Influencer marketing may make up a miniscule fraction of the overall digital advertising spends in India (around 3%,) but it is no longer just a fad. Influencer marketing in India is an evolved marketing tool that advertisers/brands are now leveraging in more meaningful ways compared to last year. At the same time, brands are also wary of declaring that a post is sponsored, in the fear of losing authenticity. Here is a lowdown on some of the trends in the influencer marketing space.
Trending is outdated
Influencer marketing at one time meant just one thing: trending. That attitude has changed over the last year or so with brands looking to achieve far more concrete and substantial KPIs, say experts. Twitter may still have a sidebar that will inform users about the trending topics of the hour and day but Indian brands are not playing that game anymore. “To trend on Twitter is just an eyewash; it may look impressive but has no Return on Investment,” said Prashant Puri, Co-founder and CEO, Yral (pronounced viral). “This year, brands have moved on from the attitude of merely trending on Twitter. To trend on Twitter cannot be the eventual outcome that brands look for from influencer marketing,” noted Venugopal Ganganna, CEO, Langoor.
Both Puri and Ganganna said that brands now seek out metrics like engagement, ad lift, lead generation and website traffic from an influencer marketing campaign. “The more-evolved marketers had woken up to the possibilities of influencer marketing a while back and are now trying to see what it can do for them when it comes to very specialised audiences,” said Siddharth Hegde, MD and Founder, Ethinos Digital Marketing.
The twin troubles of relevant objectives and their measurement are being tackled head-on by digital marketers who have found multiple ways of measuring the impact of a campaign. Hegde said that the most basic challenge with influencer marketing is to measure relevant reach, set clear and achievable objectives and measure actual performance vs. planned and projected performance. “Metrics and objectives can be around leads, brand exposure, visits to the website, actual sales, registrations for an event, etc. but some measures can be tech based like tracking pixels, coupon codes, integrated marketing automation, etc.” he said.
This mature approach to influencer marketing is indicative of the overall positive attitude of advertisers towards influencer marketing. Digital agencies have noticed that slowly but surely more and more brands are making influencer marketing an integral part of their digital marketing strategy. “In the past, brands would spend their surplus on influencer marketing. But now whenever there is a product launch, event or a campaign, they set around 3–5 per cent of their digital budget for influencer marketing alone,” said Manveer Singh Malhi, Head - Digital, iGenero.
Despite the understanding of the scope of influencer marketing, brands are limiting their use of the tool. Many brands rope in influencers to do their bidding for product launches or events. The common feeling among agencies is also that brands are yet to make effective use of micro-influencers and have not entirely understood how micro-influencers must be best leveraged.
According to Malhi, micro-influencers play a very small role in the influencer marketing campaign. “They are mainly leveraged to initiate conversations around the topic and get the brand or hashtag trending on Twitter,” he said.
As a nascent medium, influencer marketing has seen high adoption but innovative formats for influencer marketing are yet to be developed. “While we initiate long format of content marketing like blogging or YouTube videos, we should also look at creating more campaigns out of platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat apart from using them only for product launches or events,” said Sudeep Shukla, Communications Director, Golinopinion.
Ganganna said that micro-influencers are generally picked up by brands on the basis of the number of followers and such metrics. But that is hardly a measure of the person’s depth of knowledge on the subject, he felt. Citing a project he worked on, Ganganna said, “As part of of LETV’s India launch, the brand went for a complete social media splash. We began conversations with those who engaged with us the most during that first splash which were 750 people from across India. Then over the next three months, we created a community from those 750 people. These were users who generally could compare gadgets and had an understanding of the products, etc. and this is how we created our own influencers.”
He felt that with time, influencer marketing brands will innovate with influencer marketing and not merely enlist the support of social media users with a high number of followers.
Paid Post? No Papa!
In June this year, Instagram introduced a new feature - a ‘paid partnership with’ tag - that influencers can use whenever they share a paid post. In the blogpost announcing the launch of this feature Instagram said, “Launching this branded content tool is the first step in ensuring transparency of paid partnerships on Instagram.”
In April 2017, the Advertising Standards Council of India developed a set of guidelines for celebrities who endorse products and brands in advertisements. One of the core guidelines was that celebrities should do due diligence to ensure that all description, claims and comparisons made in the advertisements they appear in or endorse are capable of being objectively ascertained and capable of substantiation and should not mislead or appear deceptive.
Both these developments put the onus on the influencer or celebrity to be transparent and ensure that a product is as good as it claims to be. With no industry body to enforce these guidelines, brands and influencers are laidback when it comes to openly stating on social media platforms that a particular tweet or post is paid for.
“Brands generally don’t ask how an influencer campaign will be carried out if it is native, advertorial or otherwise. Since these are just guidelines, it will be difficult to enforce this as a law,” said Puri responding to whether brands are open to mentioning that a post is sponsored. Malhi said that brands avoid mentioning that a post is sponsored. He said that it will take time for advertisers to get comfortable with the guidelines that have been set to regulate influencer marketing. “The main reason for avoiding using the words sponsored or paid is that the reach and engagement of the tweet reduces if you use those words,” Malhi explained.
In the past, massive influencer marketing faux pas have backfired on the brand and the respective celebrity influencers. In addition, just like brand ambassadors can be dropped by brands if the celebrity courts too much controversy, brands need to be very careful about the influencers they sign on and the messaging that gets out.
All the digital marketers we spoke to said that it is very important for a brand to pick the suitable set of influencers and the right time for their campaign. “We should look at having a dedicated team that conceptualises unique content to be given to the influencer and is in constant touch throughout the campaign with the influencer. We need to be sure of delivering unique content as per the category of influencer and their persona which currently exists on social media. Anything out of it can spark controversy,” said Shukla.
Ganganna said that influencer marketing will become more crisp and meaningful in the next couple of years. “This would mean that a good amount of money will be invested in influencer marketing,” he added.
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