Co-founder and CEO of Yuvaa, a youth media startup working to empower the youth of India, Nikhil Taneja is passionate about issues that many Indians choose to remain silent on. From bursting myths around mental health to recently speaking against the media frenzy over the son of a Bollywood megastar arrested in a drug raid, Taneja, along with his eclectic team at Yuvaa, chooses to represent and be the voice of many young Indians today.
“Yuvaa’s content is of, for, and by the youth and it truly represents them and their urgent issues. We are a platform that listens to young people and makes meaningful entertainment to start a conversation with them,” is how team Yuvaa describes itself.
At the recent Creator Day India event, hosted by social media platforms Instagram and Facebook, Taneja spoke spoke about virality and its impact on online content creators. We caught up with him afterwards about his online journey, what analytics means to him, and his view of going ‘viral’. Edited excerpts:
Today, there are 35,000-plus people following you on Instagram and over 28,000 on Twitter. What do these numbers mean to you personally?
I think numbers give the work you do more credibility from the perspective of the people who are following your work—these signify that you perhaps do have something meaningful to say that resonates with so many others. I won't go to the extent of saying that personally, numbers don't matter to me, because they do, for the very reason I have given. But I am wary of giving them too much importance because if you do that, you very quickly let the numbers become the masters, and you end up chasing after them. I use my social media to express myself, and if there are people who resonate with that expression, that's amazing. But I don't express to find more people to resonate with it!
When and why did you decide to use social media as a space for conversations that needed to be had?
I didn't start out with the intention of having meaningful conversations. My online journey mirrors my offline work. As a millennial, my early 20s online aesthetic was terrible jokes and embarrassing confessions (please don't look them up!). But as I started finding my own voice, through the work I did as a writer-producer with Yash Raj Films, as a professor at Jai Hind College in Mumbai, and eventually, as the founder of Yuvaa, I wanted my online journey to be an accurate reflection of my offline work. I believe the most important work I do is listening to young people, and in trying to create an impact on their lives so that they feel a little less alone. And my online expression is an extension of that work, whether that means making them less alone through conversations about patriarchy, mental health, social media exhaustion, empathy, or through fun one-liners about what I feel about the world we live in today.
The rise and fall of a content creator can be one of the quickest amongst most professions. How does one find stability here? What advice would you share with new and seasoned creators?
We are still the first generation of human beings to get these massive, scalable platforms on social media, where you can go from being completely unknown to someone everyone wants to know in the span of one viral video (hats off, Yashraj Mukhate). We are still figuring out how to use them to our advantage, but at the same time, not get overwhelmed or addicted or anxious about what so much, so soon, can do. My advice to any new creator or seasoned one would be the same I give myself: Add to the conversation, not to the noise. There's so much noise with so many people doing so many new things—what value are you adding to the conversation? What insights are you uniquely bringing to the table? And the other advice—take breaks. Just like corporate professionals need weekends after five days of work, creators also need rest days. If you want to do this in the long run, it's important to pace yourself. Rest, restore, recover, to be refreshed.
For most professions today, one is required to go through an interview process or have certain skills/qualifications but being an influencer or a creator mostly requires neither. Do you feel there should be a deciding factor here or that the content should speak for itself?
I think there is already a deciding factor, and the most democratic of it all—the audience. Apart from entertainment, there is no other profession where the audience decides your fate. If you are able to connect with them, make them feel or think, or entertain them, you are here to stay. And that's exactly how it should be. Because on the internet, anyone from any background at any time, can come from anywhere and win everyone's heart. It's the only true democracy there is! It would be a pity if there were gatekeepers in it—given that most large-scale forms of entertainment have gatekeepers who come from a certain class, caste, community. The internet is the great equalizer.
Have you ever felt the pressure to post or do you not look at the insights and algorithms at all?
Yes, I do. I am human, after all! Anytime something you publish does well online, it's a dopamine hit where you now want more things to work, you want more great comments, more followers, more shares, more notifications. And while there was a time where I'd be chasing these dopamine hits, too, I'm now very mindful. Whenever something of mine gets shared a lot, I have a cool-off period. I don't post something for at least a few days, so that I'm only expressing because I want to, not because I have to. I believe in a simple thing—speak when you have something to say, not because you have to say something.
Finally, do you have any go-to profiles on Instagram that brighten your day?
So many! I love @thatindianchick and @kareemabarry, they are so, so funny! So are @awwwnchal and @pulkitkochar. I love @virajghelani, @mostlysane @ahsaasy, who I think are some of the most authentic creators around. I also love the handles of @varunduggi and @sankursonawane @awkwardgoat, because I always get to learn something from them.