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Smoke and mirrors: part three

My eyeballs feel like it’s been poked by hundred nails. I am so sleep deprived that I don’t know how I am going to manage the day. I don’t have any coffee at home but I hope to get in early enough at work for a strong brew. They only make one pot of coffee a day and once its finished its done. I never usually make it in time. Today I am early because I never got any sleep last night. I spent hours and hours online, waiting for people to follow me and like my pictures while I researched how to grow my online following. I also spent the night setting up a Facebook page, a twitter profile and a website- all from my phone.

I am dead set on making MeanMaria a success. And while my faux fur post took a while to get any attention, I began following hundreds of accounts and including famous hashtags like crazy. From all my reading, I realised that there is no fool proof way of building an online audience. It apparently takes time and dedication. Also, I see from some of my favourite social media influencers that I follow, consistency is key. If I want to get a dedicated following I have to be consistent with posts. That means I have to post at least three #OOTD a week which seems like hard work. I could never do it with the clothes I have in my cupboard.

Also, I could never take pictures with my phone- it is an ancient iPhone Imran gave me when he upgraded his soon after we got married. The camera is dodgy and definitely not the type of quality I envisaged for my brand. I want to post amazing pictures, with fashion forward looks and bad-ass captions. This is the only way I could start making money from my brand. I want MeanMaria to become an empire, I want endorsement deals from huge makeup brands, I want to travel to fashion shows, I want lots and lots of money. Is that bad to admit? I mean I haven’t even been to Cape Town or Durban but I spent hours envisaging trips to New York and Paris.

For now, I have to put in the effort and the hours. On my way to Edge I stop at a grocery store and buy small chocolates for Dylan and Ron to thank them for yesterday’s shoot but also to bribe them to help me more in the future. I am a little worried to get Sally and Moreen too involved because they may rat me out to our managers. I don’t think Edge bosses will agree to my plan of using clothes and accessories from the store to shoot content for my social media. Although technically, there isn’t anything really wrong with it. It is not like I am stealing the clothes or taking it out of the store.

The store is quiet today so I spent a lot of time on my phone, tracking the response my first picture was getting. I quickly decide to post two of the other faux fur jacket pictures in a way that tells a story. Nobody like following brand new blogs or social media accounts. That is why I had to work fast in getting as much content as I can. I need to create a theme or aesthetic for my content which can set me apart from others. I realised that some bloggers reach a ceiling very quick because they are unable to capture a broad audience. While people love fashion posts, make up has become extremely trendy, especially high end make up and weird trends. Also, when people follow blogs, they follow a person’s lifestyle. At least that is how I follow people. I don’t only want to see their daily posts but I want to know about their cats, who are their partners and see a bit of their daily lives. I live vicariously through so many international bloggers and vloggers and I guess if I want the same type of audience I would have to share close ups on my life too. There is only a little snag: nobody would want to see all the intricacies of the life of a broke retail assistant.

I had to find a way around my boring life. So during my lunch break I decide to go the photo store to chat to Dylan. He is so chuffed about the chocolate I bought him and insists that I am going to make him fat.

“D, I posted the fur pictures on my Instagram. It doesn’t even look like me. Let me show you”.

“Oh wow Mar. Oh, I love the MeanMaria. You could be a professional model! I swear”.

“I have been meaning to tell you about my idea to launch a blog. Do you think it will work?”

“Oh honey! You could do so well. You are stunning and I love the meany vibes! People will love it”.

“So you do know I am as broke as ever… so I obviously don’t have the clothes and stuff to make my blog a success”.

“Well you do work for one of the best department stores in the whole mall. Work it”.

“That’s my idea. So I have a proposal for you. Would you help me with photography which I will obviously credit you for and then when or if I start making money I could pay you. Also, if it goes well you can start getting other clients”.

“Maria, I think that would be fabulous. I really need to get out of this hellish store. I know this is a family business but I would much rather be taking pictures but alas we all can’t have what we want”.

“I have a good feeling about this D. I am going to speak to Ron about helping us with a few more outfit shoots in Edge. I don’t want to get the girls involved because I am a bit worried”.

“I get you girl!”

I think working with Dylan will be great because he needs it more as a creative outlet than as a second job. He will be perfect to take along to product launches, I mean if I ever get to that level. It would be a dream come true to be invited to glitzy events and get my picture taken by my personal photographer. One step at a time.

After work I find a small note pad to write my plan for what MeanMaria needs to become. I have this habit from school. Whenever I had a project to do I would first write out a detailed plan of what needs to be done and then methodically go through each step. I think I would have been an astute student had I had the opportunity to go to university. I don’t know what I would have studied though. I never really thought about what I could have become. Maybe a teacher perhaps, I don’t know. My main plan for MeanMaria is to become bigger than just a girl posting pictures of herself on the internet. I want to be a pioneer, whatever that means.

The best social media influencers post a variety of fashion, make up, travel and food. I have to encompass all of that if I want MeanMaria to take off. So I draw up a rough outline of how my Instagram needs to look. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I want to post fashionable outfit pictures. There should be about three different shots of the same outfit on my social media and a nice write-up on my website. Obviously, I need to tag the brands I am wearing in each post. I have to be cautious about not wearing only brands that are exclusive to Edge to avoid being caught out. It will be the end of me if anyone finds out that I plan on using Edge clothes for my blog.

To diversify a little and to add a little pizzazz to my feed, I want to include the prettiest flatlays. A ‘flatlay’ is a picture of things that are beautifully arranged on a flat surface and the picture is captured from the top. Because I work in the jewellery and accessory section of Edge it would be easy for me to select products for my flat lays. My plan is to place the jewellery on stunning surfaces for the perfect look. I think if I brainstorm with Dylan we could plan on how we can get that done while not taking the items out of Edge. Tuesdays would be earmarked for jewellery shots.

So I had content for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. That would be enough for my blog but not nearly enough for my Instagram. So Thursday’s would be dedicated to makeup and makeup looks. At a later stage I want to shoot makeup tutorials but I can’t get ahead of myself now. Although I am a little nervous to tell Sally and Moreen what I am doing, I think Moreen would be the perfect person to have on my ‘team’. Nowadays, most influencers have a team made up of a photographer, a manger, a publicist and a makeup artist. Some even have stylists. Although I am just an amateur I think that social media is fickle enough to create an illusion of having a whole entourage when actually all I have is borrowed clothes and a dated iPhone. I quickly add ‘for booking contact my management team at management@meanmaria.com. I have no management team and that email address is my own but no one has to know that.

Most bloggers post what they are up to on the weekend but because I don’t have a life nearly as glamorous, I have to plan for posts on a Saturday. I think foodie pics would be awesome on the weekends, like a mean cappuccino or matcha drink with a quirky quote. The more I write down, the more ideas come to mind. It would be amazing to include travel posts but I know for now that seems way out of reach. I remember as a child I never really wanted things more than I wanted to travel to world. I spent my weekends reading about California and Budapest and so many amazing destinations and would be preoccupied in imagining the sights and sounds of different places. Maybe I could start with a few picturesque landscapes of Nelspruit if I go home. Mpumalanga is such a beautiful place and compared to Jo’burg, the scenery is breath taking.

A quick calculation showed I need 12 outfit pictures a month, four jewellery flatlay pictures, four beauty product flat lays for reviews and a whole lot of cappuccino pictures. It seems like quite a bit! I would never be able to sustain my social media and website without it. So I decide to text Dylan my plan. He has to be on board otherwise my plan won’t go anywhere. A major challenge we face is that a lot of our shooting would be in Edge. That means we have to be smart about how and when we shoot. He suggests that we try and get everything done for the month on one or two quiet days. I agree with him. We also can’t start slacking at work or else people will start suspecting us. The last thing I need is to be fired from my job. We also have to get Ron involved and tell him what we up to. He can help pick out the 12 outfits in advance and getting everything ready for us so I don’t have to leave my section for long. I still need to charm customers into spending thousands of rands on emotional purchases to get the incentives I want.

I tell Ron and Moreen what Dylan and I have been working on. They are a little skeptical at first but I try to explain to them how it could work out for all of us. At the bottom of every blog post I want to state that makeup by Moreen Dlamini and Styling by StyledByRon. If they want I will also link their social media pages for people interested in hiring them. I suppose that is how other bloggers do it. I don’t think anyone has the money from the beginning to pay for makeup artists and photographers. Many start by doing it themselves but that is why a lot of bloggers can’t really grow their following. With each day that passes, I keep a close watch of how my following is increasing.  I had a target of 10 000 followers before the end of the month and I am only sitting at 3000. No one takes you seriously if you have less than 10 000 followers. And even though my pictures have created some interest, I am not close enough to the paid posts and endorsement deals.

On my way home in the taxi I google, ‘how to grow my Instagram followers’. There are so many suggestions of things I am already doing and scroll through everything until I find a link on how to buy followers. I know in the blogging world bought followers is a huge taboo but it takes so long to be taken seriously. Also, people generally flock to people who already have a large following. I do a bit of research and realise that I can buy 5000 followers for R500. R500 is a lot of money on my shoe string budget but I can dip into my savings. This would be the ‘capital’ I spend, I suppose. So even though I am conflicted about buying followers, I do it anyway. Suddenly, after I buy the followers, hundreds of people start following me. In a few days I reach the 10 000 follower mark. Talk about when there is a will there is a way I mean, when there is a will and an option to buy it there is a way.

I don’t know how other vloggers and bloggers who have over a million followers deal with the attention. With my few thousand followers I can’t keep up with the engagement. Most of it is positive but there is so many idiots that slide into my DM. With each post, I learn new things. Dylan too is so vested in improving our work. He often sends me links of other bloggers overseas to get an idea of what they doing. It is a little harder for us though because the clothes are confined to Edge and I can’t so photo shoots in exotic locations… yet. I am off work three Sundays a month which I used to dread. It is the most boring day because I generally have nothing to do and nowhere to go. Now, I spend my Sunday’s replying to messages and planning MeanMaria for the week ahead.

Today is Sunday so instead of sleeping in, I wake up early to get work done. I am still working from my phone so it takes a little longer to get things perfect. I start by writing and editing my blog posts for the next two weeks. It helps to have everything done in advance because I have no time on a normal work day. I also like to write something heartfelt or clever on every post and not just upload pictures for people to see. I think people go to blogs to escape their own mundane lives so I have to offer something more than nice pictures. I think that is how my audience has grown drastically in two months. It also helps to observe what people are doing and not doing. When I am done drafting my posts for the week, I start drafting emails to send to PR agencies. I read that it helps to approach PR agencies to introduce yourself and what you do. Apparently that is how you start getting free stuff. PR agencies look for bloggers like me who spend time promoting products while maintaining a level of authenticity. I don’t really know much about fashion and beauty but I just look at what others are doing and try to do it better and in my own way.

After I draft eight emails for different PR companies, I start going through my inboxes. I think it is important to respond to kind messages and block trolls. Thankfully, I don’t have too much trolls compared to other bloggers. As I scroll through my comments I freeze. How did I miss that … Imran my ex-husband, followed me? I only realise when I see a direct message from him.

“Wow. You doing so well for yourself. I just stumbled across your profile and it took me a minute to realise it was you. Hope you doing well…”

The damn cheek! What gave him the right to reach out to me now? And the tone of his message confuses me. It is almost as if he is shocked that I have been able to survive without him and build something for myself. Since I moved out from his parents and he sent me the money I needed, he did not have the decency to check if I was okay. At the time I was so benevolent and understanding but two years in I have realised how he actually ruined my life. It was his selfishness that actually left me in the situation I was in. I mean, he and his family, despite the well wishes and promises of support, didn’t care whether I had food to eat or not. Yes, I understand that he thought by marrying me he would get over his woman but did he not think what it would be like being married to someone who clearly doesn’t love you. Also, in retrospect, it seems almost deliberate that he chose me, a naïve 18 year old fresh out of school even when he was almost seven years my senior. Two years after the divorce he now reaches out to me because he sees pictures of me online and I look like I am “doing well for myself”.

I am so livid I can barely control myself. At first I am hesitant to respond to him because he now has a new wife and child. If my memory serves me well, his child ought to be about 18 months old. I impulsively stalk his profile and see tons and tons of pictures of his wife. She looks significantly older than him but he seems happy in the pictures. So I don’t understand why he was reaching out to me, his ex-wife, whom he clearly never loved. It is all confusing.

Hey. I am very well thanks.”

That’s all I respond hoping to never hear from him again but curious to know what he thinks of me. If you didn’t really know me, and very few people do, you would think my life is extremely fabulous. You wouldn’t know that I lowkey hope every day my landlord gives me her left over dinner so I can save money on food. You also wouldn’t know that I am a mere sales assistant who has to wake up at the crack of dawn to catch public transport to work. From my social media alone, you would think that I am witty girl who lives a fabulous life wearing expensive clothes and drinking fabulous coffees. Sometimes I think that MeanMaria is actually a big lie but I comfort myself that nobody actually shares their real life on social media.

 “That is good to hear. We must meet up sometime”.

What does he mean? How does one so casually offer to meet up with the person whose life you single-handedly ruined?

13 thoughts on “Smoke and mirrors: part three

  1. Loving it… just hope she doesn’t meet him… but I’m sure she’s gona get more curious as to why he’s sending her dm’s….
    Keep it up… can’t wait for next post…

  2. Now, this is an intriguing read.

    While content is somewhat disturbing & exceptionally thought – provoking… The style in which it’s written is fantastic. Compliments to the author.

    I look forward to reading more of this tale.

  3. Looking for today’s post
    ???….. Formed a habit of having my kahwa n kajoor after iftar n maghrib and reading ur posts last few days… Well done qaanitah written exceptionally well hats off to u…. Plz post soonest

  4. Slmz

    Well written & entertaining. Curious to know how MeanMaria deals with people who know her/see her as a sales assistant in Edge and then come across her blog? Do they not think it’s weird or comment on this not being the “real” her?

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