For MissMafia co-founder Niniek Sugiarti, becoming a mother is just adapting to a new role. And as humans, life is about constant adaptation.
The need to always adapt applies perfectly to her role in the digital sphere. Niniek is the current Head of Social & Outreach at Lion&Lion, a position she earned after just over a year of working in social media strategy. Even while on maternity leave, she feels like she can’t be away from work for too long. “I get a bit bored,” she laughs.
We spoke to Niniek about her start in social media, new motherhood, and her opinion on the state of influencer marketing—a specialty of hers—in Malaysia.
You started out with a background in business. How did you end up in social media strategy?
The rise of e-commerce was back in my college days, when online blog shops were popular. I started off selling clothes online just for additional income. This was maybe 8 or 9 years ago — I don’t think we used other social media back then, just Facebook and maybe Twitter.
When I interned at Zalora on the operational side, I met a lot of good people that ended up helping me along the way in my career. One of my bosses there became a close friend and hired me to work in her start-up. She wanted me to try out sales when I first started at the company, which I did for a month or two before deciding it was not for me. I asked her to put me back in the office to let me do the marketing and social media instead. That was how I got started on the basics. Before that I had only used social media to sell my clothes online, but now I was learning about selling a brand: about content marketing, about strategy in terms of scheduling posts, and about the best practices on Facebook, on Twitter and on LinkedIn.
I wasn’t at that company for long, though. I’ve always liked fashion; I left because I wanted to learn how to sew and create my own brand. Around this time, I got a call from a head hunter asking if I was interested in working at an ad agency. They called me because they had a client from Indonesia, and they wanted me around as a translator. I ended up getting hired as a social media strategist, and that’s how I built my career.
What was your experience transitioning from being a brand owner to being on the agency side of things?
The difference is that when representing clients, you have to listen to what they want as opposed to just going with your own gut. It’s more challenging because you don’t get to do what you want – you have to get approval first. There’s more management of the clients and their expectations, of what they want and what they need. For them to trust me as a strategist for their brand, I also have to be a consultant.
It was a little bit difficult for me at first to separate the personal from the professional. When you get too close to the client, they sometimes take it for granted and work you like crazy. I had to learn to say no the hard way. You may care for a brand, but it’s not your brand. It’s still the client’s brand. You may want to do so much for them, but you must limit your work to fit into the scope. At the end of the day, anything extra you do for them is not what they’re paying you to do and that’s a loss for your agency.
Are you influenced by any of your past experiences in terms of how you conduct yourself with your work?
I’ve learned to always respect others how you want to be respected. Find the best way to get things done without taking things too personally.
This might sound bad, but it’s okay to suck up to people if you know it’s going help in the long run. I’ve worked with people that others thought were hard to manage, but all you need to do is be nicer to them and see how you can help them deliver your work better or faster. You really don’t get anywhere by not being nice.
Learn how to work with different individuals to get the things that you need done properly. That’s how I treat people, and how you should conduct yourself in the work environment.
You were promoted to Head of Digital Outreach and PR within a year of joining Lion&Lion. What, in your opinion, got you where you are today?
Having a good mentor was one thing. I had a really good boss, Meredith. She wasn’t just a boss; she mentored me really well and gave me the opportunity to try a lot of new things.
Another thing that got me to where I am now was initiative. A lot of people only do things when asked. The way I see it, you need to always have the initiative to try out new things, to try out your strategy, and to voice out your ideas. Having initiative is something that allows you to shine a little bit better than others.
Also, try to show more potential in terms of leadership. When given the opportunity to take on responsibilities, always say yes. When you show that initiative, you tend to challenge yourself in terms of how you perform. It also allows your superiors to see that potential in you.
Tell us a bit about influencer marketing.
To me, influencer marketing is just a channel for how you want to communicate your potential message to your audience. Using influencers creates a bridge between brand and consumers. It doesn’t have to be hard sell; there’s different ways and tactics that don’t come off as just celebrity endorsement. By getting a human to represent your brand, your potential customer will have a higher intention to purchase or higher probability to try out your brand.
What do you think of the current influencer marketing industry in Malaysia?
In Malaysia, there’s still a huge gap between influential influencers and up-and-coming, so-called ‘influencers’ who are just pretty faces. I think that the industry here is not mature enough yet and still needs to grow. Marketers on the brand side need to understand how to utilise influencers to represent their brands. Brands are used to utilising celebrity endorsements, but just using pretty faces to talk about your product is not how consumers want to hear about your product. It doesn’t really provide the kind of exposure that a brand should have.
Influencer marketing here is still not like the US. Even Singapore’s influencer marketing industry is still better than Malaysia’s. Right now, the brands here are not willing to invest in influencers because they don’t really know the value of it. That becomes the problem; because they don’t know how to invest, they end up going for the so-so influencers. They come out with the belief that influencers don’t really do anything, that influencers are just a waste of money and there’s no impact. If they invested a little bit more and understood that there’s a lot of ways that influencers can sell their product, and if they stopped trying to control so much, then they could see a better impact.
The industry here won’t grow until the brand side becomes more open and influencers become more creative. It should be a better partnership between brands and influencers.
How did you first get involved with MissMafia?
Well, through Meredith! Haha. I did previously get involved in a few of these girl groups, but I never found the time then to be fully committed to one. Meredith came up to me, told me she was going to do this and asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. I said yes, because I do believe in what it stands for and in creating safe spaces for women to share their experiences. It was more of an idea than a proposal at the time, but that’s how it started. It was based on the same belief that all of us shared.
Have you learnt anything from starting the group?
I’ve learnt that there are a lot of stories to be told by all these women in different industries. While one challenge in one industry may not feel the same as others, when we are able to share among ourselves we find that they are the same. Being judged for being emotional, being too nurturing, or being too nice — these challenges are quite common. One thing I’ve learnt is that while women are pretty good at being managers, at doing business, and at being in top places, we don’t get as much recognition as men. That’s part of why we’re here building MissMafia.
I feel like we’re always learning from different people. There was one time when we did a panel on health where most of the panellists were ‘mom-preneurs’. It was good to hear their stories of how to balance running a business while having a kid.
Speaking of motherhood, what have you learnt so far as a new mother?
Everything has to be on schedule. Before I became a mother, my schedule was just my schedule. Now, to make my life easier, my schedule and my baby’s schedule have to sync. For example, if I need to do some work but I know that she’s cranky at a certain hour, I try to work around that. I think it has helped me be a better planner. It’s also made me better at setting the expectations of others when dealing with me.
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