What it's like being an 'influencer' in Singapore

Audrey Kang

While sharing about your life on social media in exchange for fame and freebies might sound too good to be true, that is exactly what life is like for some “influencers” in Singapore.

One of Singapore's top social media influencer is Naomi Neo
Naomi Neo is one of Singapore’s top social media influencer. (Photo: Naomi Neo)

Over the past several years, Singapore has seen a surge of young social media personalities who call themselves “influencers”. They are known to have thousands of followers across their social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, where they normally post photos of themselves posing with products, or at various social events.

Some of these posts are sponsored by clients, meaning that they could be paid for their posts. For example, a company behind a beauty cream could be paying an influencer to post a photo of them trying out their products on Instagram. You could say that they’re endorsing the product, but only on a per-post basis.

For each post, an influencer could be paid by the hundreds. While it’s common to see how influential public figures such as politicians or celebrities can be, it is unclear how some of these social media personalities in Singapore end up being labelled as “influencers”.

Nevertheless, the social media influencer industry in Singapore has been growing rapidly over the years. Gushcloud, a local influencer marketing and media company, is currently managing 12,000 influencers, which is 60 times more than just two years ago. Other similar agencies in Singapore include Nuffnang and Faves Asia.

“Most of these influencers actually started out young. However, we have noticed that there [has been] a rise in the types of influencers emerging. There will be an increasing trend of influencers within the more serious categories, for example, business [and] sports. We have had brands asking us for a more serious brand of influencers who can write opinion pieces and [still] have a sizeable following,” said the Gushcloud spokesperson, in an email reply to Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore.

The spokesperson also explained that Gushcloud positions itself as a company that helps “brands achieve their campaign objectives and KPIs through influencers and content creators”.

Downside to being a social media influencer in Singapore

Unfortunately, there are several downsides to being an “influencer”. Among the ones Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore recently spoke to, some are more afraid to meet people in real life.

In a recent interview, 21-year-old Naomi Neo, who has amassed over 1 million followers across four different social media platforms, said, “When I was 17 years old, [there was a time] when I suddenly trended on Twitter for three consecutive days. I was afraid to go out and I didn’t want to be seen by people. Every time I head out, there would be people writing stuff about me.”

Neo, who was recently nominated for being an influencer at Influence Asia’s social media awards show, continued, “I remember feeling very insecure… I had very bad anxiety, I didn’t dare take [the] public transport for a very long period of time. Five years later, I still have quite a bit of phobia… I changed from being an extrovert into an introvert, because of social media.”

Neo wasn’t the only one who had started becoming an “influencer” at such a young age.

Singapore YouTuber and radio personality Dee Kosh agrees that starting young as an influencer can be detrimental.

“I was 21 when I started out. I think that’s in my favour as well, because I was a bit more mature when I started. Most of them started at 14, 15 years old and that’s the problem. They cannot take it [the hate and the pressure],” said the 28-year-old in a recent interview.

Dee Kosh, whose real name is Darryl Lim Koshy, is one of the more experienced influencers in the local industry, also underwent the pressures of fame.

“I’ve dated people who, after a few dates, asked me when they’re going to be in my videos. That’s not going to happen,” Dee Kosh said.

“We broke up lah… It was a bit disappointing, we could have been really close friends, we could have something good, but this is all you wanted from me,” he said.

At 28, Dee Kosh is one of the older influencers in the industry.
Dee Kosh said that most influencers that start out young cannot handle the pressure of being in the industry. (Photo: Dee Kosh)

Another influencer and YouTuber, Noah Yap, who first became popular for his role in Jack Neo’s “Ah Boys to Men” movie, finds himself feeling guarded around people.

The 24-year-old said, “Trust is an issue. I have my guard up a lot more now that I’m famous and that’s quite bad… It’s hard to make new friends and get closer to people now that more people know me.”

Besides overcoming challenges in their social life, these “influencers” also grapple with criticism from members of the society, many of whom see them as encouraging materialistic behaviour among the young.

The Faves Asia video made the influencer industry look bad and promotes materialism.
Faves Asia’s video was criticised for promoting materialism and making the influencer industry look bad. (Photo: Screen grab)

This was further compounded by a video that went viral on social media this week. Faves Asia was criticised for promoting materialism in a video posted on their page, which showed a girl complaining about her lack of Instagram followers and telling her friend that she wishes to get the type of sponsorships that popular Instagrammers do.

The video has since been taken down and an apology has been released by the agency.

Not an easy road to fame

“It’s not easy. Making videos is really very tough, editing is not merely copying, pasting and cutting footage,” said Yap, who spends at least three days on each video that he posts online.

According to Dee Kosh, “Ultimately, the product looks fun and it makes people laugh and think it’s easy, that everyone can do that. But what goes on behind the scenes – whether it’s editing, shooting or talking to clients, or scripting – it takes a lot of effort to look effortless.”

Jack Neo cast Noah Yap in the Ah Boys to Men series after watching his Youtube videos
Noah Yap shot to fame after director Jack Neo watched his Youtube video and cast him in Ah Boys to Men. (Photo: Noah Yap)

While being an influencer looks fun and easy as compared to many regular nine-to-five jobs in Singapore, the flexible schedule also means that they rarely have time to relax.

Neo said, “Being an influencer is easy money… But because of how huge the competition is today, if you want stand out, you can’t be lazy. You always have to think of new [and] innovative ways to capture your audience’s attention… Even if I’m sick, I still have to work.”

For 20-year-old Saffron Sharpe, many people have called her a bimbo for being an “influencer”.

“Getting called a bimbo… That happens to me quite a lot, because to people it seems very superficial, the type of work I do as an influencer. They don’t see the effort that goes into it. You do have to keep up with what people are constantly doing, look out for any new potential deals and maintain good relationship with clients,” she told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore.

Saffron Sharpe has been thought to be a bimbo because people think the work she does as an influencer is a superficial one.
Saffron Sharpe has been called a bimbo because people think that her job as an influencer is a superficial one. (Photo: Saffron Sharpe)

Despite the hate towards influencers, 24-year-old Ridhwan Azman (who also appeared in “Ah Boys to Men”) said he still loves his job despite having to deal with the pressure of continuously posting content online.

“The audience sometimes demands quite a lot. We’re not robots – we do this because we love it, because we enjoy doing it. We’re not perfect, we’re humans,” he said.

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