UAE: 'You don't work for the algorithm, the algorithm works for you', says social media star Niharika NM

The Internet sensation, who is also the newest cast member to join 'Big Mouth' on Netflix, opens up about her journey and why she turned down her dream job at Google to pursue a full-time career as content creator


Somya Mehta

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Published: Thu 16 Nov 2023, 7:50 PM

Last updated: Tue 21 Nov 2023, 4:55 PM

She makes three million people laugh. On a daily basis. And all while making it look totally effortless. So, we can’t help but wonder, what is it that keeps the 26-year-old going, delivering one superhit piece of content after the other? Niharika NM, popular for her hilarious comedy sketches with superstars and rant videos on social media, was recently in Sharjah to speak at a panel discussion organised by the bustling Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), which came to a close this week.

A prominent global digital content creator, Niharika announced her groundbreaking entry into the international entertainment scene by featuring in the American sitcom Big Mouth season 7, available for streaming on Netflix. Securing a unique position as a guest character, the content creator will be representing the experiences of Indian teenage girls navigating the intricacies of puberty for the animated American series.

Sharing the screen with internationally renowned figures such as Megan Thee Stallion, Maya Rudolph, Jordan Peele, Padma Lakshmi, Don Chandler, Zack Woods, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Lupita Nyong'o and other exceptional talents, the social media star will be lending her voice to a character loosely inspired by her own personal traits. “I don't really know how to feel about it because before I can even process one thing, another thing has happened. I’m just really enjoying the process and taking it one day at a time,” confesses Niharika, as we sit down for a chat after her power packed, full-house session at SIBF.

Though she’s been creating content for over 10 years now, the social media star experienced a meteoric rise during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, gaining millions of followers who found solace in her comedy videos on Instagram. And even though comedy has everything to do with timing and very little to do with any formula, Niharika admits that her early dabble into comedy started off as a defense mechanism. “I was a really chubby kid, so most of the jokes I initially cracked were ‘fat jokes’ about myself,” she adds.

However, what started off as self-deprecating humour turned into a way of coping for little Niharika. “I thought if I crack these jokes about myself, I can take the power away from other people and if they laugh at my jokes, then I can fit in with the cool kids. I was the fat, clown friend they could take everywhere.”

She continues, “As I grew older, I realised that humour doesn't always have to be self-deprecating. Sometimes, it’s not amusing to put yourself down. I realised that you can find humour in anything; you don't have to make jokes about yourself or put anyone else down to be funny. That’s when my perception on humour changed. I stopped using humour as a weapon and started using it as a tool.”

To be on social media, one has to have thick skin is what we often hear. But what does that mean for someone who literally grew up on the Internet? “For the longest time, I didn’t know if I'm really meant for social media,” reveals Niharika. “If someone said something negative about me, I’d take it to heart because I’ve had to deal with all of it from a very young age.”

But now that she’s older, she admits, she knows better than to get bogged down by the trolls. “I realised I was taking things too seriously from people who don't have faces on the Internet. Not every opinion is a fact.” says Niharika. “It’s not all about me; it’s about what I can do. And what I do on the Internet is play-acting, so what people are judging is a piece of content I've created; they’re not judging me. I’ve started recognising that,” she adds.

Being an early adopter of content creation and growing up in the public eye, Niharika didn’t have a roadmap or blueprint to follow. The pressures of the social media game made the content creator take a temporary break from it, though her passion for creating content kept drawing her back in. “There was no such thing as creator economy back in the day. I had to make my own mistakes and learn from them,” says Niharika.

Recounting a defining instance from last year, she says, “It was only last year that I made up my mind that I will be a full-time content creator.” A realisation she came to when she had to choose between a career on social media and her dream job at Google. Giving up the job offer was in many ways a transformative moment in Niharika’s life, for that’s when she decided that a career on social media was going to be her full-time gig. “My dream always was to be in a Google office or Facebook office, you know, in a corporate job. I always pictured myself as an entrepreneur, doing big things, wearing power suits, and heels that click-clack. That was the whole vision I had,” she adds.

“For that to completely shift, it took a while for me to process and also tell myself, ‘Okay, this was my dream so far, but now this [being a content creator] is the dream I have. And this is what I’ve discovered about myself,” she adds. However, this realisation didn’t come easy for the content creator, who found it hard to give up the safety net of a stable 9-5 job. “I don’t like the fact that 9-5 jobs are getting such a bad rep,” says Niharika, who holds multiple academic degrees. “There are many benefits that come from having a stable job,” she says.

“You know for a fact that at the end of the month, you will get a paycheck. Now, as a content creator, if you're just starting out or until you have a substantial platform and following, no brand is going to pay you. So, what will you do? What will you eat, your passion?” she retorts, in the classic Niharika-way. “You can't eat your passion, which is why I say, make money. You need your job, you need education because you need bread and butter. There's no point in being passionate and broke. You will not be happy, and you will start hating your passion. You will start hating the world, thinking it's not fair. So, be passionate but don’t be silly,” she adds.

Be it turning heads on global stages, such as the Cannes red carpet or creating viral content with superstars like Priyanka Chopra in a short span of just one year Niharika’s accomplishments testify that she has been anything but ‘silly’. And it is endorsed by the kind of engagement she enjoys on social media .

When asked how she ‘cracked’ the algorithm code, with almost every video of hers crossing the one million mark, she jokes, “I think I have figured it out, actually."

She continues, "I’ve figured out that you don’t have to work for the algorithm, the algorithm works for you. The minute you start working for the algorithm, churning out content that you think will work is when you stop growing. The audience and the algorithms can easily figure out what is not authentically you.”

So, according to the content creator, there's no magic formula to the numbers game. “Sure, you can follow trends. If you use a trending audio, you might have one video that will hit a million views. But what about the next one? So, it's not about following trends. It's about setting them.”

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