“Don’t strive for followers; strive for happiness”: Nikki Lilly on the world of social media

Published on: 11 November 2020

Social media is fun, useful and a great way of connecting with people - but it can be overwhelming, and it's important to stay safe if you use it a lot. Inspirational TV presenter, campaigner and YouTube vlogger Nikki Lilly shares her top tips for navigating social media.

Vlogger and presenter Nikki LillyNikki Lilly, courtesy of Walker Books Ltd

I love social media - which probably isn't a surprise to you if you follow me online!

YouTube was the first social media platform that I started using and the thing I loved most about it was the interactivity of watching videos. I found it fascinating to be able to be a fly on the wall in someone else's life. Videos were a big factor in me building up the courage to start my own channel because I saw them as a way to connect with the outside world and people my own age.

When I was ten, my parents allowed me to create an lnstagram account, but for over a year I had it on a private setting and they closely monitored it. I only posted fun and positive things at first - like what I'd been doing with my friends or photos of new make-up and nail polishes - because that's what I'd seen others doing. I wanted to fit in and follow what was “popular” - not because I wanted to gain followers but because I wanted people to like me.

But as time passed, I realized I needed to be more myself - more vulnerable and real - the true Nikki.

I don't know about you, but I find scrolling through endless posts of seemingly perfect lives can really get me down and be quite toxic to my mental health.

I didn't want to show that to other people, especially as my life isn't at all perfect.

I thought it was really important to turn perfection on its head, so I started posting about being a kid constantly in hospital, taking people along with me to appointments, documenting the hard days too. I wanted my followers to have more of an insight into every aspect of my life, not just the edited highlights but the reality.

Here are my 5 top tips for dealing with the often tricky world of social media:

1. Be real.

Being real empowers other people to be their authentic selves on social media. The more true reality we see online the less oppression we’ll feel. I want to make sure that people are aware that even though I get to do cool things and meet some incredible people and idols of mine, my life can be super hard too and that's the reality for many of us.
And it's really important to show the less positive things and hardships in your life. Don't worry that people's perception of you will change. If anything, it will only change for the better. In my experience, people appreciate it when you're real and they can connect with you on a deeper and more meaningful level.

2. Post when you want to and on your own terms

At first, if I missed a few weeks – or even one week – of posting a video on YouTube due to my health, school or other life things, I'd feel guilty and annoyed with myself about it. And often, even if I didn't really have the time, I'd bang out a video because I didn't want to let people down. Now, I only post photos that I'm proud of and that represent “Nikki" rather than things I'll look back on and regret.

3. Don’t strive for followers, strive for happiness 

I just try to enjoy what I’m doing and let the rest come naturally. I also try really hard to remember that social media is just one insignificant portion of my life in the grand of scheme of things. At the end of the day, it's much more important to feel respected and validated by the people I know in real life, than striving to get people I don't even know to quite literally "like" me.
Every month or so I have a clear out to make sure that I’m only following people who have a positive impact on me and my mental health. I follow Katie Piper, LIZZO, Billie Eilish and Winnie Harlow, as they’re such inspirations to me. I want to follow people who empower.

4. Don’t let the haters win

I posted my first YouTube video in 2013, when I was eight. When I finally did turn the comments on, a couple of years later, the first comment I got that really upset me was something like: “You’re so ugly. People are only watching you because your face is messed up.” I’ve had a lot worse since then but hearing that as a ten-year old was really hurtful. Actually, it honestly almost broke me. I remember going downstairs and showing my parents. Straight away they told to block and report the person. Then they gave me a meaningful pep talk, reassuring me that my feelings were totally understandable and valid, but I mustn’t let the haters win. It made me realize that I mustn’t let this one comment stop me from doing what I love and what helps me on my bad days.

5. Digital detox

Although social media can be loads of fun and super useful, there are times when it can be very stressful too. I try to use the "downtime" setting on my iPhone, where you can schedule a time of the day when you're unable to go on any social media-based apps for however long you choose. It's so simple, yet so effective. When I'm having an OK day I schedule it for an hour's detox, but when I'm struggling I literally do it for a whole day.

Nikki Lilly and her book, Come On Life: Highs, Lows and How to Live Your Best Teen LifeNikki Lilly, courtesy of Walker Books Ltd

You can read Nikki’s full chapter on ‘The World of Social Media’ in her new book out now, Come on Life: Highs, Lows and How to Live Your Best Teen Life. Follow Nikki on YouTubeInstagram and Twitter.

Copyright © 2020 Nikki Lilly
Nikki Lilly's Come on Life: Highs, Lows and How to Live Your Best Teen Life by Nikki Lilly
Reproduced by permission of Walker Books Ltd, London SE11 5HJ