As she wakes up, Fatima Hasan reaches for her phone, recording snippets of her morning routine: blinds rolling upwards, a steady stream of sunlight setting on the veranda outside, the whirring coffee machine dripping into her cup.

“Good morning, loves,” the influencer-turned-model captions her video on Instagram for her 130,000 followers. Within seconds, the community members begin to respond, sharing their own greetings, plans for the day and comments. Hasan smiles, thinking about new content that she has planned: transition videos for a designer’s new collection. She proceeds to record another story.

Pakistan’s influencer industry has massively gained momentum in the last six years or so, ever since Instagram replaced Facebook as the main social media platform. With its picture-centered interface, Instagram encouraged budding influencers to quickly gain a foothold by sharing product reviews, and skincare routines, and announcing up-and-coming brands. There are plus-sized, skinny, brown-skinned, white-skinned, junk-food lovers and gym fanatic influencers for varied audiences. 

Another influencer, Alina Fahad promotes modest fashion, and has 61,000 followers, since she joined Instagram in 2017. “Brands have realised that social media marketing could increase sales and promote products through influencers working from home, which would be relatable for audiences compared to product reviews by unapproachable celebrities,” she says.

Doing what might seem like frivolous fun, the new breed of social media experts make their money by connecting to their followers who trust them and their recommendations

Known online as ‘That Karachi Girl’, Fahad believes that the pandemic was an opportunity for the influencers to gain popularity. “Things were slow and people working from home had more time on their hands, which they utilised to create content,” she points out. “Brands could not do shoots in lockdowns either, hence they relied on content creators to advertise their products for them. This is how I started blogging.”

For most influencers, sharing personal details is essential for brand image. “People who follow you see you as a friend, an adviser — someone relatable, actually,” Hasan says. “I’m an open person by nature, so I do share most things online. Being an influencer entails you’re a public figure and people want to know every detail about your life.”

One of her followers, Nimra Iqbal, says, “I follow Fatima to discover new designer wear, trendy restaurants and travel locations. Her online banter with her hubby brings to us their adorable, ideal relationship.”

But Batool Siddiqui, a home-tutor finds influencer culture frustrating. “With the current economic situation, most people are already depressed,” she says. “After a hectic day, I turn to social media for a break, only to see these glamorous influencers, dressed up for lunches and dinners, enjoying trips abroad, and I feel that my lifestyle is rubbish compared to theirs.”

This is why, Fahad is one of the few influencers, who prefers to keep their personal life away from Instagram. “To me, influencer life is about product reviews and brand endorsements rather than my daily routine, or intimate details.” She does share personal milestones such as welcoming a daughter this year, but maintains that distance between work and personal life has helped to build boundaries with her audience and stay within her comfort zone. “Influencers now have become more about entertaining their audiences with glamorous photoshoots and dressing-up videos,” she adds, “rather than building their skill set, or teaching them something new, which is what inclined their audiences towards them in the first place.”

Iqbal, who works at a boutique, feels transition videos are a good way to advertise designer wear and products. “I have learnt to carry outfits with style, to accessorise, to colour-block outfits, to pair neutrals together, and surprisingly to pose well too.”

Hasan explains how audiences can easily relate to influencers, feel empowered, and represented. “Recently, on my explorer page, I came across a Pakistani influencer with vitiligo and I felt so proud of her. Other girls with vitiligo may feel embarrassed about their skin colour but seeing her, they will feel confident, it will boost their self-esteem and who knows tomorrow, they will have their own blog,” she says.” 

Fahad agrees that many followers love role models who can help them with healthy eating, embracing their own fashion sense, or being confident about quirky personality traits. “But people don’t really need to replace stuff or buy things as often as influencers do,” she says. “For people who cannot spend so much, the pressure can be overwhelming.” 

Siddiqui agrees, because when her daughter was born, there were limited funds. “Posts about some influencer’s grand baby shower, another model’s extravagant pregnancy shoot with her husband and baby welcome parties may empower some people, but for middle-class people, it is a constant reminder of the vast financial disparity, splashed out in high resolution on the screen. In the past, it was easier for everyone to focus on their own lives, but now there’s a constant comparison as everything is always out there.”

Several influencers also share difficult times with followers. “People tend to forget that influencers are regular human beings who can make mistakes,” says Hasan. “They are extra critical of us, jumping at opportunities to find faults and criticise. Influencers are not always happy, successful and rich. People look at our appearance and our travel (which can also be work-related) and compare their own lives to ours. So, to counter that, influencers should ensure transparency when it comes to ads and paid content to avoid misleading people.”

For some bloggers, influencing is more of a hobby than a career. “Some influencers have jobs,” Fahad says. “Others have clothing lines or makeup brands. I earn solely through my influencer work, PR, sponsorships and paid partnerships.”

With recessions all over the world, brands are reluctant to inject big money into marketing. “Presently, the industry is saturated with social media influencing and marketing with all kinds of followers,” says Hasan. “More competitive advertising is online, while TV is expensive and print is struggling. Everything is on Instagram or Youtube. Social media is the future.”

She whips out her phone and records another video of herself, asking her audience about their day. She’s simply dressed in a t-shirt and trousers, bare-faced, her hair in a ponytail. “I love you all,” she says, blowing the screen a kiss. “I’m glad I get to talk to you every day and read your problems and achievements.” She smiles with gratitude.

I smile too. It’s not every day that you get to see an influencer with a real connection to their followers. Maybe the connection is what people love.

The writer is a freelance contributor and can be reached at Mehreennaveed2009@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 28th, 2022

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