As a social media influencer and as a brand strategist… I’m somehow placed at this unique and very special juncture where I can see and live, both points of view … and so here’s my objective point of view on what’s plaguing the world of influencer marketing and how brands should ideally (& effectively) use this powerful and unique, new age communication tool! And I may end up ruffling a few feathers here, but hey… someone needs to tell the truth!
So let’s begin with looking at the major trends plaguing ‘Influencer marketing’ in India:
# Trend 1: Decline in Profitability in being an influencer:
Let me be honest. It’s true! Why?
- Loss of Aura: With the explosion in the number of so called ‘influencers’ at all levels, there’s a loss of aura… there’s nothing special in being an influencer anymore… Neither brands, nor influencers themselves feel like it’s a major big deal.
- Stagnating numbers: People are confused as to who and how many bloggers and influencers to follow! The few influencers who had the initial advantage had it, but today, numbers and stats of newer bloggers are stagnating and are really hard-fought… because honestly, followers also do get tired of the same-ness around!
- Patience for reading is going down: Another truth we writers are all grappling with… general patience levels for reading are going down! Hence, serious blogging… with rich, long copy content finds fewer takers these days!
- Too much fragmentation: From a client’s perspective, there is way too much fragmentation! Hence, they’re obviously getting skeptical, and are not interested in monetizing influencers beyond a point…! Too many bloggers and social media influencers coming into the fold also makes the decision making for clients (on who to pick) rather difficult and superficial!
Hence, they end up rating and picking influencers predominantly on reach, and look for free barters without really caring for ‘a particular’ influencer…! And believe you me, there are hundreds of influencers out there, more than happy to get freebies and pose for pictures!
- Major FOMO: So what then happens to those serious bloggers, creating great content but unfortunately, stuck with similar numbers…?! FOMO Happens…! (Fear Of Missing Out – Yea, social media lingo getting the better of me!) It happens to all influencers, and in the process, they end up letting brands take them for granted! – (Very simply, we look at other influencers’ Instagram accounts… realize they’re doing something for a brand that we’re not… we get a FOMO attack… we end up doing a barter just to get the brand in our portfolio… & then we regret and realize we just ended up de-valuing our own work!)
# Trend 2: Decline in Efficacy of numbers:
- Same-ness of Content: Content of most influencers is neither rich nor differentiated. (Caught in a trap of wanting consumer attention for reading / viewing, bloggers want to do crisper content, but end up losing the richness of it… it’s a vicious cycle!)
If you do a quick visual audit of influencers, you’re left bereaved by the sea of sameness because of which… individual, unique personality (of the blog) is not developed.
That is why… visually and content-wise, those who are bold enough to create something really unique and original, are the only ones who stand out!
However, influencers helplessly set this trap for themselves because of the ‘FOMO’… trying to play catch up and not generating original content which resonates with their unique personality.
- Reach vs. Brand Personality match: Now from a client’s perspective… Brand owners very religiously craft their brand’s personality. However, caught between ‘reach’ v/s ‘brand match’, often they end up choosing ‘reach’ over influencers who match their brand’s personality… (because the latter obviously is the softer, non-measurable part of the system!)
- Focus on Pictorial Content: Since most content seems to be pictorial, Instagram has become more important than blogs, because even on the blog, people just see pics and don’t really read beyond a point!
This ends up in brands picking ‘Instagram influencers’ over ‘bloggers’ who can actually create quality content that is well written and visually appealing, which can actually induce behavior change to some extent.
- Influencer Marketing relegated to ‘awareness creation’, not for addressing serious marketing problems: If pictures and short-content is all that the focus is on, it basically means that influencers are primarily being seen as buzz creators and are getting relegated to just the task of creating awareness.
Without blogs being read or videos being viewed, no real behavior change can be instigated.
So while they might be able to induce trials via instructional videos and reviews, they cannot help correct brand imagery, induce habit change or introduce a new category into the consumer’s current repertoire – which is where higher marketing effort and budgets are!
In simple, blunt words – Influencers are being used by brands as in-expensive alternatives to models… (A pretty picture showcasing the product with a short – often pre-dictated caption, on Instagram)… while their intellect and skill is actually hardly being leveraged by brands!
And if influencer marketing is relegated to just social media, and creating a buzz and awareness around a launch or a sale season, then that essentially means that, of the overall marketing budget for one single activity, which is already fragmented into a zillion other media, activations, PR and other marketing activities, there will obviously be very little of the budget for influencer marketing! Hence, it’s obvious that brands don’t want to pay!
- Consumer Distrust: And people aren’t fools! There’s obviously a rising distrust among people because most bloggers’ pages seem to be laden with sponsored post after sponsored post… promotion after promotion… without enough honest / original content, point of view or opinion!
- Individual Influencers are seen as temporary: Because they are young when they start out… there’s a perception that as they grow older, over a period of time they might either not take it as seriously and move on… or may just become monotonous in their content and hence, fade away!
And the truth is that most influencers don’t mind that… because while they are young (in college or just out of college), being an influencer is a way of getting fame, attending parties and being showered with goodies… And because of influencers themselves treating this profession so tactically, the brand owners also treat them tactically… and so do consumers!
So what should influencers do?
- Look at longevity where the platform is beyond being a personal brand. (Look at MissMalini.com for example… all the above issues don’t apply to her because of her being an influencer at a platform level!)
- Content Strategy: Create a content strategy for yourself and stick to the content calendar. (Most obvious, which most people miss out on)
- Be yourself and be differentiated: (again obvious… which hardly anyone really follows) Draw from your own personality and let that shine through, rather than becoming a me-too of anyone else! Create content that inspires you and find your own niche.
- Develop new skills: Don’t just look at teaching skills… also learn on-the-go! Blogging opens up so many opportunities for us to learn and experiment and share those new skills. Learning new skills can help refresh our minds and our content… and keep us from stagnating and getting lost in the realm of same-ness!
And there’s a newer set of possibilities that can be explored as well… by both brands and influencers…. For example,
- Influencer as researcher: They interact with people… they get queries and feedback from their followers… if used intelligently, influencers can make for amazing researchers for brands!
- Influencers as co-creators: Remember how Burberry let Brooklyn Beckham take his camera and go about shooting the latest campaign for the brand? Well… that may be a little far-fetched, but at a smaller scale… influencers can be used by brands to co-create content that’s not just limited to their individual blogs or social media handles…
Brands can associate with influencers who share their brand values and personality, and give them the creative freedom to create content that’s unique and possibly more cost effective for the brand!
- Influencer as orchestrator: Again, it’s a rising trend and few influencers are already doing it…! Influencers know other influencers… it’s like a small community! And when one of our own asks us for something, we do it a lot more willingly than when an external agency does so!
Agencies too can benefit from using influencers as orchestrators themselves! (some already have started adopting this…)
The challenge for the brand here, is to find the right person… who understands the brand, understands the marketing objectives and is responsible enough to get work done!
And by orchestration here, I don’t mean just social media campaigns or event attendance! I mean orchestrating entire campaigns and getting incredible, indigenous content created by bloggers who are a brand-personality match!
If done right, these can add great value to your brand (client) and to you as an influencer… and could be the foundation of a longer, more sustainable relationship and association.
Hope you found this article useful!
Fashion Blogger, Qualitative Researcher, Brand Strategist, Fashion & Luxury marketing specialist. (Say YES to shameless self-promotion :P)