By Renuka Kamath
We are actually looking for a bunch of honest influencers, to spread the word about our brand. Come join us states the CEO of a start-up. What made a start-up upload a series of videos recently, expressing frustration with influencers? The CEO announced a hunt for real influencers who can instill confidence in viewers, and speak the truth. It appears social medias favourite child is being roasted.
Followers are power
India, in the last decade or so, has seen an increase in the number of individuals who have gained repute by sharing their interest and knowledge online. They have definite opinions on things that matter to others, which they creatively share. It could be food, art, beauty, clothes, draping a saree, gardening, pet love, etc. Their regular posts on various social media platforms grab attention and we begin following them. Followers define their popularity and undoubtedly their reach. Over time, they begin influencing peoples choices. They become faithfully followed, watched and emulated. They strongly begin influencing.
I have often wondered about the buzz around influencers and influencer marketing. Influencers arent new, nor is influencer marketing. From time immemorial, celebrities and celebrity endorsements have touched our lives. However, there still is a difference. Social media and its virality give a platform for experimentation, uninhibitedness, networking and soliciting views. Move over Bollywood and sports celebrities these are times of nippy responses and contemporary feeds on your social media accounts by influencers. For the uninitiated, it would be useful to know that all social media influencers arent the same. They are categorized in an interesting way.
While primarily on the number of followers they garner on any one social media platform, they are also further classified by the nature of the space they work in – Mega-Influencers (greater than 1 million followers and mostly celebrities), Macro- Influencers (500K to 1 million followers, could be online experts who grew their reputation online or lesser-known celebrities), Mid-tier influencers (50K to 500K followers), Micro-Influencers (10K to 50K followers, ordinary folks who get to be known as specialists for their knowledge of niche areas) and Nano- Influencers (smallest circle of influence of 1K to 10K followers, but maybe known for specialized fields or quirky tangential reasons).
Influencer and influencer marketing
An influencer can be anyone. She can be a photographer, a trekker, an actor, a baker, a declutterist or a coffee drinker. He could be a dancer, a restaurant reviewer, a tattoo artist or a chef. They are followed adoringly for their knowledge, for their nonconformist attitude, their comic sense, and all of this with authenticity. They evangelize what they are convinced about, to become the go-to believable recommenders for their followers. Influencers are supposed to be earnest, genuine, and true to themselves. It is no wonder that brands began actively reaching out to them, mapping them to their product category, and requesting an endorsement, for a payment. Influencer marketing took off.
Meanwhile, influencers are extremely possessive about their followers and like to be an integral part of the brands promotion planning, from the creative ideation stage to the content. An appropriate match between the brand and the influencer is sought. Many influencers advise brands on the amplification that the campaign may require, and charge for it. They feed off each other. Mega influencers are much sought after and may charge anything upward of INR 10 lacs for a single post, which is still small compared to charges globally of up to $1 million per post. Influencer marketing agencies help brands plan their marketing spends by recommending the best influencers on these social media platforms, vlogs, podcasts, etc. Marketing budgets of brands have gradually seen an uptick for influencers. Instagram is by far the leading platform, followed by Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter (Statista 2021). Globally, the influencer market value is at $13.8 bn (Statista 2021).
Will the honest influencer please stand up?
Back to our CEO. What then really made him begin a hunt for honest influencers to propagate his brand? After a purposeful beginning, has the push by influencers swung the other way? In conversations with CMOs and Brand Managers, we find skepticism has slowly crept in, that influencers are going only by the brand script, without even trying or testing the brand. Brand managers find they have little option but to go ahead with product/brand placement in the influencers narratives and agree to the monetization that the industry drives. Is this any different from paid advertising? Influencers please sit up and notice! Perception or reality, your tribe may be at a risk, especially if you play by the rule.
Thanks to this CEO, maybe it is time to go back to the basics of the emergence of influencers, whose main raison d’etre was sharing, influencing, and persuading, but with impartiality and truth. Let influencers influence honestly, as he says.
-The author is a professor of marketing at Bhavan’s SPJIMR. Views expressed are personal.