Founder, Unilag Gist, and Lagoslife, Tomiwa Talabi, speaks about his social media activities
How would you describe your journey into the social media space?
I have always been passionate about phones. Growing up, I was always glued to my phone even before I started having access to smartphones, and the Internet. After my junior WAEC, I was given a small phone which had an Internet connection, and I often used my pocket-money to buy data to download games. Sometime in 2009, I joined Facebook to connect with friends and family members, and I found it very interesting. I spent a lot of time on it looking at pictures and chatting with friends.
In 2011, I joined Twitter, but I didn’t understand how it worked so I stopped. After a year, I returned to it and began to understand how it worked. I started following people and they also followed me. I steadily grew from zero followers to 1000 followers. One day, my cousin reached out to me that a friend of his who was a blogger needed people who had up to a thousand followers on Twitter to work for him. The blogger signed me up for his blog and he used to pay me N1000 per month for data. It was a lot of money for me then because data wasn’t as expensive as it is now. That was how I started making money on Twitter, and I continued to grow until I got to where I am now.
How were you able to build your followership?
I created my blog when I got to the University of Lagos. The purpose of that blog was for me to understand how blogging was done—it was basically like a sample project for me. When I finally understood how it worked, I created Unilag Gist.
One day, I was in my faculty ‘tweeting’ on my page when someone saw me and asked if I was the owner of the account, I answered in the affirmative and he asked me if I had a website. I told him I couldn’t afford one because I was just a part of one student at that time. He told me that he would build one for me for free. He created the website in less than a week and that was how Unilag Gist came into being and became big in the space of a month.
At that time, no blog was giving information regarding admission and other things students might want to know. I knew it would be great to have a platform where information about school activities could be obtained, and which wouldn’t be too serious but relaxing, so people won’t have the same issues I had getting information about the school.
Are you satisfied with the number of followers you have now?
Where I am now is different from where I was last year. I wouldn’t say I am not satisfied but I still want more.
Did you create your social media accounts to become popular?
Honestly, I only created them to keep up with friends and family, and to keep me abreast of happenings around the world. I grew up in Ogun State and I wanted to be able to connect to people that were not close to me. However, I started noticing signs of popularity when some people began to recognize me as the owner of the blog. I started winning awards, and even though I didn’t want people to know who I was, I still had to attend events to receive my awards. At that point, people began to know me and the brand was growing as well. It was at that point I got a major deal with Coca Cola.
What do you enjoy most about being a social media influencer?
I get gifts from a lot of brands, and individuals. I also enjoy certain privileges I wouldn’t have got otherwise. There are times people walk up to me and say they know me. Sometimes, I feel embarrassed but then, it’s a big deal at that point. There was a time I was at the bank and a cashier told me she recognized me from twitter.
Everyone on social media these days seems to claim to be influencers. What does it take to be a social media influencer?
There are social media influencers and there are noisemakers. The fact that you have a hundred thousand followers doesn’t make you a social media influencer. I may have just 2000 followers and influence their decisions.
There was a time I had only ten thousand followers, yet the amount I charged was higher than what those with over a hundred thousand followers collected. That is because I understand my audience and I know what they want. I also do not misuse the platform; you would hardly see me jump on certain hashtags or trends. One doesn’t have to be everywhere to be an influencer. As an influencer, the most important thing is for people to identify you with certain things. You have to know what you want to influence and be able to create content around it.
How lucrative has social media been for you?
It has been very lucrative for me, knowing that I could sit in the comfort of my home, make posts, and get paid for it. What I make at the end of the month is equal to what some people who have 9-5 jobs earn. Sometimes, it’s not that easy too, because clients could stress you out when they feel they are not seeing results for what they are paying for.
Would you consider a white-collar job?
I would if the pay is worth it, but it also has to be flexible.
What influences the kind of jobs you take?
I decline jobs if I do not ‘feel’ them. If I can connect to the idea brought to me at the moment we are talking about it, I would work on the project. If the idea takes time for me to comprehend and we keep going back and forth, I would not accept. Also, if it’s something that doesn’t correspond with my lifestyle, or that I can’t create content around without stressing myself, I wouldn’t take it.
You were a student at the time you started your blog. How were you able to balance school work with that?
It affected my school work. There were times I had to attend important meetings where money was involved and I would also have lectures or tests. I just had to get my priorities right. I still found a way to find a balance between the two though it wasn’t easy.
What inspired Lagos Life?
When I came to Lagos, I fell in love with everything in the city. This love made me create Lagos Life. It was meant to show the world that in as much as Lagos is a place to make money; there are other beautiful things here. People picture Nigeria as a place filled with hardship, but I am trying to change that narrative and make them see the beauty in our country.
Do you think your contributions on social media have made any impact?
I have used my social media presence to support causes and raise awareness for issues such as rape, domestic violence, and other things. And the feedback I get has been awesome. People come to me to seek advice. Even when they are feeling down, I am usually able to encourage and guide them. These little gestures have gone a long way in impacting people and they are appreciated. Last year, I had a project which had to do with telling the stories of hustlers in Lagos. There was a story of a particular woman that got people’s attention and they were willing to offer assistance to her.
Do you think social media is a viable platform for youths to earn a living in Nigeria?
Yes, it is. There are some influencers who earn up to N1m per post on Instagram. The fact that one can work from the comfort of one’s home and make money is a plus. Once one knows what one is doing and one is on the right track, one will make it.
How do you deal with negative comments?
Negative comments are inevitable and I get a lot of them. No matter how hard you try, people would still make negative comments. These things are bound to happen and sometimes, I block such people. There are times I ignore such things, and sometimes, I am forced to respond and make things clear. In all, I always endeavour to give positive responses.
Have you ever been a victim of cyber bullying?
I have never experienced any form of bullying. No one threatens me because I try to mind my business and don’t involve myself in conversations that I don’t know anything about.
How do your fans react when they see you?
Some pretend like they don’t recognise me, but they would later send me messages telling me that they saw me at an event. Some act surprised, while some are overwhelmed and can’t hide their feelings, so they scream.
What are some of the naughty requests you get from your female fans?
There was a time a lady told me that she wanted me to get her pregnant and I just laughed over it.
What are your other interests?
I like to travel and meet new people though I am an introvert. I also like to discuss strategies.