Digital content creation has had a growth surge, especially during the lockdown. Cooped up at home, people have been spending more time on social media and engaging actively with content creators. To match the insatiable demand for content, there has been an explosion of content creators. Social media definitely saw many creators who have been a source of constant entertainment and information, and a few others who raked in followers with their toxic content. Nevertheless, digital content has been food for many homebound consumers. The big question is how does one create content that resonates with the audience? They say, it is best to learn from the ones who came before. Here is what some top social media influencers from south India say about the content creation ecosystem.
V for visionary
“Do small things with great love.”
Irrational optimist” is what Anto Philip calls himself. Considering that he started his first company when he was 18, the title is quite apt. He started his journey as an influencer early on but his story is very different from the others. In 2014, he along with his friend founded the ‘Under-25 Club’ which is considered to be India’s largest platform of, by and for the youth. “For me, all the things I do are part of my core belief that young people are the truest potential of a country. And I want to unlock as much potential as I can,” he says.
Anto says he is constantly on a quest to find new things to make an impact in the creative landscape. “I firmly believe that one should use the camera to be relevant and impactful. It is important to value your audience. Your story can be anything but it should make sense to you. The mind is a crazy place, it allows you to create almost anything,” says the 25-year-old storyteller.
According to him, there is no such thing as good or bad content. “You never know what interests the audience. I feel all kinds of content are out there to entertain the public. The choice of content is extremely personal,” he says. “I would be lying if I said I know what kind of content gets applause. I always try to make my content in a way that it makes people laugh or feel the emotion that I try to pass on through the video. I think it is truth in your work that makes content travel. Viewers have a low attention span so it is important to not even have two unimpressive seconds in your video.”
But his advice to people is to not become content creators. “It is a lot of hard work. You should tell stories because you love them, without expecting the viewers to feel the same. If it has a foundation based on the validation of others, then it is likely to be short-lived. Also, it is important to understand that you should never tell stories that you don’t believe in,” he says.
Anto also emphasises on the importance of owning one’s identity. “All of us are going through an identity crisis one way or another but there is no need to worry about it. People should be able to wake up and say what they strongly feel,” he says. “I owned my identity as a middle-class Malayali boy and I try to bring out things that I relate to in my stories.”
As for Anto’s parents, they were concerned in the beginning but soon came around. He asked them for a year after graduation to figure out things and although they were apprehensive about the idea, they gave him nod. “My parents were hoping that I would get an MBA and be the poster boy for a matrimony site, but I turned out to be way different. Fortunately, I figured out my passion in that one year,” he says.
For Anto, one of the biggest challenges was building a team. “You can be the best player on the field but if you have to win a championship, you need a team,” he says. “Right now, I have immense comfort in knowing that I have a great set of minds at work.”
It all starts with a thought for Anto. “I don’t get a lot of time to sit and write as I attend a lot of meetings. But I try to create a thought board and start jotting down points on it. It sits with me for a couple of days and then I make two or three drafts,” he says. His favourite bit in the process is the discussion on the edit table which he calls a learning ground. After the script is revised, the team prepares for the shoot. “Sometimes shoots are long. That is mostly because I try to get the best version. I don’t suggest it for every content creator though. Then the video editing team start their work. By the time the video is out, we would have already started work for our next project,” Anto says.
However, he does not believe in posting regularly or every day for that matter. “When I post, I want to deliver my best. Many people can create everyday but it is important to create something that stays with people for more than 24 hours,” he says. “Being a content creator is more than just a profession; it is a mindset. You cannot joke about being a storyteller.” Anto strongly feels that content creation is all about convenience and comfort. “Don’t do anything that you are not comfortable doing. Be yourself and use your best skills to your interest. Upgrade with time. All that you need to remember is to make your story powerful. Do small things with great love.”
The visionary also tells aspiring storytellers to not beat themselves up and to give themselves a pat every now and then. “Trust in the process and do not listen to the ones who profusely shout negative things. Nobody knows what you do better than you.”
Ahmad Al Kaashekh, One-man army
“Never buy likes or followers.”
It was a YouTube video called ‘Indian guy speaking Arabic in 10 different accents’ that got the Dubai-based digital content creator his shot to fame. “I think people found it amusing to watch a Malayali boy speak fluent Arabic,” says Ahmad Al Kaashekh. “Back then, getting 50,000 views was a big deal. I remember how I shot the video in one go as I did not have the tools or knowledge to edit videos that time. I kept shooting till I got a version that was clean. Imagine getting content, over 10 minutes long, right in one stretch!”
But years into this field, Ahmad stepped up his digital content game. “I initially used iMovie to edit my videos but now I use Final Cut Pro. I also invested in a camera (Canon EOS M50) and two studio lights—8-inch phone holder lights and an 18-inch wing light—which have different tones like white, warm and blue.
But Ahmad says that it is not important to have fancy equipment for one to get into digital content creation. “I started off shooting and editing on my phone. I couldn’t afford a laptop then. I used free apps, which are not completely free—some have in-app purchases while some others have a huge watermark. There were times when I even used my friend’s work laptop to make the edits,” says Ahmad. “I did not start off thinking I would make it big or build a career out of it. I had access to internet and a camera, so I thought why not?” It is not his full-time job though. He produces his videos while keeping a day job as a science communicator. “My day job also involves interacting with the public. It is mechanical at some point but there is a lot of talking in both my jobs so I don’t really find it difficult to transition between the two roles,” he says. While finding a niche area is crucial for every content creator, Ahmad believes that it can be done only through trial and error. “It is important to keep trying and see what works. In my case, there was a lot of hate in the beginning. I was mocked for the way I look and speak. But I never thought of stopping. One should learn to value people who encourage and support your work. I recently got a message from a follower saying how that person used to hate my videos before but enjoys my work now. Time changes a lot of things,” says the 28-year-old YouTuber.
However, he emphasises on how being a social media influencer is more of a responsibility than a job. “Anyone can make anything and become famous now. And most aspiring content creators are on a lookout for shortcuts. The trend wagon in social media is a real thing. Even if people don’t like it, they try to get on it,” Ahmad says.
Commenting on the roasting culture in social media, he says, one does not have to body shame or racially abuse another in order to get some attention. “When I do reaction videos, I focus on what the person says. It is ideologies that need repair not a person’s appearance or talking style. Most content creators forget that YouTube has a dislike button,” he says.
His advice to aspiring social media influencers is to figure out what they want to do quickly. He also strongly warns against the practice of buying likes and followers. “Don’t depend on other people to share your content or indulge in buying likes or followers,” he says.
The process of creating content is quite straightforward in his case. It starts with scripting the idea. “I think about the scenario of the video. If it is a lot of content, I write it down otherwise I just let the idea play in my head. I never start shooting a video in the evening as the light entering my apartment changes during sunset. I wait for it to get dark so that I can adjust the lighting,” he says. Post shooting, he gets on with the editing work which he does by himself. Sounds like a one-man army! “I shoot one day and edit on the next day. I trim the video first and then add sound effects and background music,” he says. Ahmad calls editing a tiresome process as he does not like sitting in place and working for a long time. “More than editing, I think adding subtitles is the most annoying bit for me but it is important as I have viewers from different parts of the world,” he says. Post a copyright check, he packages the video. He then schedules the upload by announcing it on his social media handles and finally posts it on his Instagram account as well as YouTube channel.
While some of Ahmad’s videos are sponsored, most of it gets money based on the viewership. “Earnings are not fixed. Some months are good while some others are not.” Moving forward, Ahmad hopes to expand content-wide as well as in terms of technology. “I want to get into doing travel vlogs. But I want to do it differently by going to off-tourist spots, deep into the cities. Explore unexplored regions and introduce interesting people to the world,” he says.
“Take action instead of waiting for motivation.”
Clad in an elegant saree, ‘Mrinalini’ has her head held high and legs crossed. As the 1964 K. J. Yeshudas song (Mrinalini Mizhiyithalil) from the Malayalam movie Aval plays in the background, she breaks into a wide smile. For Instagram influencer Prapti Elizabeth, Mrinalini is like her ventriloquial figure that voices out opinions on current issues with a dash of humour. “With Mrinalini, I have tried to subvert the entire idea of gossip,” Prapti says. “It was initially supposed to be ‘Rendezvous with Renatta’. The idea of Mrinalini happened after I had a fight with my friend whose name happens to be Mrinalini. When I first mentioned this name to my father, he started singing the evergreen Malayalam song which is the intro music. So, this was also a perpetual apology to my friend.”
Prapti broke into the internet world with a series of videos on stereotypical Malayali mother problems. But, little did she think that her videos would blow up. With no history of acting or even being part of school plays, the witty Delhi-based Malayali girl created a wave on social media.
She was not always an Instagram influencer though. She started her career as a senior writer at various web publication firms like Bluepage, Wadi and ScoopWhoop. It was during her stint at India Today that she took on multiple roles—script writer and actor. “It was more like the need of the hour. The segment I was working for as a writer was shutting down and I had to move to another team. I wrote a script which was liked by the video team and they took me in. That is how that part of it happened and I joined as a scriptwriter. It was a very new team and they were yet to hire actors. That is how the whole thing with video making began but it was interesting so I stuck with it,” she says.
Commenting on the mushrooming of digital content creators, Prapti feels it is important for people to keep content as well as comments very civil. “I am okay with mockery, sarcasm and satire. What bothers me is abusive commenting,” she says. “Even when it comes to roasting, it is fine as long as one keeps it civil. In my videos, I react to things that I feel is not okay. As a matter of fact, I react to the content not the creator. I am against picking on people. You can’t diss someone and call it creative criticism neither should you propagate hatred among your followers towards that particular person.” says the 29-year-old.
According to her, there is a tendency among budding content creators to copy a pattern. “I have seen that whenever there is a set pattern that just seems to work all the time, people tend to follow it; almost blindly. The best example is how parents force their children to take up science in high school or go for engineering. Most people go by this notion that after doing a particular course in a particular way and then joining a particular firm, a person’s life is sorted. Similarly, when one sees a lot of validating comments for a particular kind of video, there is a tendency to replicate it,” she says. “Nobody knows what kind of videos do well. Whenever I think one of my videos would do well, it never does almost all the time.”
The Instagrammer strongly emphasises the importance of relatability and originality while producing content. She also says it is key for creators to develop a unique style and give their own twist to things. “My advice to aspiring content creators is to just go for it. Take action instead of waiting for motivation. But always remember that consistency is key. It took me more than a year to build my profile on Instagram,” she says.
During the lockdown, Prapti has been shooting videos on her own. “I use my phone, tripod and a wing light for shooting. When I shoot in the office, things are different. Everything from camera setting to makeup is taken care of but at home I do it on my own,” she says. The only complain she has is about the humid weather in Delhi. “While shooting I don’t turn on the fan or AC and I sweat a lot. If the shoot goes longer, I take breaks in between wipe my face and sit under fan before I get back to shooting,” says Prapti. The editing bit is always outsourced but she works on the subtitles as she tends to switch from English to regional languages like Hindi and Malayalam.
Master of pranks
“Anything and everything can be good content.”
As a teenager, Sharan Nair enjoyed taking videos of every little thing that happens around him. But it was only later that he started posting these videos on social media. “I used to record anything and everything. I did not do it thinking that somebody would watch it and like it. I did it because I like shooting. Whenever I am with an interesting group of people or when I find a scenario amusing, there is an automatic instinct to take my phone out and record,” he says. It was in 2017 that he started uploading online content more. “Growing up, my parents kept on telling me to work hard but they never told me what to work hard on. I am glad I found something I love doing and I work really hard on it,” says the 26-year-old.
According to him, initially most digital content creators start off their work based on some others on the social media circuit. “I don’t see that as an issue. Everybody does it, even the ones who say that they don’t. It is the process of getting started. But once you get into the groove, it is crucial to develop radically distinctive content,” he says.
It was a video with his grandmother on Game of Thrones dialogues that got the 26-year-old attention on social media. “The series was the talk of the town then and I wanted to get my grandmother’s version of the dialogues. It was hilarious. As a matter of fact, it blew up on Instagram,” Sharan says. Netflix liked the duo so much that it began a series called ‘Indian Grandma Reacts To’ followed by the movie name. “The videos that I make with my grandma are not scripted. I try to keep it raw,” he says.
Sharan believes consistency is key in the digital content game. “You are not answerable to anyone if you don’t make content regularly but it is important to put yourself out there and grow in the process. Recently, I promised myself that I would make a video every alternate day. Surely, there is pressure but nothing makes me happier than producing videos,” says the Kochi-based Instagram influencer.
All the videos by Sharan have a distinct comical element that differentiates him from the rest of the creators in the circuit. He mostly uploads his videos on Instagram as he finds the platform to have a better algorithm. His recent series of videos called ‘This is not a vlog’ which is on his everyday life not only got him laughs but also a huge following. “I find content almost everywhere. I was out with my friends the other day and I saw those black and white cows on the road. I wasted no time and quickly ran home to get my cow costume. The owner of the cows was confused when he saw me dressed up but by now most people in my city know that there is a crazy person walking around on the streets,” he says.
Sharan says his family and friends are always vigilant when he is around. “They keep checking if I am holding a camera and shooting them. So, sometimes, I keep the camera hidden to record them,” he says. “For me the moment is important not the equipment I use. My frames are not the best. I don’t use a fancy camera or lighting either. But I believe in making my content funny.”
Sharan has a team of friends who help him out with content, shooting and editing. “It is never a one-person thing. You need people around you who give ideas and also constructive criticism. Whenever I finish a video, I run it through my team to get their opinion. It is important that you like your video but also understand the perspective of the ones around you,” he says.
Sharan stresses on how important it is for content creators to find a balance between what they like and what their viewers like. “It is important for you to be flexible to move away from the DNA of what you like. However, it shouldn’t be always about what your followers like,” he says.
Prank videos are his favourite. “I started off with my own pranks but now people send me ideas.” Most digital content creators start off with the sole objective of earning money. But Sharan says that money comes in only later. “There will not be any money in your initial days. One needs a certain number of followers and subscribers to start earning. In the case of brand endorsements, it is agencies that contact you. They may have a list of social media content creators from which they choose. There are times when all of us get the same endorsement,” he says.
His videos may be around 1-2 minutes long but it is a result of hours of editing and shooting. “Mostly, I try to keep it simple but there are some videos which take hours to edit. Imagine editing four to five hours long footage to make a 2-minute video!” he says. His biggest advice to aspiring content producers is to be consistent. “Just use your phone, don’t think about other creators or be affected by people’s comments, work really hard and, most of all, have fun.”