IT PAYS TO BE POPULAR Anesha George ■ firstname.lastname@example.org
Microinfluencers people like us, but with 10k followers or more are making a living crafting posts for brands. Special agencies are now popping up to help them expand their client base, maximise reach
Samidha Singh quit her job as a financial analyst to become a fashion influencer on Instagram. You’d think the work would be easier, she says, but it’s almost as hard, with absolutely no days off. The difference is that she enjoys what she does, “and I earn enough to ignore disapproving remarks from relatives, and put my parents’ fears to rest.” Singh made the switch after clothing brands started offering her ₹2,000 for a single post. “This started after my follower count crossed 10,000,” she says.
That is essentially when she became a micro-influencer. Typically, a micro-influencer is someone who is active on social media, with a clear focus area (the most lucrative fields are fashion, technology, food, travel and music), at least 10,000 followers on a single platform, and the ability to craft posts that create buzz for brands.
With Singh, 25, her first offers were from small, local design houses in Mumbai. Over time, she graduated to bigger brands like Myntra, Aeropostale and Westside.
But she didn’t do that bit alone. She signed up with an influencer marketing platform. As the number of micro-influencers grows, agencies are cropping up to help organise this segment of digital advertising. They connect the influencer with the brand seeking mileage online; do background checks to make sure the influencer’s followers are real and not bots and help the brands craft their campaigns.
Singh signed up with an agency called TeraReach, which was set up in Delhi in 2015 and has since added offices in Mumbai and Bengaluru. Other such companies include Mumbai-based Chtrbox and GetEvangelized, both founded in 2015; Chennai’s Influencer.in (2015); Gurugram’s Eleve Media (2012) and BuzzOne, based in Delhi and set up in 2010. They claim access to between 20,000 and 80,000 non-celebrity influencers each.
Clients include big brands like Bacardi, PepsiCo, Panasonic and Tinder as well as niche designers and smaller labels like Shaze, TrulyMadly and Swoo. The most popular platforms are Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, in that order, with video the most-preferred medium.
Back to the hard part, Singh, 25, posts her first picture at 9.30 am sharp every day. Her make-up is perfect, every hair is in place, as she stands or leans or holds a tennis racquet against a picturesque background. But the real star is her outfit — the freshly unboxed everyday wear of a fashionista.
She’s usually still in bed at 9.30 am, she confesses. So the photograph is selected and captioned carefully the day before — no matter where in the world she is, or what she’s doing. A typical shoot takes about six hours, so she maintains a bank of 100 images to draw from.
“Most people scroll while commuting, so 9.30 to 11.30 am is very busy,” she says. Singh has 1.9 lakh followers and the average post gets about 4,000 likes and 30 comments — about 50% of which she responds to in real time. Through the rest of the day, she posts up to three stories and maybe another photo — not too much, not too little. She earns from almost every post.
Micro-influencers offer the peoplelike-us advantage, says Karthik Srinivasan, former national lead for Social@ Ogilvy and now an independent communications consultant on social media marketing. “They are more real and relatable than celebrities and have a more immediate connect with followers.”
The phenomenon grew massively with the availability of affordable Internet, fostering a rapidly multiplying follower base, adds Aditya Gurwara, servicing head at TeraReach. The penetration of WhatsApp has also helped in the last couple of years.
“With micro-celebs, the audience can realistically yearn for a similar lifestyle,” says Lavin Mirchandani, founder of GetEvangelized. “And they cost much less than a celebrity. That combination is what works for the brands.”
› Microinfluencers offer the peoplelikeus advantage.They are real and relatable and have a more immediate connect. KARTHIK SRINIVASAN, social media marketing consultant and former head of Social@Ogilvy › With thousands of microinfluencers promoting a product, credibility can take a hit. The advertising industry has a high level of fatigue. Brands and influencers need to know how to strike a balance. PRAHLAD KAKKAR, veteran ad filmmaker
BOTS & COPYCATS
Because the aim is to ‘be like the target customer’, a micro-influencer can be anyone — a student, a mother, a corporate executive. Find someone with a big following, and a certain reach is almost guaranteed.
“But there is a big difference between reach and influence,” Srinivasan points out. “Reach comes from followers, and influence comes from consistent and credible attention earned over a period of time. Signing up a lot of smaller, online voices aggregates into better visibility online from people you relate to, but does not directly translate into quantifiable sales.”
Add to that the issues of fake hits and bots. “Many influencers have their own network of ‘close’ followers who engage on auto-mode, thus faking reach and engagement,” says Malhar Barai, head of marketing, HiTech Vertical, Tech Mahindra.
Many platforms have created their own tech to fight this. TeraReach uses deep analytics and artificial intelligence-led software called Qoruz to run a background check on every influencer they sign up. It also gives each influencer a score that aims to represent their true reach.
Similarly, Chtrbox has a discovery engine that scans millions of posts to find real influencers. They’ve also used algorithms and machine learning to give each influencer a social media value, so it’s easier to track their reach and relevance.
After that, it’s a question of matching client with influencer. “The nature of the campaign and the budget determine which influencers we approach, how many we enlist,” says Gurwara of TeraReach.
A pencil brand might collaborate with a doodle artist. “An online portal may pay up to ₹5,000 just for adding a link to the caption of a regular picture,” says Singh.
Hundreds of micro-influencers may be roped in for an extended, big-budget push. Chtrbox says they used 750 influencers and 10,400 posts to reach lakhs of social media users during the Whisper #LikeAGirl campaign. In a more direct but low-key drive, they say they engaged with 28,200 users through 769 influencer posts causing the sale of 70 referral tickets for Spoken Fest 2017 in Mumbai.
FEAR OF MISSING OUT
The big downside, micro-influencers say, is that you can never switch off. “With great power, comes great responsibility,” says tech micro-influencer Amit Bhawani, 35, from Hyderabad. “Even on holiday, you’ve got to squeeze work in too.”
Holidays, in fact, become a place to put out even more content than usual, because you’re in a new, picturesque location.
Bhawani says he plans trips with an eye on shooting good video content, something his family is less than thrilled about.
Influencers worry about loss of balance too — many said it was like a tightrope walk, trying to not lose followers by overposting while also making sure they kept their clients happy.
With the sector growing fast, there is need for organising and regulating the business model. “Content creators are still not well aware of their IP rights. Licensing is likely to become an integral part of this process,” says Mirchandani of GetEvangelized.
The emergence of regional influencers and churning of localised content is one of the things to look out for next. “There is a new wave of regional creators and brands want them to create original content in local languages,” says Pranay Swarup, founder of Chtrbox.
LinkedIn could be the next big platform. “There is big opportunity for B2B influencer marketing here,” says Srinivasan.
For now, the influencers are enjoying their sudden shift into the spotlight. Bhawani recently organised a fan meet-cumtech talk for his followers in Delhi, and 520 people turned up. “I was so surprised,” he says, grinning. “We actually had to have bodyguards at the site and everyone wanted to take selfies with me!”
(Clockwise from left) Samidha Singh, 25, quit a job as a financial analyst to be a fashion microinfluencer. She has 1.9 lakh followers on Instagram.A post from Karan Marwah’s Instagram page.Amit Bhawani, 35, focuses on tech and has over 86,000 followers.A post by travel microinfluencer Ankit Dhame, who has over 55,000 followers.Marwah, 24, takes a shot. Cheap tech has made it easier to be an influencer.Dhame’s, 22, work takes him to international destinations for brands like GoPro.Marwah has been working with brands for three years; Saloni Sehra, 22, has over 5 lakh followers for her fashion feed; Dhame goes by the handle pixelsior.