lifestyle . Interview

Veteran Influencers On Getting Internet Fame, Staying Relatable & ‘Peaking’

Meet the pioneers

No successful career is built in one day. In this month’s series, we share the journey of content creators in different stages of their career, the unique challenges they face and how they overcome them, as well as their hopes for the future.

The word “veteran” comes with a lot of expectations. When you’re labelled as one, people expect you to be knowledgeable, mature and experienced. In other words, it comes with some form of pressure to be a role model.

21-year-old Filipino vlogger Janina Vela admits that she still finds it strange when people label her a “veteran”, but quickly adds that she understands why they do so. “I’m not that old, but I get why I’m called a veteran. It’s because I’m considered as one the ‘OG’ YouTubers in the Philippines. I think that comes with some level of respect and gratitude from others who followed suit because they say I’m one of the people who paved the way for them,” she said.

And it’s not just Janina, the veterans and trailblazers in the content creation industry do tend to be on the younger side. Singaporean fashion and lifestyle influencer Melissa Celestine Koh was just 24 years old when she became a full-time content creator. “I had been working in a bank before that and creating content on the side. I made the switch because I realised that creating content and fashion brought me greater joy,” she said.

For most of the pioneers, internet fame — and subsequently, a career in content creation — was something they stumbled upon accidentally. “I totally did not in my wildest dreams think that my internet rants would take me this far. Being an influencer or content creator wasn’t even a thing back then, so this was completely unexpected,” Malaysian pioneer blogger Cheesie shared.

But even with an established following, their careers are not free from challenges. When you’ve achieved success at a young age, what’s next? Read on as they muse about what it’s like to witness the industry change, share the pressure of having a big influence, and their thoughts on “peaking”.

What’s their secret to achieving internet influence?

There are many intricate step-by-step guides on the internet about how to achieve a big following and internet fame, but if you’re going to ask Cheesie, a big factor in why she’s where she is today is simply because of timing and perseverance. “Across all these years I was asked countless times what my secret is for building such a large audience. In all honesty, I thought of it as nothing else but pure dumb luck and stubbornness,” she shared. “If my starting point was not exactly where it was, I would have been nothing. It was all Goldilocks for me. The timing was right, so the first generation of bloggers thrived. However, at some point, many of us went on to pursue something else in life. I was one of the very few who was too stubborn and clueless to look anywhere else.”

On the other hand, Janina considers her authenticity as what won her many fans. “I was just being me, being a regular teenager. There were so many other YouTubers who were better than me. But I guess, my viewers saw something in me that they could relate to,” she said. “All I was thinking about was sharing what I know and what I was going through my videos. Everything that happened after that was a surprise. I didn’t expect doors to open for me.”

And of course, you can’t discount hard work. “I try to give my hundred and ten per cent for everything that I do, be it organic content or client projects and I think people appreciate that. I always try to push my creative boundaries and I always tell my team to never settle for less,” said Melissa. Many tend to think of content creators as people who have it easy. Just strike a pose, take a snap, upload and watch the money come. The truth can’t be farther away. Photo shoots have to be planned and you have to pitch to clients constantly. “There were many failed shoots, days when nothing goes right, sometimes I would accidentally format memory cards before backing up images, you have to do all-nighters at times, endure harsh shoot conditions and so on,” she added.

A veteran’s tricky place in a fast-paced industry

One would expect that, because of their stable following, veterans would need not worry about their place in the content creation industry but as since it’s a fast-paced industry, they have to constantly adapt. Some have to transition from purely doing long-form blogs to producing dynamic content for TikTok. “You have to strike a balance between boarding the hype train and sticking to what you do best. For example, I am very adamant about telling stories through my words especially when it comes to promoting destinations. However, it may not work so well with fast-paced, visual-centric, bite-sized social media channels such as Instagram and TikTok, more so if paired with audience’s short attention span,” Cheesie said. “This old dog is still figuring out new tricks.”

There is also the constant pressure to out-do yourself each time, which is a daunting task when you’ve been putting out content for years. “There is pressure to keep producing content, pressure to make viewers happy, pressure to keep up with views and subscriber count,” shared Janina. “When the pressure becomes too much, I would take a break and remind myself that I’m more than my YouTube channel.” Adding to that is the increasing competition. “Now, with so many other YouTubers who have ‘passed me’, sometimes there’s this feeling that I could have done better,” she added.

Table With Mac, Ring Light

(Photo from: Catherina Schürmann via Unsplash)

Another challenge for veterans is to keep being relatable and staying grounded. “When you run your social media account as a business, it’s inevitable that branded and paid content will increase. Hence, this challenge is something all full-time content creators will face inevitably. What I try to do is to produce an equal amount or more organic content, like sharing about my personal life, thoughts and inspirations, than branded content. I also try to creatively execute all my branded campaigns so it brings value and authenticity to my audience. I also reject brands that do not resonate with me — even if they pay well — so that I stay true to what I believe in,” Melissa said. Other than potentially losing relatability due to success, the natural evolution of their interests can also affect their audience. “When my interests change, and they have changed countless times, I understand that I will lose some audience. But that doesn’t mean I won’t gain a new audience who appreciate my new sharings. Just keep doing you. And keep doing a better you,” Cheesie said.

Woman with camera

(Photo from: Artem Beliaikin via Unsplash)

Then there’s also coming to terms with internet fame’s finiteness. Plus, the constant worry about “peaking” — reaching the pinnacle of success and going downhill from there. “This thing won’t last forever. I just have to enjoy it while I have it,” Janina said. “I think we content creators know that this is only for a season — just like show business. You will eventually reach your peak and somehow you would need to move on to something else.”

Cheesie shares the same sentiment. “Internet fame is extremely volatile, it could vanish in a blink especially when you are big on platforms that aren’t actually yours. Although many acknowledge that I am somewhat of an online personality, and I truly appreciate that, deep down I know that I am but a mere normal person just like everyone else. Until today I can’t help but sometimes struggle with imposter syndrome — that my ‘fame’ is entirely made up and that I have no real talents (except I probably love Japan a little more than most people),” she said.

The lessons learned and what to expect next

Being on the internet for years will give you a unique perspective and veterans like Janina Vela, Cheesie and Melissa Celestine Koh have a goldmine of advice for anyone who wants to follow their path. “One thing is for sure — you can lie to the whole world but you cannot lie to yourself. I believe that the only reason why I am still blogging and creating content today is that my work is not entirely motivated by monetary rewards, but that I genuinely want to share what I truly love with the world and Japan. Having more people share my love for Japan is the biggest reward for me. It is my ikigai. I know for sure that even if I cannot monetise my content anymore, I will still do it for as long as I can. I think that’s true love. You can’t beat true love,” Cheesie said.

Burnout will be unavoidable so Melissa says the best thing to do is to “eat well, sleep well, and don’t take things too personally.” “I turn to things I enjoy, like soccer and reading, to keep my mind occupied and recharged,” she said.

Finally, Janina advises to surround yourself with people who care for you. “It’s important to know who your real friends are. I don’t want to draw validation and base my self-esteem on the attention I get from people who don’t really know me. I value more what family and close friends says about me,” she said.

As trailblazers who proved that content creation can be a viable career, veterans will always have a place in the history of this young industry — even when they decide to exit it. Their journey gives us a peek at what’s ahead and clues us on how to move forward as content creators in a fast-paced and unpredictable world. If you want to know what’s next, all you have to do is look at the veterans’ next move.

(Cover photo from: Catherina Schürmann via Unsplash)

Next, hear from up-and-coming creators.