Lerai knows a thing or two about personal branding. As the face of Nickelodeon Africa, Lerai successfully represents both herself and the kiddies’ TV channel. It starts with your social media, she says, which she approaches as a CV. “Everything that is on your social media platform has to reflect who you are as a working professional,” says Lerai. “So, if you are a creative, make sure that you have a body of work that someone can easily find on your social media. If you dance, if you act, if you model – whatever it is – we need to see that body of work on your social media pages. But, we’d also like to see a bit of your personality, so make sure that comes through.”
Lerai is a natural on camera; she’s the right amount of animated and captivating; an overall star. She was born into creativity, especially performance. “When I was about five years old,” says the 19-year-old creative entrepreneur, social changemaker, conversation strategist, television presenter and actress, “my mother put me in modelling school. I was quite a tomboy, and so she thought I needed some ‘polishing’. Little did she know that was going to equip me with all the confidence I needed to carry on. I started doing drama when I was about 10 years old, and I really put in my 10,000 hours from then on. When I was 15 years old, I started working professionally within the entertainment industry. I actually started doing a web series.”
She may have gotten a head start, but Lerai believes anyone can get to where she is. “It’s never too late to start,” she says, emphasising that one can start at any age. “It starts with knowing yourself; your strengths and weaknesses; identifying your x-factor. You need to embrace the things that naturally make you, you,” she says. “If you are a quirky or weird person, embrace all of those things. It’s what makes up your personality and makes you charismatic.”
After identifying and deciding on your place as a creative, Lerai encourages building a portfolio. It’s a realisation that hit her at 15. “I had been doing this modelling and acting for such a long time,” she says. “But I didn’t have my body of work on my social media. So, there was this confusion among my followers, which was: ‘What is it exactly that Lerai does?’ So, from there, I was like, I need to post the stuff that I do. So, I started posting about my interests; I started going live and talking about the things that are important to me; engaging in conversations about gender-based violence, politics… I love politics – I mean I’m studying politics.”
It’s such activity, she says, that generally leads to more audience engagement and, inevitably, growth. She mentions, however, that growing one’s audience can take time, and plateaus are to be expected. “I’ve gone through that so much, where I was like, why is my audience not growing?” she recalls. “I can even say I’m going through that right now.” The solution? “What you need to focus on as a creative who doesn’t necessarily create content is that social media is an extension of what you do, so just focus on having fun. You’re gonna stress yourself out trying to push engagement and all that. Make sure that you enjoy the content you’re creating – you would do it even without an audience.”
Lerai and several of her counterparts have moved strategically to the top. But social media is fraught with accounts that rely on low-hanging fruits to grow their brands (if we may). Clicking on a trending hashtag on Twitter often leads a user to people shamelessly plugging their hustles under popular hashtags. The snobs sneer at it. But not Lerai. “It’s a form of marketing,” she points out.
“It’s strategic, in a way; you are riding a wave of what people already have eyes on. If reach is what you want, then yeah, but if you want real engagement – people who want your content and will engage with it – make sure you use the relevant hashtags and also post valuable things. What you post is directly linked to your brand.
“We have to be very mindful of all the things we post online,” she adds. “Remember, the digital world is a permanent world, so even if you delete it now, somebody has a screenshot, has saved it or shared it, or it’s just up there in the cloud. You can never run away from these things.”
So, as much as there’s no need to be stuck-up or boring, it’s important to maintain professionalism both on social media and in the physical world, as a personal brand. “That means showing up to set or showing up to work on time and making everybody you work with feel invited,” says Lerai. “They must feel your presence. You also need to make sure that you are on top of your game – that you can do what you’re doing if someone wakes you up in the middle of the night.
“We are in a digital world right now, in light of the fourth industrial revolution. So, how do you build your brand on social media? You need to make sure you have a professional presence on social media.”
Lerai lives up to her principles – on the day this interview was conducted, she showed up on time and exuded a positive aura; she was energetic and polite, and respected those around her. It’s always the little things.
“The first thing is that you need to know who you are. Put a mission statement together for yourself where you highlight three important things: who you are, what you do and how you do it. Who you are – talk about where you come from and who you are as a human”
“You cannot have strategy without having a mission statement, because you must know who you are, what you do and how you are going to do it. Then, you’ll be able to define what your strategy is. What I like to do is to put a three-year plan or a five-year plan in place. For example, when I started working when I was 15 years old, I put together a plan of the people I could picture myself working with. The words that sort of resonated with me. I wanted to do something fun, but I also wanted to speak to the African youth because that is something that I am very passionate about.”
“My third tip is to dedicate yourself to your craft. There’s something that I heard from a scout from the US at a pageant I was doing. And what she said has stuck with me to this day. She said that, as a model, you are just a hanger for clothes. Now, it may not be a nice thing to process at the time, but it’s true. You are literally just a hanger for clothes, and it’s your job to make the clothes look good. Now consider your craft as those clothes. Everything that you do – who you are as a person – has to be for the benefit of the craft, especially when we are looking at ourselves as brands; as a personal brand.”
“Make sure that you invest in yourself. If you want people to invest in you as a human being and a brand, you also need to invest in yourself. Make sure that you look good and that you carry yourself as the person you want to be.”
“Make sure that you are flexible. If you have a strategy in place and you know who you are, you can work around the boundaries of all those goals. So, if something doesn’t go right – for instance, if one door closes in one area (perhaps there’s a project you really wanted to work on, and it didn’t work out), it’s okay, if you’re flexible. Something else will come up.”
This article is part of a new series of masterclasses, powered by Capitec. The five-part series will run for the next five months.