She took the digital world by storm last year, when her poem A Brown Girl’s Guide to Gender, dealt a body blow to misogyny and sexism in Indian society.
Today, at 19 and five million YouTube hits later, Aranya Johar — slam poet, digital activist and self-professed pizza lover — is a bit of a digital hero.
I caught up with the fledgling social media celebrity on the sidelines of Sheroes 2018, to pick her brains on what it took to make it big in the digital world. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Your poem, A Brown Girl’s Guide to Gender stands at 2.2 million views today, and it’s catapulted you into a digital personality. So, what does it take to build a personal brand, online?
Aranya Johar: “If I could say one thing — having a unique voice really helps. It makes it easier for people to identify you, know it’s you, know your work and identify your content. Also, have a personality that’s easy to engage with. The more perceptive and receptive you are — it helps people talk to you. Social media has made it really easy to talk to people online and have a conversation across the world. So, the more you make yourself seem approachable, the better it is.”
How much of what you do online is instinct, and what percentage of it is based on social media analytics?
Aranya Johar: “Be well read and keep yourself updated with the news, and have an opinion that matters but also one that is backed by facts. You need to realise that you’re influencing people every time you put up an Instagram story, a post or a video. There are people listening to and forming opinions based on what you say. So, you definitely have to be well read. A lot of your art comes naturally, but during the process of getting it online is when social media managers get their heads together and make it work. So, it’s a little bit of both!”
So, where do you strike that balance?
Aranya Johar: “You should be able to connect with your work, but you should also have opportunity for other people to connect with your work, personally. The minute it’s personal to you, it gives other people the opportunity to connect with it, at an inter-personal level.”
What are the tools that you get to use when it comes to creating great online content and marketing it well enough?
Aranya Johar: “Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube all make for great platforms to put your videos up, share opinions and put up funny content. All of this is working. Plus, you don’t really need a video camera anymore — a lot of people just Vlog with their phones. So, I think it’s become a lot easier to get online and make things happen.”
What’s the go-to strategy when it comes to changing algorithms on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter?
Aranya Johar: “I don’t have to deal with that! That’s my agency’s problem. I just create the content and say ‘here, this is for you — please help me put this up!’ But if the content is original, if it connects with you, and if you have a personal relationship with it, it’s going to work, anyway.”
What has your experience been like, while using home-grown social networks like ShareChat, YourQuote and Pratilipi? Do you get a more diversified audience?
Aranya Johar: “I haven’t worked with these apps just as yet. But if you get the opportunity to put your work online, and if you feel confident about it, you should definitely do it. A lot of people don’t have the right equipment, and the one thing that definitely matters is having the right sound and video quality. You can get this with your phone. But if you want it in high-quality, with the right settings and a mic, you should get it; it might work for you. But make sure you don’t get caught up with the saturation of the videos that go up. You want your video to stand out. So, if it makes sense to wait a while and pursue a personal poetry channel such as Unerase Poetry, or if you were to do comedy and then want to go through CLC (Comedy Laugh Club), or platforms like these. Even if you want to start your own platform, that’s great since it’s giving you a head-start to your game.”
How difficult does it get while dealing with trolls and the misogyny that seems to be found in abundance, online?Aranya Johar:
“The first time I put my video up I had my board exams on. So, I wasn’t following the comments. The week my exams got over, I went through them. While there were a lot of supportive comments, there were also rape and death threats too. I thought to myself: ‘this is a real part of the internet’. Someone with their entire brain decided to write ‘you deserve to die’ to a young girl on video. I realised I’m still facing only a small part of this. I realised that it always gets more intense with what you talk about and how you talk about it. But at the end of the day, what matters to me is as much hate as I get, I get multiple times more in terms of support. I’ve also heard from people who tell me, ‘I can’t talk about this story, but can you talk about it for me?’ The fact that I’ve created that connection with an absolute stranger is what matters to me. And that’s what helps me channel through all the negativity.”