to you if they see value, so make the content useful for them.

Raza Samo

YouTuber

When and why did you start your digital journey?

It started in 2014. I remember YouTube was banned in Pakistan, so I used to upload videos on Facebook. I was a popular kid in university, and I started capturing the university life on video. That became famous among the students and I started getting views.

What changes does the work undergo once you have acquired a robust following on social media?

Just like your taste in music changes over time, the style of blogging also changes. An artist evolves with time and as the network of your followers grows, the expectations grow as well. One has to constantly evolve and keep an eye for what is capturing the interest of the followers.

Recount a hilarious anecdote of your online presence.

It happens a lot but I’ll share the most recent one. I noticed that a car was following me and the one who was on the passenger seat had a square-shaped object, which they were flashing. Three girls came out and presented me a painting of myself. I loved that gesture.

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up?

Of course, it happens so many times. But I never think of giving up. A lot of people have put their trust in me and going back is not an option. My inspiration has been the greatest boxer Muhammad Ali and he played by one rule, which is to never give up. I have understood this formula and it has set me up for life.

Social media can also be an overcrowded space. What can one do to stand out?

There is a lot of average content that is coming on the net these days. Some are after money, some are after instant fame. You should enter this space when if you’re passionate and if you really feel that this is your calling. People assume that it’s all fun and fame but there is a lot of analysis and study that goes behind it. One has to understand the algorithms to make it work and only the fittest survive here.

Chef Sanjyot Keer

Digital content creator and founder of ‘Your Food Lab’

When and why did you start your digital journey?

In April 2016, I began my digital journey. Many people cannot afford to dine at expensive restaurants or travel to explore food, so through my videos, they can make these recipes very easily with basic ingredients and no equipment involved. My main goal was to show these people how to make these recipes at home. Today, YFL is followed by more than 12 million followers with 3 billion+ views across three social media platforms and it just feels great.

What changes does the work undergo once you have acquired a robust following on social media?

I don’t think you need to change anything; on digital platforms, you can be yourself, do whatever you want. You are the boss, the producer, performer, and scriptwriter, so you play multiple roles, and this is how your content is shaped.

Recount a hilarious anecdote of your online presence.

For the longest period of time, for around three years my face was never seen on camera and only my hands were seen and a lot of people used to think that these hands are of a girl. Once when a follower realised it was a grown man behind the camera, he was shocked, so was everyone else.

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up?

Content not working was never an issue for me, but I was a Facebook creator for a long time and there was no ad revenue on the platform. It was my choice to begin my content creation journey with Facebook, so I was completely reliant on brands to earn money. But the consistency with which I have uploaded my content on social media over the last six years has gotten me to a point where we are self-sufficient and don’t rely on brands to put up the content.

Social media can also be an overcrowded space. What can one do to stand out?

Every profession and business is overcrowded, and social media is one of them. To stand out on social media, the most important thing is to be consistent.

Kanwal Ahmed

Founder of the Facebook group Soul Sisters Pakistan

When and why did you start your digital journey?

I started my Facebook community out of a need to create spaces where women like myself could converse freely and safely, finding like-minded women in a culture that otherwise isolates us. We can use it to discuss issues that the society has labelled taboo and unworthy of being talked about.

What changes does the work undergo once you have acquired a robust following on social media?

I think the one thing every creator needs to learn is the ability to adapt and evolve. You cannot let yourself get comfortable with one format or one platform. As a creator you have to understand that the dynamics of the digital world are constantly shifting and unless you’re willing to translate your thoughts on different mediums, your journey may be cut short soon.

Recount a hilarious anecdote of your online presence.

There are so many phenomenal and memorable stories from the Facebook group. Just yesterday, someone shared that she had been divorced by her husband and was sitting on the steps of her apartment in Dubai with no clue of what to do. Within minutes of her posting a whole network of our Dubai members started reaching out to offer support!

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up?

Never. I’ve always had full faith in the progress and power of content creation. The highs and lows obviously happen and sometimes I do get trapped in a rut but it doesn’t make me want to leave this space. It makes me want to try even harder.

Social media can also be an overcrowded space. What can one do to stand out?

As clichéd as it sounds — being yourself and being consistent. Do what makes you happy because you’re likely in for a long run. This is a job where you’ll be looking after and over yourself so find a niche you’re passionate about. And don’t be afraid to experiment. Too often we base our success on likes and shares because the algorithm forces us to believe that’s a measure of success but in my experience what truly matters is the human impact — the lives you touch through your content!

Muzamil Hasan Zaidi

Host of Pakistan’s fastest growing podcast ‘Thought Behind Things’

When and why did you start your digital journey?

It started in December 2010 mostly just to experiment with digital photography and filmmaking and sharing it with friends and family. It was only around mid 2012, I started taking it a lot more seriously. I noticed that my generation of Pakistanis had lost hope in the system and there was a lot of angst and frustration. So I started working on content that could give them hope of a better future.

What changes does the work undergo once you have acquired a robust following on social media?

Once your following grows, you reach out to people across socio-economic backgrounds and demographics. It tends to become slightly tricky to manoeuvre the content that would find traction from a diverse audience. I generally tend to avoid controversial topics like politics and religion because it mostly divides people more than helping them learn something new and valuable.

Recount a hilarious anecdote of your online.

I always find it funny when I’m driving around and people get pleasantly surprised when they recognise me. 10 years into being a public personality, I still don’t know how to act in front of people in the real world when they recognise me and say hi.

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up?

Between 2015-2019, I actually stopped creating content and was working as a data analyst. I got demotivated and was totally off it. Over time I realised how digital content consumers evolve and since Pakistanis got broadband internet much later than the rest of the world, their evolution took a little more time. When I restarted in 2019, I had much better data to predict what consumers wanted in the coming years and that helped me tailor my content accordingly.

Social media can also be an overcrowded space. What can one do to stand out?

I think there’s still a lot of opportunity for growth especially in Pakistan where there’s a large youth population on the internet and they’re hungry for unique content. I think the easiest way to stand out is to focus on a niche that hasn’t been tapped on yet. There are so many areas that are still untapped and while it may seem like the niche has very few viewers today, overtime, if your work is simple enough for all sorts of people to understand, it’s not that difficult to grow your audience.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com

(Sadiq Saleem is a Dubai-based writer and can be contacted on his Instagram @sadiqidas)


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