… You’re talking to a friend, not an audience. When you’re talking to your followers, communicate with them as though you’re communicating with a friend rather than with a mass of people. I know it sounds weird, but it’ll make all the difference in the relationship you build with them.

We often use the term “Influencers” to describe people with significant social media followings on platforms like Instagram, Twitter TikTok, Youtube, Linkedin and Facebook. Influencers have become today’s media titans, sought after for everything from product placements to timely trends. What’s the difference between influence and impact? Fans and followers? Sizzle versus staying power?

In this interview series, called, “How To Cultivate Community In A Click to Connect World” we are talking to influencers about how they define success and what we all need to discover about the true nature of influence. As a part of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalia Papadopoulou, also known as “Ajnabiyeh”.

Natalia, or “Ajnabiyeh” is a Greek/Polish content creator who made it big in the Arab world during the pandemic. Having graduated with a BA in Digital Media Communications, she’s fascinated by the ever-growing power of social media and the concept of “virality”. She began her journey whilst living in Jordan, and though Arabic is her fourth language, she chose to pursue her career on social media fully in Arabic and engage with a variety of Middle-Eastern cultures through her Tik Tok and Instagram platforms which managed to reach 4.6 million followers on Tik Tok and 1.4 million followers on Instagram.

Thank you for making time to visit with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. How did you discover your career path and what got you to where you are today?

Thank you for having me! To be perfectly honest, I discovered my current career path in the last few months of my senior year in school. I came across a BA Digital Media Communications course while browsing through universities in London, and decided I’d be spontaneous and pursue it (though it was only the second year this degree was a “thing” in 2016). My parents thought I was a little crazy for going from political science to digital media but I am so thankful I took that risk! Once I graduated from Royal Holloway University of London, I had no desire of becoming a content creator or “influencer”; I preferred being behind the scenes. Through various internship experiences, I knew I wasn’t one to work in an office so I began as a freelance social media strategist and slowly built my way up. Fast forward a year later, I’m quarantined in my room and only then did I decide to make a few Tik Tok videos out of boredom. Ironically, when everything else in my life came to a standstill, my journey with social media commenced.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way that influences how you operate now?

When I began, I genuinely thought I knew so much about social media due to my studies but in retrospect, I can confidently say I knew almost nothing. Though I’ve learned so many valuable lessons throughout my journey so far, the single-most important one is definitely the importance of tackling a niche. I know it sounds so cliché, but it really is what has allowed me to continue to grow over the years. What I mean by that in the simplest of terms is doing something that nobody, or very few people, are doing on social media in your demographic. The “influencer” or content creator scene was already densely populated by the time I started in 2020, and cutting through the noise and actually being heard not only by people, but by the algorithm, was challenging. I had no desire of being an influencer or going viral at the time, but when my first videos went viral, and those that followed too, l I asked myself “what am I doing that is different?”. In my case, it was the fact that I was a foreign girl speaking Arabic and sharing my daily life in Jordan, when I could’ve chosen to speak English and engage with a very small population of Jordanians who would understand me (which many of my peers in Jordan at the time chose to do). People in Jordan appreciated that I chose to communicate with them in their native language and immerse myself in their culture instead of my own, and in return, I appreciated the patience they offered with my journey of making grammatical mistakes pretty much everyday (I think they found it entertaining).

We’re all searching for some good news. How are you using your platform to make a positive social impact?

I believe every micro and macro content creator carries a social responsibility when it comes to their platform. We are responsible to use our platforms to amplify the voices of the unheard, as well as offer our platforms to those in need when fundraising is needed, such as in the recent tragic earthquake that took near 40,000 lives in Turkey, Syria and neighboring countries. Personally, I began my journey by using my platform to encourage audiences to engage in local tourism in Jordan when the country stopped being in full-lockdown. I recognized the importance of tourism to the Jordanian economy, as well as the lack of content and awareness being created for the country. My videos went so viral, they were recognized by the tourism board within a few weeks. Alongside the content I was creating, I emphasizes the importance of supporting local, small businesses which were most vulnerable. On a weekly basis, id feature no less than two small businesses on my story (free-of-charge) and encouraged many of my peers to do the same.

Additionally, I’ve consistently used my platform to share factual, un-biased news regarding Palestine and the continuous struggle they face, offering my platform as a means of raising awareness and crowdfunding when needed. Lastly, I oftentimes find myself calling out “fake news” or news reports that are biased, and sharing information to my audiences outside the Middle East that they probably otherwise would not come across. My most notable example of doing so was during the FIFA World Cup, when the Telegraph released one of many articles criticizing Qatar, which after hours of research I came to find to be empty allegations filled with disingenuous word play and sensationalism. The video spread like a wild-fire on Instagram a few days prior to the kick-off.

Many of our readers are influencers as well. Others have tried and have yet to succeed. What words of advice would you offer to aspiring influencers, knowing what you know now?

If you’re someone who hasn’t experienced going viral just yet or intends to begin a career on social media, it is important to ask yourself the following questions;

  1. What am I doing that is different to my peers who already hold a following in the same or similar field?
  2. What niche will I be tackling within my demographic?
  3. Is the language I’m choosing to communicate in optimal for my geolocation?
  4. Do I understand the algorithm? This one is important because you could be doing all the above correctly, but if the consistency or formatting of your content is not favored by the algorithm, you will struggle to see growth.

Success is often a matter of perspective. I’ve always resonated with Henry David Thoreau’s quote, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” How do you see success — or define success — for yourself now?

Success is indeed a matter of perspective, and though many may find the numbers to define success (I initially did), I now disagree. Success throughout my journey really has been the real-life encounters I’ve had with my followers and clients. More often than not, they won’t just take a picture, but also share a reason why they follow me or felt it was worthwhile to come up to me in the first place. To hear that people watch my stories when they’re down because they can count of me to keep it light and make them laugh is success. To hear a small business owner thank me for promoting her business and needing to re-stock her product within a week is success. To hear a young girl or boy tell you something you’ve done or said inspired them to make a positive change in their life is success. To hear a non-profit tell you its been overwhelmed with support after posting their fundraiser on your story is success. Its the many small moments I wish I could share with you that give me that feeling of success; not the money, nor the insights- those are simply added value.

What are your strategies to make room for who and what matters most?

This is a complex question, but I’m going to keep it short and sweet. Apart from tackling a niche market which I do believe is the most important way to make room for who and what matters the most, I’d say don’t compare yourself to anybody. Don’t look at what your peers are or aren’t doing and feel like you need to be imitating them to gain traction. Be yourself, and grow organically; that way you can be sure that you will retain the attention of your audience for many years because they followed you for who you really are. As cliche as it sounds, real recognize real; real followers recognize real content creators and eventually yield real engagement (which is the end-goal). Build a transparent and credible means of communication with your followers that can be maintained in the long-term and be sure that by doing so, whatever path you decide to take in life you will retain their attention and they will (most probably) continue to follow you.

How do you reduce or mitigate stress?

I’m not going to lie, its not easy being in the public eye. The constant feeling of vulnerability to hate, criticism and backlash is not for everyone, but I’ve found my near-perfect way around it. First, I refrain from responding to messages and comments almost entirely, I’ve found this to be one of the most effective ways to mitigate stress. I focus my energy on creating content and posting it instead. Secondly, keep certain parts of your life private. As important as it is to be transparent with your audience, there are aspects of your personal life that are better off kept private. To me that means avoiding my phone when out with friends or loved ones. Lastly, don’t follow anyone you don’t want to be following. Your feed should be a space where you feel happy, informed and inspired; not envious, annoyed or bored. You are what you eat.

I’m going to try a few of your tips, and I’m hopeful our readers will, too. Now it’s time for the big reveal — the moment our readers have been anticipating. What are your “five strategies to cultivate a large & engaged social media community?’

  1. Tackle a niche. The point I began with and the point I will unapologetically end my remarks with. This is your golden ticket to making it big on social media.
  2. Speak the language that is most optimal for your demographic. Sometimes you can be doing everything right, but simply communicating in the wrong language in respect to your demographic. Do your research beforehand! Had I done what I did in English, I probably never would have seen the light of day.
  3. Don’t forget your social responsibility every once in a while!
  4. Develop a relationship with your algorithm. The algorithm is ever-changing and that will never not be the case. Get up close and personal with the algorithm and see what works best for your content. If something you’re doing stops working out of nowhere, do question why because there is ALWAYS a reason. It could either mean you need to spice up your content because it’s been getting redundant for your target audience, or simply that the algorithm favors something new and you simply need to be made aware of what it is.
  5. You’re talking to a friend, not an audience. When you’re talking to your followers, communicate with them as though you’re communicating with a friend rather than with a mass of people. I know it sounds weird, but it’ll make all the difference in the relationship you build with them.

What do you do to create a greater sense of connection and community among your fans?

I oftentimes engage in Q&A sessions with my followers where I allow them to ask me anything they wish to, and to which I respond in full honesty. I’ve come to realize that doing this 1–2x a month has consistently worked in keeping them engaged with my content. I’m somebody who is very vocal and open about mental health and my continuous struggle and ever since I’ve opened that door, the sense of connection and community that I have with my followers and vice versa has been a lot deeper.

As an influencer, you are, by definition, a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Something I’ve dreamt of doing at a larger scale since I was in school was creating a scholarship program for refugee camps and impoverished communities in countries like Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and neighboring countries. I’ve been working on various projects in the Gaza Refugee Camp since 2014, and have found one that is still in dire need of attention and support is a scholarship campaign. Education is a basic human right, but unfortunately in many of these communities that simply isn’t the case because they are simply focused on survival.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He, she or they might just see this. 🙂

Meredith Whittaker, for sure. She’s an AI ethicist and arguably one of the pioneers in the field at this very moment. I would love to have a chat with her about algorithmic biases and where she imagines AI to get within the next five years.

What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ajnabiyeh/

Tik Tok: https://www.tiktok.com/@ajnabiyeh?_t=8a5nGqpthen&_r=1

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ajnabiyeh/

My media kit/business profile: https://belb.io/mediakit/ajnabiyeh

Thank you for these thought provoking insights. Here’s to your continued success!