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How Beauty Social Media Maven Manal Shaikh Became an Instagram Star... Without the Overshare

The 23-year-old with a psychology degree is the force behind three of the beauty world's most popular Instagram accounts
Photo: Manal Shaikh

Photo: Manal Shaikh

Even if you don't know Manal Shaikh by name, there's a good chance that if you're a beauty fan, you follow at least one of the 23 year-old Canadian's Instagram feeds. As the (mostly quiet) puppet master behind the nail art account @naildecor (1.9 million followers), makeup tutorial feed @wakeupandmakeup (9.6 million) and nail how-to gallery @naildecorvideos (3.9 million), she's one of the largest forces in the beauty social space today. And just to make you really feel like a slacker, she set it all up while studying psychology at Toronto's York University.

Shaikh doesn't exactly fit the profile of a social media star. Sure, she has big eyes and photogenic features. She also has something in common with influencer Huda Kattan: a tie to the Middle East (she was born in Abu Dhabi before her family moved to Ontario when she was six). But unlike other Instagram personalities, she just occasionally shows her face — and only on her @naildecor page — and her name shows up in the bio of that page as well. Ultimately, with two of her accounts serving as places where she is showcasing other artists' work, you can hardly call her a level-10 attention grabber.

Then there's that psychology background. She didn't set out to snag a full-time career in beauty, but what began as a way to showcase a hobby after her classes in 2012 quickly grew into a lively community for the makeup and nail-obsessed. In fact, @wakeupandmakeup made's list of the top 100 most-followed accounts

Ahead of the big Instagram algorithm changes, I figured it would a great time to check in with one of the beauty social world OGs to find out how she organically grew multiple successful beauty accounts from the ground up. Here's what she had to say about connecting with her audience, how she plans to conquer Snapchat, and how she maintains and grows her pages without posting a million selfies. (Yes, it's possible.)

You have an interesting background for a beauty social media person. How did you first get started in the space?

Art in general is a hobby for me. But the reason I started doing nail art is because of my sister, Iqra. She's a child with Cerebral Palsy. Well, she's not a child anymore — she's 15 years old! Though her diagnosis was a shock to us, it was a blessing in disguise that brought us closer. Growing up, I would come straight home from school to babysit her while my parents worked. I resorted to painting my nails to pass the time.

How did you decide to set up your Instagram feed from there?

One summer I was laying in bed next to her while she slept, and something triggered me to randomly download the Instagram app. I hate sharing my selfies — clearly why I stay very MIA on the page — so I posted my nail art pictures instead. A week later, I had over 100 followers.

Four months later, I discovered there wasn't a page that [specifically] catered to supporting makeup artists like there already was for nail artists, so I created @wakeupandmakeup.

Did you have a plan or did it develop as you went along?

I started by posting styles I personally liked. I noticed more wearable things like a simple liner or warm-toned eye makeup would receive more activity than the dramatic, more colorful looks. In a nutshell, I learned the algorithm of my page by observing what was helping me gain followers and what was making me lose them. And in general I look for good quality videos and imagery.

Do you think your psychology degree comes into play at all?

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No. I should have studied marketing and business if I'm completely honest. I feel that marketing correlates to social media a lot more than psychology.

Some people imply that it's necessary for influencers to "overshare" in order to be successful, but the size of your audience seems to contradict that. What would you say to this?

I feel that it's a misconception that you have to show your face in order to be a successful influencer — it really depends on what the theme of your social media page is. Since I use mine as a marketing platform to support brands and makeup artists, posting myself is irrelevant, and I like it that way.

What do you think you understand about building a community that other people get wrong?

It's very important to be empathetic when building a community. For me, it's all about catering to the wants and needs of what my viewers genuinely love. To have a community is to support what they like and to sacrifice posting what they don't. You need to have and hold a connection.

Do you think the new Instagram tweaks will change the beauty space?

It'll definitely be much harder to grow an organic audience as Instagram continues to make changes, but I think it will impact small businesses the most. If a business posts about a sale and the chronological order doesn't exist, then you'd have a lot of users missing the post. That's a problem.

With more apps popping up every day, what are you focusing on now?

I'm working on growing my Snapchat; I'm starting a takeover series where a makeup artist will take over the official @wakeupandmakeup snapchat (username: @wamofficial) and showcase a how-to or do a Q&A session. They'll have it for an entire day and it'll be totally up to them what they'd like to [feature].

Baking, strobing, contouring — what's the next big Instagram makeup trend?

I consider color-correcting a new trend, especially applying red/orange lipstick under your eyes to minimize the appearance of dark circles. But more than makeup trends, I forecast more launches of products that can make application easier.

And what's next for you?

The launch of Eyeris Beauty, my 3D silk lash line. I strongly support the cruelty-free movement, so I wanted to ensure that this brand would not carry animal fur or animal byproducts. The official launch date is Sunday, April 3. I'm so excited! I'm also going on a "Dream Team Tour" with the makeup school TNT Agency in four cities: Houston, LA, Chicago, and Miami. We will have live demos, handouts, hands-on assistance for our VIP students, and a segment where I will share all the tips and tricks on how to grow your social media, so people can catch me there. [Ed Note: You can find out more about it here.]

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