IT PAYS TO BE POP­U­LAR Ane­sha Ge­orge ■ ane­sha.ge­orge@hin­dus­tan­times.com

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

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Ht Think! -

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.

PHOTO FIN­ISH

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.

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