Jackie Phamotse. Picture: INSTAGRAM
Jackie Phamotse. Picture: INSTAGRAM

For most people, social media provides ways to keep in touch, read and share news. But for some “social media influencers”, it is business.

For such people, social media has become a way to amass fans and become famous in the process. Once famous online, it becomes easier for traditional media to report on these influencers’ successes, scandals and life stories.

Influencer marketing — a practice whereby companies pay users with a sizable number of online followers — has been the domain of big business. But the practice is becoming popular with politicians as well. The rush is to connect with influencers who will share paid messages on their popular social media accounts.

Unsatisfied with just sharing her thoughts on Twitter, author Jackie Phamotse has decided to write about the popular social media micro-blogging website. Her first nonfiction book I Tweet What I Like — So … Sue Me is outselling perennial self-help books like Who Moved My Cheese? and Michelle Obama's memoir at the bookstores.

Picture: SUPPLIED
Picture: SUPPLIED

What comes out strongly from I Tweet What I Like is how pervasive, ubiquitous and unhealthy social media is, yet people, including the author herself, cannot stay away. This has a negative impact on people’s emotional lives, Phamotse writes. For example, every online message of hers that is shared has the potential to emotionally damage her state of being as her ego increases and dies at the same time, she admits.  

But more damaging was the tweet that saw her in court in 2018. Phamotse was taken to task for a tweet that people thought implicated celebrity couple Romeo and Basetsana Kumalo. The Kumalos took Phamotse to court, winning a protection order against her.

Another aspect that comes out strongly from I Tweet What I Like is her bitterness at how she thinks she was unfairly treated by the court. The book was thought by many to be Phamotse's response to the court saga. People expected her to write a tell-all book about the case but, in the process of writing, the author had a change of mind — not surprising as the protection order threatened her with five years in jail if she violated the terms of the order.

But Phamotse is aware of the advantages of social media and being an influencer as she’s built a career around it. There’s no doubt that the scandal and the media attention resulting from the court case added to her appeal — the case was called a “David and Goliath social media legal battle”.

The book gets dull when Phamotse attempts to outline the history of the internet. It’s as if she’s unsure whether to stick to a more serious or chatty style. But when she picks up her chatty style, the book becomes a hilarious read. In one instance, she pens an “open letter” to Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey. Among other things, Phamotse asks in the letter what the South African government can do, with Dorsey’s help, to “come up with better laws around the infringement of rights” to protect South African users on the platform.

While the budgets of companies which use influencer marketing are set to increase, the book is too ambitious in advising social media users to cash in on this growing trend and make money from it. Amassing a sizable number of online followers takes time and effort. Phamotse herself has about 25,000 followers on Twitter, which in her book makes her a macro influencer.

According to global analytics firm Sysomos, “only 0.06% of Twitter users have more than 20,000 followers”. That’s a tiny percentage of people who have the possibility to become social media influencers. Facts like these would have bolstered the book and not just present the rosy side of influencer marketing.

I Tweet What I Like breaks a number of conventions a traditional publisher would frown at, but that’s the least of Phamotse and her readers’ worries as she’s a self-publishing author. She’s thrown almost all genres into the book: self-help tips and affirmations, marketing strategy, biography and confessional. (In 2017, Phamotse revealed she had been sexually assaulted by a deputy minister in then president Jacob Zuma's cabinet. Her first novel Bare also dealt with sexual assault — and she touches on the same subject in the current book.)

Research by World Wide Worx and Ornico shows that, as of 2018, 8-million South Africans used social media. Phamotse is a smart businesswoman. And here she’s spotted a gap. There is not much print literature that focuses on Twitter and social media in general — at least not in SA. The issues she raises in
I Tweet What I Like are real, but have been treated in an accessible, if not popular culture kind of way.

More remains to be written, but the conundrum is that, while people might run to social media for reasons of escapism, they might find in-depth literature on these issues less appealing or even daunting to read.

Mostly a light read, with some strategy thrown in for measure, I Tweet What I Like is akin to scrolling through an inspirational, self-help Twitter feed — you’ll be left inspired but what follows is that, at the end of the day, one has to face and make friends with reality.