HT Brunch Cover Story: Viral and unpredictable

Interview: How Ankur Warikoo amassed millions of followers over the years, how he keeps them engaged, and how you can too!
Ankur Warikoo poses with his new book; Styled by Tanya Aggarwal; Art direction: Amit Malik; Make-up and hair: Artistry by Anjali Jain; (Vidushi Gupta)
Ankur Warikoo poses with his new book; Styled by Tanya Aggarwal; Art direction: Amit Malik; Make-up and hair: Artistry by Anjali Jain; (Vidushi Gupta)
Updated on Dec 28, 2021 03:40 PM IST
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ByKarishma Kuenzang

Do you think being a “social media influencer” is a legit career today?

Being a content creator is an absolutely legit career. Whether that leads to you becoming an influencer, I don’t know. I don’t even know what the word ‘influencer’ means anymore because in some respects everyone influences each other. Now suddenly, if you influence a lot of people, you’re called an influencer. I’d rather call the vocation ‘content creator’, where you share your experiences, create content in your own genre, and if that appeals to people and they start following you and giving you the trust you deserve, you are an influencer.

If you were to come up with an alternative term for the word ‘influencer’, what would it be?

Changemaker. Because what you want to do with your content--hopefully--is change the way people consume their own life. Through your experiences, they may have an alternate perspective.

What is the future of ‘going viral’?

It has always been the same, which is, don’t plan to go viral. There is nothing you can do to predict virality. It happens by being disciplined. Then one of those content pieces will catch the attention of a lot of people. But if you work towards it, most likely you’re going to be disappointed as there is no predictable science to it.

How do you see the future for social media stars unfolding: how will poor quality be weeded out from the good?

There will be space for every type of content. That’s been the case throughout. There have been great books and not so great books and great and not so great channels. Likewise, there will be people who create terrific content and have a mass following and people who don’t necessarily create high quality content without such a following. But there will be space for all because we have 7+billion people connected online.

Name five social media influencers whose content you follow.

GaryVee who’s been a big inspiration. Naval Ravikant, who I love because he’s not really creating content to become an influencer, but the way he creates content is just massive. Mel Robbins, who has a very different and positive take towards life through her experiences. Jay Shetty because he’s doing something monk-like and zen-like. Ryan Holiday, the man behind The Daily Stoic. That is something I follow as a life philosophy.

The one trick that will come in handy when you switch to video from audio only or the written word?

The biggest element you have to bring in is visual storytelling. Visual storytelling comprises your body language, the way you deliver. The post production that will happen on the video adds to the emotions you generate.

What is the currency of attention and trust as seen in today’s generation?

This is the most valuable currency because money can’t buy it. You can’t give someone 100 and ask them to trust you. Trust is built over several years and it’s built through consistency. Once you have it, you can literally change the perception of many people in a meaningful, positive manner--at least in a trust-deficient country like ours. So don’t think short term and look only at money. Money will be a natural product of what you do. But think long term and strategic and look at this currency instead.

Does a creator need to shift from English to Hinglish, if not actually Hindi?

India is a vast country and there are about three million people aware of English as a language. But the majority are more comfortable in their native language. So if you want to create massive brand appeal in India, then it is inevitable to consider local languages, which could start from Hinglish.

Do numbers equal money?

No, and that’s the best part about content creation. If one hundred people are the best audience in your category and they follow you, that is far better than having thousands and millions of people who don’t resonate with you. That’s why celebrities, when creating content outside of what they usually do, rarely get reactions (though there is nothing wrong with what they do). Because people are all, ‘I look at you as a performer, not as someone who knows anything about, say, personal finances, beauty or fashion etc.’

If celebrities knew everything, there wouldn’t be a need for any other content creator to emerge. But the fact that there are so many content creators with massive currencies of attention and trust means that numbers are unimportant. What matters ultimately is the quality of your following.

How aware are millennials and gen-z of personal finance? What’s the one thing we could learn from them?

In Indian families, we are never encouraged to discuss money, are never trained in it. It’s clear that you’ll have a career and make money, but it’s not really clear what you do with it, how you spend it and how you invest it. Lately, an entire generation that has been raised unaware of what they should be doing with their money has become extremely conscious that they do want a great life and so want to be smart about their investments and money. This is what has given rise to this entire wave of content on personal finance.

What do you do for your mental health?

Meditate every day. That’s been part of my life for 5+ years now. It’s the first thing I do when I start my day. It helps me get centred and face the day to come.

The most challenging thing when you’re a content creator in your 40s?

Answering the question, ‘What the hell are you doing creating content in your 40s?!’ Why do you think someone needs a grey-haired individual telling them how they should be living life? I have stopped answering this question; I just let the quality of my work take over. But that has been the hardest thing to answer.

One faux pas you made that you can now laugh about?

Once, an unedited part of a video made it to the post. And lo and behold, people loved it. They were like, ‘Hey! This is very authentic. You didn’t feel the need to edit this part when most people would just clean it away.’ So now when I’m shooting and I make a pronunciation mistake or something, I just let it be. Because I want to be seen as someone who is authentic, someone who doesn’t pretend to be perfect.

A rule you follow while posting content?

It’s not rocket science but it’s hard to execute: consistency. Nothing will make you better at what you do than being consistent. And consistency will only come from authenticity. If you’re just doing what’s naturally you, it won’t seem like effort. It won’t seem like work. It’ll seem like play and that will make it consistent.

Tell us about your social media debut.

I’ve had multiple social media debuts. My blog, which was my first social media debut, was in 2005 and I’ve been blogging now for 16+ years. My first video came out in 2016 on LinkedIn, not YouTube. My YouTube debut happened in August 2017 and Instagram in 2018. A large part of what you see seems like overnight success. But it’s actually been in the works for several years. This year we completed 50 million plus views on YouTube and 49 million of that happened in the last one year, though we’ve been running that YouTube channel for four and a half years. That is the power of consistency. Eventually the curve will take over and the next thing you know, that’s history.

Follow @kkuenzang on Twitter and Instagram

From HT Brunch, January 2, 2022

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Wednesday, January 26, 2022