We’ve all done it at least once. Asked a random stranger to take a picture of you in a cute outfit, anxiously waiting for your food to arrive at a restaurant to snap a steaming hot pic, and refreshing your feed every 2.5 seconds after an Instagram post. But with ever-changing algorithms and the influencer scene becoming ever-more saturated, it can be difficult to get your posts noticed anymore. Enter social media expert and entrepreneur Unsah Malik. Having amassed thousands of fans for her straight-talking and no-nonsense approach to social media, the expert dropped her own e-book Slashed It earlier this year and became a major player in the influencer scene.
Leaving her 9-5 working life after losing out on her dream job, the star put all her energy into her best-selling e-book and quickly went from debt to living the dream. With social media taking the word by storm in the past decade with the likes of sex expert Oloni and YouTuber-turned-businesswoman Patrica Bright taking over the social sphere, we caught up with Malik talking the new e-book, the future of social media and her best advice for young budding journalists.
Check out the interview below…
Hi Unsah — how have you been during this uncertain time? How has it impacted your work and creativity?
I’ve been an amalgamation of a gazillion moods. Some days are great. Some days are a bit, well, crappy. The lack of structure to my usually hectic life definitely took a toll on me during lockdown part one. I’m so used to being on the go and sitting in one place for three hours tops, that needing to do a 360 made me feel sluggish and guiltily unproductive. My creativity took a hard hit, but also eventually forced me to start looking at things differently. I can’t be outside and mingle with people or visit places to feel inspired, so I had to find ways to do that at home. It’s sort of a blessing in disguise because I’m looking inside the boxes I never had. Saying that, my work actually increased tenfold on the work front. I always used to say working in social media feels like working both day and night shifts in one go because it’s one part of the ‘office’ which doesn’t sleep. If we include my intern years, I’ve been working in this field for almost 11 years and I can’t remember a single moment things felt ‘calm’ because you’re always onto the next thing. It probably didn’t (or did) help that my role was joint with journalism for a long time throughout my career. Digi heads at publications are equally on the go! So, combine all of that with the whole world using social media now more than ever while ‘locked up’ at home, my e-book which is about social media and influencer marketing, an increase in the self-employed and freelance pool, a wider group small businesses now trying to translate their retail efforts to digital and specifically social media…. And I’ve suddenly become a different sort of busy. I can’t complain though. I’m very appreciative and grateful to be in this position.
Will you tell us a bit about how you started in the realm of social media? What drew you to it?
I work experienced, interned and graduated in Journalism, with a bigger interest on the digital counterparts to print publications. I was intrigued by the idea of ‘modern’ journalism where stories could be told in real-time online, and equally very quickly picked up from various online mediums such as social media. I loved seeing how the idea of the ‘blogger’ was such a sought-after title too, and how this varied from stories being shared by professional journalists. I’m also a bit of a geek with numbers — like, do you know how satisfying it is to break a story on social media and then watch the numbers creep up Google Analytics? Maybe you don’t and I’m sad like that, but anyway, that’s what I was drawn to. The power Facebook used to have over traffic in those days is nowhere near what the best of Instagram can do today, I would say I worked in social media since its real peak, pretty much from day one of my career. At first, I was just the digital girl who would ‘do the Twitter thing’ or ‘just post on Facebook’ after other tasks were done because I would always offer to do it and no one else was really hungry for that responsibility. I self-taught myself a whole lot in those beginning years. I made sure I knew everything there was to know, even if no one else really cared about it like that. As the demand in the industry grew for people specialised in this area, I naturally became the person for the role because I was there from the beginning and had learnt a thing or two on how to competitively grow. I then honed in on this skill and made it my only niche. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the only area I’ve worked in for a soon-come decade! Generally speaking, publications really capitalised on the audiences they could bring via social platforms way before brands did so I had the opportunity to hit some big goals in an area many others weren’t loving just yet. Although, funnily enough, because the budgets are heftier, I think brands majorly outperform publications now, hence why I moved to the brand-side eventually to learn even more.
How did the idea for your book Slashed It come about?
When I moved to the brand-side I became acquainted with thousands of beauty influencers because, at this point, my title was also Influencer Manager. I would regularly be asked how to grow on social media, whether a myth is true, how brands really create guests lists or send out PR packages, how to pitch etc., so I decided to post an Instagram carousel on my (then public) personal Instagram account, titled ’10 ways to increase your engagement if you’re a brand or influencer’. It went viral enough for me to see there was a demand for information from someone who’s been in-house for long enough and understands the industry as an ‘insider’ as opposed to someone who has grown only their own brand or blogger account. And so, I set up a separate Instagram account to just provide free value while ‘slashing the BS’ shared about social media. Eventually, my posts alone weren’t enough because as I began to grow, so did the number of questions! This is when I spotted another demand and decided to make a hefty e-book to teach everyone everything I know and had ever done, plus a few of my self-developed rules that can work across every social platform for every niche or type of social media poster. The content I posted for free acted as a taster and proof of someone who knows a thing or two about this world. I wanted to write something people could make physical notes from, take actionable steps, bel motivated about their journey… and not feel ripped off by another generic, google-able guide that teaches basic things like ‘this is a hashtag’.
And it’s crux what is it about?
It’s 50 chapters and over 370 A4-sized pages worth on how to grow on social media, whether you’re a marketing professional yourself, an agency, a brand (small or big), or influencer. I keep it real and I make people unlearn a lot of unnecessary advice they think is necessary just because a few people have said so online. E.g. the real crack about hashtags. I have a very no-BS tone, if you look at my Instagram, that’s sort of just me, and tell people what they need to do in order to get to the point of monetising their feeds and amplifying brand awareness. The ebook is split into different sections, starting with honing in on your niche and creating your audiences, going into branding, then content and content strategy, then influencer marketing, and then anything else there is to know about organic growth.
What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve had on it?
That it’s the equivalent of a marketing degree. What’s even better, is that around 10 people have said it. Two readers have also said they’ve learnt things which they hadn’t learnt in their whole marketing degrees too! It’s also brilliant to see so many tell me it’s better than any other courses worth thousands of pounds. I’m consistently amazed at how many people DM me screenshots of their results or proof that what I teach is working too.
What’s been your biggest pinch-me moment so far?
I think different phases of my life have had different pinch-me moments. I don’t like discrediting the older ones because I’m now onto something bigger. I think it’s important we both remember and celebrate all of our wins.It was amazing to get the gig as freelance Social Media Community Manager for E! during my second year of university (I took a gap year to add even more years of experience to my name). Then, to land the job as Social Media Editor, Travel for The Guardian a week before graduation. Then, to be ELLE’s Social Media Manager by the age of 23. And then, some years later, my first day of ebook sales made more than six months worth of salary! It’s crazy how I went from being rejected from a job for a high-profile person’s brand NDAs and all because I “knew too much”, to earning six times the wage they were going to offer in a single day.
What’s been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?
I read a troll comment about me the other day saying I’m under-qualified and that I just have a ‘cult-like following’ and am just ‘one of those girls who people want to love’. Hilarious! I never used to fit in! I was always the odd one out, most especially in my journalism days. I don’t look like everyone else who traditionally works in this industry. I don’t have the same upbringing as them. I don’t understand what they don’t understand about my culture.I’m also not used to people speaking about me so openly, now that I’m on the other side and not hiding behind another social media account. I guess I was naive to think that I could grow and have glowing reviews without a small per cent of Negative Nancys wanting to stomp it out of the way. I probably face hundreds of smaller challenges more often, but these don’t bother me as much. Everyone has hurdles to face now and then.
What advice would you give to a young journalism graduate just starting out and hoping to emulate what you’ve done?
Stop focusing on the big names only. The only way to grow your journalism profile and improve your writing skills is by getting your bylines. Thankfully, because of the evolution of the Internet, there are hundreds of publications to send pitches to or gain experience from. I also thoroughly recommend diversifying your experience. Work for different types of magazines, digital outlets, newspaper and companies. See what other niches you can dip into. This is what will help you grow a 360-view of your industry. I purposely didn’t stay in travel, didn’t stay at a national newspaper, didn’t stay at a broadcaster, didn’t stay at a glossy magazine, didn’t stay at a brand and so on. I wanted to understand as much as possible before I even considered sharing my knowledge elsewhere. Never fret about running out of time. Play the long game, your experience will speak for itself. We’re literally in the midst of pandemic so please stop going hard on yourself. Never compare your journey to mine. You’ll create your own brilliant path in your own brilliant way if you stay true to your own goal above what anyone else requires from you.
Where do you see the future of social media going?
While everything will growing organically, all platforms will increase their commercial efforts even more so by upping available features and growing brand partnerships. They’re not just competing to be the best social-sharing app, they also want to be the app you spend the most time on — to shop, watch videos, entertain, learn the news, share life updates, communicate with your friends, network professionally and meet new people. We’re also going to continue seeing the surge of Audio-based apps and content in 2021, and I’m very fascinated to see how AR will become more common within content.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to in 2021?
I’m in the process of creating a journal-meets-planner which will be packed with no-fluff quotes for a motivational kick — and I’m also building a content team to work on my new digital publication, The Modern Go-Getter (The MGG); a business-like media waving a fuck you to toxic hustle culture, built for today and tomorrow’s entrepreneur.
For more information on Slashed It vist Slashedit.com