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Unsah Malik on Gen Z, TikTok and smashing the socials

The social media and influencer strategy expert unlocks her industry expertise

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There isn’t much that Unsah Malik doesn’t know about social media. After securing digital and social roles at major publications in her early twenties, she has gone on to write a highly reputable ebook titled SLASHED IT and is one of the go-to voices in influencer strategy today.  We sat down with Unsah to chat about future social trends, Gen Z, TikTok and how she fell into the world of social media. 

What was your route to working in social media/ influencer strategy? 
I fell into it by accident — but that’s only because it didn’t even exist as a role when I first started working! When I was younger, it was my dream to be a journalist. I started interning super early, right after GCSEs at the age of 16, right through A-Levels and then while studying for my degree too. I was always keen to gain as much experience as possible from whoever would take me under their wings. During university, I realised my journalism skills were much stronger on the digital side because it involved quick writing, fast sourcing, speedy interviewing and sharp deadlines (call me crazy, but that’s what gets me going) — and so, I started looking for jobs in this specific area. However, it was also the time social media was starting to become a proper thing. Publishers (who were on the social media game way before brands) were super keen on using social to grow online audiences and readership. Since digital and social go hand-in-hand, my responsibilities in social increased and before I knew it, it was all my role was about. 

On the influencer side, it felt like a natural progression from social media which also made even more use of my journalistic background. As a journalist, you become good at talking to people, being able to hold conversations and essentially being in control of the conversation. To me, while influencer marketing is about data and strategy, it’s also about relationships and communication. If you can nail the fine line between both ends of the spectrum, you’ll succeed best. 

You're the author of SLASHED IT, The Ultimate Social Media and Influencer Marketing Guide. What is the main message people take away from your book? 
It’s such a comprehensive and big ebook (hence why people say it’s degree equivalent) that there are so many things to take away from it! My top three would be: you don’t have to be on every single platform, but you do need to consistently revisit and revise your strategy if you want to consistently grow. Aesthetics don’t matter as much as your relationship with your audience and the understanding you have with what your audience does and doesn’t respond to Instagram is not dead. TikTok’s algorithm might be easier for now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow brand presence and make money elsewhere, including IG. 

Where do you see the future of social media and influencer strategy heading?  Are there any platforms that you predict to grow in the coming years?  
Everything will become far more data-driven, as we’re starting to see now. However, I do think brands will finally start appreciating the art of unedited, raw, unfiltered, non-photo shopped content. You don’t need to splash £40k on a beautiful video to go viral; you can use your iPhone. I’ve been saying this for around 6 years but I think TikTok has highlighted what makes content click for an audience. On platform growth, IG, TikTok and YouTube will continue to be the leaders. I don’t think TikTok’s algorithm will remain forever ‘easy’ though!

How is the creator economy changing the landscape of social media and how important is Gen Z’s role in this? 
Creator economy is quite literally becoming people’s definition of social media. TikTok is all about creators, whether you’re big or not. Pinterest has Idea Pins to encourage more creator-led content as opposed to just pinning from a website. YouTube has YouTube shorts and events like their Beauty Fest to encourage more creator content. Instagram is consistently introducing new features which target creators. LinkedIn is all about creators growing their brand with their new Creator Mode. There isn’t a single social media platform that isn’t aligning with the creator economy, which means we have even more to come. 

Gen Z's importance in all of this is simply that they’re shaping the future of what audiences are enjoying, disliking and creating. They know best about their peers and they have a deeper understanding of themselves than someone outside their generation does. They’re also very social and content-savvy because they've been consuming such content from a much younger age. Whether your brand does or doesn’t specifically target Gen Zs, you should still be aware of their attitude and habits. Although, if there’s one generation you can’t fit into one traditional persona (as some marketing professionals may put it), it would be Gen Z!

What advice would you give to anyone starting out in social media? 
Gain as much experience as possible from as many niches as possible. Don’t confine yourself to one route or type of business. You will learn so much more by being open to the different types of experiences you can gain within this industry. Understand how a community manager is different to a campaigns manager, how organic is different to paid, how creative is different to strategic — and how fashion is different to cooperate, how beauty is different to healthcare, how in-house is different to agency and so on. I’m not saying you need to gain experience in all of these areas, but two to three will help. Once you’ve worked out the area you’re better suited for, you can then start being more specific about the role. It’s how I’ve grown up the career ladder myself!

What is a piece of career advice you would give your younger self?  
Never fear ‘job hopping’ in your younger years of working. If you feel you’ve gained as much experience as you can where you are currently, go ahead and apply for other roles. I sort of did this anyway, but I most definitely feared the thought of it far more than I should have!

What is a personal career highlight of yours? 
I’m not sure I have just one. Each ‘phase’ of my career has been a highlight. I got a job at The Guardian two weeks before graduating, I was the social media manager for ELLE at the age of 23, I wrote an ebook which is more successful than I could have ever anticipated!

You can buy Unsah's ebook here!

Words: Grace Goslin

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