‘Social Media Influencer’ was once a term many shied away from, with many opting to refer to themselves as content creators in attempts to distance themselves from the ‘influencer’ label and what it had come to mean.
However, in today’s world, the title ‘Social Media Influencer’ bears a level of cachet – the audience they have accrued, and the trust they have built with their following is invaluable to an attention-fuelled economy.
As is the nature of things, there are some who have a better grasp of ‘influencing’ than others and if we are to talk about the Sri Lankan influencer ecosystem, there are a few who have risen above the masses to become the cream of the crop.
Saasha Karunarathne is one such individual, though she wears many hats. Known as a television presenter, producer, radio personality, and many other things, Saasha has garnered considerable attention for her influence online – so much so that she was the recent recipient of the New Generation Award 2022 for ‘Positive Social Media Influencer of the Year’.
The Sunday Morning Brunch chatted with Saasha about her recent accolades and also took the chance to explore her journey as an online personality and how she has managed to remain positive and bright-eyed about her life online.
Being named ‘Positive Social Media Influencer of the Year’
Speaking about her recent accolade at the New Generation Awards 2022 and why she believes that she was recognised for her positive impact, Saasha shared that it was possibly due to the way in which she presents her content – where nothing is overtly preachy, but always carries an underlying message of positivity and hope.
“I think one of the reasons is the general messaging. I don’t really aim for direct positive messaging; it is never something I actively aim for. There is always that underlying message of a silver lining, to remind people that, even if they are going through a hard time, it is okay to take a break. A lot of the time my videos are video journals to myself almost, I am trying to tell myself it’s okay to be feeling this way right now and to just try to be a little better tomorrow,” she said.
For Saasha, as long as you keep working on yourself, you will continue to be a little better tomorrow; she no longer subscribes to this concept of hustle culture and firmly believes in the importance of taking pauses and giving yourself room to breathe.
The responsibility influencers have
With great power comes great responsibility – as clichéd as the saying has become, it still rings true. Saasha shared that this idea of positive messaging was truly an intentional decision she made as her career and public persona began to take off.
“I remember listening to a Taylor Swift interview sometime back and she said something along the lines of, even if 10 people listen to you, then you automatically have a responsibility towards them and you cannot say I never asked for this. You can’t decide that you will live life the way you want with no regard for those who listen to you and look up to you. You no longer have that option, if people find you influential,” she said.
“I am paraphrasing here, but when I heard her say that, it really struck a chord with me. Earlier in my career, I had a lot of people, especially young girls, who used to message me asking me for my opinion, my advice, etc. and there was a point earlier on where I used to think – wait, I don’t owe anyone anything. But when I heard Swift say that, I started to think a bit more about my influence and how, if I do something wrong, then I might potentially be leading these girls astray as well.”
She shared that as someone with any degree of influence, it really does not matter whether you like it or not – you do have a responsibility. The choice then becomes whether you wish to do something about it or not and in her case she made the conscious decision to make a positive impact.
Saasha also noted that despite this responsibility she had recognised, it had not limited her and her content in any way, noting that it had only had a positive impact inwardly as well. “It has kept me in check more than anything else,” she said, sharing how she now is able to practise what she preaches and simply treat herself better.
The hate you get online
When talking about social media influencing, hate comments and negativity are part and parcel of the process. Referring to her negative experiences online, Saasha shared how she was once affected by online hate and had since become somewhat immune to it over the years.
“It used to affect me. I used to read them and they did get under my skin. My initial defence mechanism was ‘they are all wrong, I do not care about what anybody thinks,’ but now, as I emotionally mature, I am able to empathise with those who express hate towards me and to forgive. I understand that much of the hate we receive has nothing to do with us and has more to do with the person projecting that hate. Once you understand that, you can empathise that maybe this person has been through something and that has to do with them, not me,” she said.
However, she noted that while she understood where many were coming from, “I value my mental health and peace”. As a result, she has taken some technical precautions like word filters and other tweaks to protect herself.
“I don’t always need to have to see that level of negativity. Just like we were never meant to have this much social interaction, we were certainly not meant to be exposed to this much negativity, so to have some peace I have taken these steps.”
She noted that what tends to sting the most is comments that discredit her work and her achievements, hate could sometimes represent itself as an opportunity – “a chance to change some minds” – and that in itself could be rewarding.
Some advice for those online
Saasha also spoke on the role of an influencer and what she feels are some common trappings of online fame. “Acting without responsibility. I feel that many influencers fall into this over time, where they tend to lose a little bit of integrity when they don’t stick by their principles. Even simple things like brand endorsements – if you lose your audience’s trust, what else do you have left? How are you an influencer anymore?”
Shen noted when it came to content released by influencers, what you see on top of their organic content was sponsored posts and something she had seen often as of recently – something she personally wishes that influencers would stop doing – is taking on brand endorsements just for the sake of doing it – just for the money.
“One week I see you endorsing one brand of shampoo and then the next week it’s another, then how do I trust you? Did you actually use it or is it just about the money? I do understand that it is a small country and it is a small industry, so it is difficult to earn. I get that all the brands are flocking into this saturated market, but I feel influencers need to think a bit more about this and not give in to it,” she said.
She added: “You can build long-lasting relationships with corporate brands, it is doable.”
On a closing note, Saasha shared that when it came to influence, online or otherwise, it was really up to you. However, if she could impart just a drop of wisdom, it would be that we must all be self-aware and play to our strengths and above all rely on our own selves.