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Influencers: The dawn of a new career

Top: Rita Kaggwa, Bernard Ewalu Olupot, Ashburg Katto
Bottom: Edward nimusiima, Rosebel Kagumire

Earning online: Nothing divides opinions like the topic of influencers. For many, influencers have been described as the new billboards. But what goes on in the lives of these influencers? What makes one an influencer? And who are some of them in this country? Ian Ortega spoke to some of the people defining an industry that was never here more than a decade ago.

Bernard Ewalu Olupot @beewol

You might never hear me refer to myself as an influencer but I have been referred to as one. There are terms that are used to refer to certain crafts and they are used in a manner that becomes derogatory over time but the original intention might not have been as bad. For instance, not many personal assistants are excited when you call them secretaries.
An influencer is someone who is able to steer audience conversation, opinion and eventually decision making towards a certain direction by virtue of their authenticity and/or reach.
As long as you are respected in a certain area, there is a great chance people will listen to you and, therefore, be influenced by your opinion.
The second and less important factor is audience. No matter how small your audience as long as they listen to what you have to say, you can be sure you will be able to listen to your submission about anything.
The final and least important factor is the numbers. You cannot run away from the bitter fact that today’s influencer marketing is backed by numbers. Therefore, if you have the numbers, there is a high chance you are on your way to being an influencer too. However, the numbers are normally the last part of the equation because first you build the authenticity, then you grow an audience and finally the numbers come in.
There are several challenges in this field but two of the most biting are:
Influencers do not really know their worth and as such are lazy people. Not many of our influencers grow or build themselves by reading, networking and polishing up their craft.

Bernard Ewalu Olupot

The second and perhaps more disappointing is that the industry is not entirely taken serious. Brands assume that influencers are negligible parts of the marketing equation and do not deserve much respect. At the end of the day, tiny sad and lonely budgets are allocated to the craft and in turn the influencers do their work haphazardly.
The journey has been awesome and very eye opening. It has been rewarding and extremely exciting mostly because this is a fairly new area not just in Uganda, but globally. The journey has been seamless for me mostly because as a storyteller I never really set out to ‘influence’ people, but along the way if one or two people get ‘influenced’, then that is a bonus.
I am fully aware that every time I talk about specific brands, topics or subjects, there are people who unfollow me, but I smile, knowing that they will be replaced.
It has taken quite some time, patience, endless networking and focusing to get where I am. It has also taken several disappointments, a good number of online beatings, one or two arguments with my family and a whole load of ridicule by some people.
While each client is handled separately, there is the general understanding that every influencer has got their own rate card.
Apart from influencing, I have other ventures such as emceeing, doing voice overs and writing for certain publications.
I look up to Andrew Bachelor aka King Bach, Dude Perfect, Josh Ostrovsky a.ka the fat Jewish and Zlatan Ibrahimovic whose recent VISA campaign had me all smiles.

Fred Mwebya @ugaman01

Fred Mwebya

An influencer is someone who has mastered the art of driving ideas and opinions about a given subject in a given industry. As an influencer, our opinions are supposed to cause reactions from our followers both online and offline.
To be an influencer, you must master the craft of authentically and authoritatively speaking or writing on a given area of life. Every sector can have influencers ranging from academicians, entertainers, sports people, actors etc. You must do whatever you do so well that people look up to you for opinions and ideas.
Although how much you bag depends on your level of negotiating deals and valuing your time and skills, there is good money; an influencer can earn between Shs500,000 to Shs10m a month, depending on your number of clients.
I was a part time influencer from 2009 to March 2018 but I now do it full time because it involves trainings, drawing social media strategies for brands and individuals. I have also ventured into online sports marketing. I, however, encourage everyone out there with a passion to venture into online marketing and influencing to always have it as a part time activity until a time when you mature in your undertakings. In Uganda, I look upto Benard Olupot Ewalu (Beewol), Sarah Kagingo, Anne Whitehead and Simon Kaheru.

Ashburg Katto

Ashburg Katto

A social media influencer is one who has established credibility in a specific industry, has access to a large audience and can persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach.
It takes a lot to be an influencer; creativity, research, information, resources, gadgets, time, and of course, determination.
Government laws and taxes are now the biggest challenges, followed by the usual; money, poor Internet, haters, fame etc… I know you must be surprised to learn that ‘fame’ can be a challenge. The “I cannot stand at a chapatti stall anymore because I might end up in the news yet kikomando is my favourite meal” syndrome.
I was doing this as a part time job and I used to take it as a hobby until the time online marketing and influencing became the ish. Now I do this as a full time job.
Everyone who can post on social media thinks they are an influencer yet in real sense they cannot influence anyone. People who have 1,000 followers on Facebook think they are qualified influencers, which is why the word ‘influencer’ got a bad name these days.

Solomon Brian Kiweewa aka KS Brian

Solomon Brian Kiweewa

An influencer can be an individual who uses his/her circle of online followers as a target market for particular brands through their crafty use of the art that got them the following in the first place.
Personally, I use humour, satire and creative story writing.
What does it take to be an influencer? First, you need to have a minimum number of online followers. Most handlers want around 8,000 plus, you have to have good engagement on your wall through likes, comments or retweets and you should be good at something.
Also very important is that you have to be in the right place at the right time, that is how someone will recommend you to push a product. One handler told me I was chosen because I had averaged creative, funny and original content at least twice a day for about three-four years.
The challenges in this business is that sometimes the pay is delayed, so it is hard making plans with influencer money. Also some influencers do not get a decent education about the products/services they are marketing that is why you will find instances where someone is pushing something because there is money and not because they find it worthy.
In Uganda, we have lots of hashtag pushers, those who will tweet non-stop until the end of their contract. Yet what we should have are persuasive influencers, who plan stories, plot lines and organise characters just to bring out a product.
This job can earn you between Shs700,000 and Shs2m in a good month or it can drop to as low as Shs300,000.

Edward Nimusiima

Edward Nimusiima

I hate the word influencer, because it has been diluted. To me, an influencer is a person who has the power to change people’s mindsets, or decisions about something, because of his authority and knowledge about it. But to bring it closer to home, it is an individual who has a big following both on and offline in a particular niche.
In Uganda, all it takes to be an influencer is to have good numbers on your social media platforms, something I do not really agree with, but has been used as a benchmark.
There are clients who do not know how influencer marketing works. They ask for impossible results. For example, there are some clients who want an influencer’s work to turn into tangible monetary results yet the strategy of the product requires creating awareness. In the process, clients become bitter and refuse to pay. There is also a challenge of clients not willing to part with considerably reasonable budgets for influencer marketing. Also, some influencers are not professional, which makes it hard for some clients to fully trust influencers.
Average revenues? I think it depends on the magnitude of the project and the duration. Some gigs range from Shs500,000 to Shs50,000, while other gigs are payable by just a plate of food and transport refund.
I have a traditional 8am-5pm job, so I do this as part time and all it takes is finding a balance.
Sadly, the influencer industry has been infiltrated with people who are robbing the system; buying a couple of followers and hoodwinking clients. Some influencers are totally clueless about what they are pushing, so it is hard for people to respect the industry.
In Uganda, I admire Amos Wekesa, Bernard Olupot, Allan Ssenyonga, Martha Kagimba and Keith Muhumuza. Abroad, Ben Brown, Casey Neistat, Louis Cole, Sharon Mundia (Kenyan) and more.

Rosebell Kagumire

Rosebell Kagumire

I do not define myself as an influencer for I have never carried out research to back up that label, especially a label that has been so misconstrued to mean anyone with a big following online. The label has ground for marketing of ideas in the digital spaces and true, many earn a living as influencers but I see myself and my work as much more than influencing.
To influence is to cause someone to evaluate their point of views about given subjects to align with yours. I use my platforms to seek and impart knowledge, connect with like minds and know the opposition of any ideas.
If one or two people are influenced along the way, good but it is not the only goal of my writing and advocacy. I think as humans communicating and occupying certain positions, we have to be humble and mindful of the fact that despite living in the era of hashtags, lasting and meaningful social change takes time. For me, to be an influencer is not about the numbers because people buy followers but not change. The question is, what kind of expertise, insight, life lessons are you bringing to audiences? How are you connecting people to realise their lives are interconnected and work together towards making societies better?
Influencing as a phenomenon is unfortunately taken on with a capitalistic lens, which is where we find people living fake lives. But on the other hand, there are influencers who are doing good.
I am a journalist but I have also along the way studied gender, peace and conflict studies, so for me social media was a way to express that which I could not express in traditional media formats where I worked and still partly do. I started a blog long before blogs were a thing. I learned a lot from women bloggers in other countries such as Egypt who I met way before the Arab spring.
Doing influencing fulltime? It depends. I hold long term jobs from time to time but even then I take on those jobs that allow me to be me. To have a voice and continue being vocal about issues I care about and those I am educated in. There is never a mismatch.

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