May 24, 2017

Outliers 18: Shakthi Vadakkepat on the creation of "social media influencers"

He also talks about challenges faced by the disabled despite "inclusion" being promised by the government, by companies and by society.

BYPankaj Mishra

“I don’t make 10% of the money that other influencers make,” says V Shakthi, social media and branding consultant and accessibility activist.
His humble two-bedroom apartment in Bengaluru, where we are recording this podcast, has damp patches on the walls and ceilings and is crying out for a whitewash. He lives here with his wife Hema and 14-year-old son Hari. Shakthi may have over 1.6 lakh followers on Twitter and be counted as an “influencer”, but his home is a far cry from reflecting any of the social influence he commands. At least, it’s clear he’s not encashing the social popularity. “Welcome to my home; as you can see, I am not really making money as an influencer,” Shakthi tells me. He has a fierce sense of humour and calls a spade a spade.
“There are food bloggers writing on tech, there are tech bloggers writing on food… I tend to stay away from that, I don’t go behind brands to give me stuff,” says Shakthi, whom we have written about earlier.
I have watched Shakthi over a year now on Twitter and have known him as a credible voice in the social media world, where often you don’t know the motivations behind what people say about brands or companies.
“Social media space is one of the most cluttered and dirty spaces we have online today. Because it’s a space where self-certification is the rule (of the game). You see people calling themselves ‘influencer’ in their bios,” says Shakthi with refreshing candidness.
Shakthi says one of the things that attracts him to the digital world is he can “go anywhere” despite being “mobility-challenged.” As some of you may know, Shakthi is wheelchair-bound because of an illness he contracted as a child.
“When people see me promoting underwear on Monday, water bottled on Tuesday and mobile phones on Wednesday, they are not going to listen to what I have to say on Thursday,” says Shakthi.
Listen to Shakthi talking about the devaluation (and often, the frivolity) of online public discourse, and about his most important goal as an ‘influencer’ — to be an accessibility activist whose voice is heard on this important issue.
Listen to other Outliers podcasts

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Pankaj Mishra is a writer of FactorDaily.