Africa: From Modeling To Blogging, The Story Of Linda Ikeji
Arguably, Nigeria’s most influential blogger, Linda Ikeji is as surprised as everyone else at her astounding achievement. A couple of years ago, she was a struggling model. Her effort to wear the Miss Nigeria crown was a flunk. She felt like a failure. However, her life changed dramatically for good as she crossed the threshold of her 30th birthday. It’s been seven years since success engaged her in an enduring embrace. Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes on her transformation from a lone blogger to ownership of a thriving media enterprise.
It was a crowded day for celebrity blogger, Linda Ikeji. Many journalists who were invited to the unveiling of her social network site, LindaIkejiSocial, thought they were going to have an exclusive, but she burst the bubble of their expectation a couple of days earlier by going public with a podcast that bared almost everything about herself, leaving little to the imagination.
There was just a little window of opportunity to cross check some of the information she volunteered and perhaps, display enough ingenuity in framing questions that would provoke her to say more. The media parley started on a testy note when she walked into the packed room and curtsied with a ‘hello’, the response was not so warm. Smiling, she had to prompt her guests for a more robust answer.
If she was unsettled, she concealed her feelings well. Apparently, the business at hand required better tact. It was probably one of the few times she needed help. Her plea for assistance was plain, without pretences. “I need your help!” What started like a child’s play about one decade ago had assumed a vibrant life of its own and continued to expand. It was yet another landmark on that amazing journey filled with so many surprises that Linda often pinches herself to be sure it was happening to her. When she entered the public space as a model blogging didn’t exist and she most definitely didn’t expect that the voyage which began in November 2006 would change her life so significantly. Back then, blogging provided a place to tinker her creative muse. She never envisioned the astonishing success. Nonetheless, she is grateful to God.
Although, it took four years to get her first pay cheque, her endurance was hardly on trial because there was not much to hope for. “I was blogging consistently and passionately. It didn’t occur to me that I had built a lot of followership and brands were watching. I had thousands of people following me and I was very happy about it but I didn’t think it will translate to money or advertisement. The first time they came to meet me to pay me to post something, I found it very strange.
I couldn’t wrap my head around it. In January 2011 I had my own advert rate and people started paying. That was it.” She made it sound easy. And because she worked alone for about four years, raking in an incredible amount of income, many did not see her coming. Only the small number of professionals in corporate advertising who took note of her enormous followership on social media and were compelled to use her platform to promote their products and services knew about the emerging formidable media platform called Linda Ikeji. To the larger public, it seemed the Linda Ikeji phenomenon crept stealthily onto our collective consciousness like a thief in the night. This explains the sharp division between those who see her as a hard working, exemplary woman and those who are convinced she is an opportunist or walked a crooked path to wealth.
When it comes to the feedback of love or hate from the public, celebrity blogger, Linda Ikeji, knows exactly where she stands -it’s a combination of both. Both emotions weigh heavily on her sentimental scale. Naturally, this should give her some cause for concern, but she keeps a clear head by aligning more with love. “I get a lot of hate and lots of love but I try as much as possible to hold on to the love, instead of the hate because I know the hate is coming from a very different place. Whenever I trend and I see some vile comments, I’m like ‘you’ve never met me, why are you saying this about me’.
I have grown such a thick skin. I understand when people like Wizkid and Olamide lashed out at me because I wrote about them. But if I haven’t written about you and then you make such vile comments, I understand it’s coming from a place which is not my fault. Maybe you are angry about your situation, where you are coming from, you wish you have and you didn’t. I understand because I have been there – when people are frustrated and depressed. I have been depressed and angry and my anger is usually towards those who are successful. I say things like, ‘Does she have two heads?’
When I say hostile things about them, it makes me feel better. I allow them that space to vent because really, it’s like when you go to the market, you don’t see the traders talking about one non-entity, they are talking about the person who made more sales than them. I understand that success comes with a lot of hate. In fact, that’s one of the ways to know you are really very successful because if you ask them why they hate you, they can’t even tell you. But as long as you know yourself, love yourself and do the right thing, that shouldn’t be an issue. I get a lot of love, as well from those who say I motivate them.
I pay attention to them because you have to be very careful. Negative people make more noise and if you pay attention, that noise can drown you and you think everybody hates you. I do more good to them than bad and they acknowledge that. Some of them are friends who have been to my house. The negativity that comes with blogging is fine. You are writing about people so some people will take offence and act in different ways.”
In the line of duty, Linda fires quite a few guided missiles and she is also a sitting target to those who take a shot at her. The impression may be taken that she has lost a lot of friends who were slandered by her report. She denied this. “I try as much as possible not to be friends with celebrities because when you become friends with them, it’s so hard to write about them, and when you do, they will get someone to call you and like ‘why now?’ I don’t really write negative stories about people. If I do, I won’t be sitting here. I get a lot of stories. I hear a lot of things. I make a lot of money writing positive stories so why should I concentrate on negative stories?
I stick to the one that works for me. I have a cordial relationship with a lot of entertainers. I have run into issues with few of them, but in recent times – when I was a little careless with what I write – but apart from Wizkid, I haven’t had issues with any one of them.” In a celebrated episode which led many to question her integrity as a source of news, an aggrieved party had forced a temporary shutdown of her site. That incident is one of the valuable lessons that changed her work ethic. It taught her to be more careful. She, however, insisted that she would not go out of her way to be trained in journalism. “Whatever I have done obviously has worked. I don’t know what kind of training I want to go for again. I can have my staff go for training.
There are people online who also have in-depth knowledge of the story. Sometimes, I put up a story, then read the comments. From the comments I have to go and change some things because there are people who are experienced or know the family or friends of the people I wrote about. I have also learnt that it is very important for you to verify your stories, because if people rely on your site for information, and you mess up few times, they don’t trust you anymore, and then they go to other credible sites.”
This transformation from a lone blogger to ownership of a growing media empire was the reason she invited journalists, friends and associates to her Lekki Phase 1 Lagos offices. A couple of months ago, the talk about Linda centred on her multi-million Naira home on Banana Island in Lagos. Not a few believed she was involved in shoddy deals, but her home may be nothing compared to the multi-purpose office that houses television, photo, recording studios and other working areas that are combine space for delivery of many media services.
As she proudly took quests on a guided tour, she explained the new direction of her enterprise. “I have been blogging for 10 years, I’m bored. I want to do something else. I don’t want to start LIS, then wait for another 10 years. I’m 36. This is the time I have the energy and passion to run this. I’m delegating. I have over 30 people working here now, running all things. If you have the right people, you can do other things. I have Linda Ikeji Music. I have four people working in that section. I have producers, directors, cameramen, creative people. I think people try to limit themselves.
I don’t limit myself at all. I feel there is absolutely nothing you cannot do once you set your mind to it.” As interaction with the journalists progressed, Linda enlightened the gathering on the perceived controversies that dog her steps. “I don’t go out of my way to look for controversy. Maybe, I am misunderstood. People forget that I may have started blogging as a passion, now, it’s a business. There’s Linda the person and Linda the blogger. If I were not a blogger, there are things I won’t pay attention to. I’m a blogger, I have to pay attention to many things because my readers want to see all of that. You have to understand the difference between me the woman and the blogger.
I am a business woman. I have to provide services to my users and readers. I have to go out of my way to look for gossip and things that people want to read. I don’t want anybody to fail. I don’t wish anybody evil. I don’t want anybody to cry, to feel bad about comments. Sometimes, when I read comments, I’m like, why did you post this kind of things. But people think I enjoy reading those negative kind of comments. No. These comments make the blog thrive. People have to understand that there are two people. I see some comments and I’m like that’s vile and hurtful, well, it’s all part of the business. I think I’m misunderstood, which is fine. People who know me, know me. I don’t go out of my way to look for trouble. Controversy is not bad for my business. I need people to talk about me to be relevant.”