“As this industry is fairly new, it is also fairly lawless,” says Mitali Patel, who runs an Instagram handle called House of Misu. Patel is referring to the social media-led phenomenon called Influencer Marketing, that became, not too long ago, the marketer’s darling. But soon enough, cracks in the system became apparent and marketers realised that it’s not all pretty and bright like the filters on these apps.
Recently, Facebook-owned photo sharing app Instagram came up with multiple measures to bring correction to the rapidly growing menace of ‘fake’ likes and followers that were being facilitated by multiple third-party apps. So much so that one Google search throws up tonnes of platforms that promise nearly 10,000 followers for prices as low as Rs 2,000. The question that arises now is whether the humungous number followers that these influencers boast of are real or is it all a bubble ready to burst?
Speaking to Brand Equity, Sandeep Bhushan, director and head of India GMS, Facebook, says that the company “devotes significant resources to detecting and stopping any kind of inauthentic behaviour. We have also recently begun the global test of making Like counts private to a small percentage of our users in India. This, we hope will bring the focus more on the photos and videos posted, not the number of likes they get, and ultimately drive deeper engagement.”
Marketing experts see this as a somewhat positive development.
“Content creators will not flinch with this policy as the platform has favoured content in the past and will continue to do so. Even the influencers who have grown organically will not see major changes. Engagement metrics have gone beyond Likes now. The axing by Instagram might affect so-called influencers who have never delivered quality engagement,” says Harsh Shah, senior VP, client services, Dentsu Webchutney.
According to Instagram, it has been actively deploying tools to remove inauthentic likes, follows and comments from accounts that use third-party apps to ensure there is less incentive to use the fraudulent services.
Harshil Karia, founder of marketing agency Schbang, says, “With questions on fake followers and influencers endorsing competing brands, brands who use them and their agencies will only audit them harder. There are already audit mechanisms in place at top brands which whet for fake following and tracking the amount of competition they endorse and whether they endorse mass brands too much / premium brands too much. For example, a premium brand may have an issue if they endorse mass brands too much. They’re also being audited on geography of their followers and engagement rates.”
In today’s world of instant updates, consumers tend to buy into an influencers’ advice primarily due to trust factor, but with innumerable brands fighting for attention, credibility runs the risk of taking the backseat.
Popular content creator Sejal Kumar, tells BE, “When I work with a brand, I see if it’s a product that I’d like to use in my personal life and if it’s something I’ve already been using, then nothing like it. I also pick campaigns/brands basis what’s going to be useful for my viewers.”
According to Business Insider Intelligence estimates, influencer marketing industry is on track to be worth up to $15 billion globally by 2022. Global beauty product brand L’Oréal India is also heavily invested in influencer marketing. The company’s chief digital officer, Anil Chilla, says, “Influencers play a key role in passing on the message and helping us connect with our consumers in a personalised way.”
Smartphone maker OnePlus has also been actively involved in speaking to its consumers via content creators. “Instead of using one ambassador across the Indian market, we engage with fans through partnerships with influencers that appeal to divergent demographic groups. This has resulted in us seeing almost 8.5% blended engagement rate,” says Vikas Agarwal, general manager, OnePlus India.
However, the effectiveness of influencer marketing can vary for different brands. Smaller ones often struggle to get the return on investment in the way a large one with premium products might.
“For us, strategic tie-ups with influencers have helped create some brand awareness, but whether that translates into building a consumer base among their followers is difficult to gauge as yet,” says Shridhar Taparia, brand head, Future Consumer.
The relatively more popular influencers, too, are conscious of the changing dynamics of the business.
Patel of House of Misu who called the influencer marketing industry “fairly lawless” says, “Some of the world’s biggest celebrities are reported to have a few million fake followers. It is a big issue because it affects all of us. Brands who are blinded by numbers don’t realise they are paying to market to essentially no one of value to their brand.”
Engagement, not likes or followers, is the mantra seen emerging as one of the results of the crackdown on fakes on the app by using machine learning tools to identify accounts that use third-party services to boost their popularity.
Apaksh Gupta, founder, marketing solutions company One Impression, sums it up, “The crackdown will not only help get rid of fake accounts and bots, but also ensure that better and engaging content comes forth on social media, which in-turn will enable brands and marketers to work around the engagement metrics much better.”
“We seek to partner with influencers who have built their following organically through efforts and talent. We check that influencers do not buy or artificially inflate follower count or engagement through paid-for or ‘like-for-like’ means. We are also fully transparent when communicating about the nature of our relationship with influencers, to ensure and retain consumer trust.”
Anil Chilla, Chief Digital Officer, L’Oréal India
“Influencers have their fan base and people look forward to their views and reviews. The Body Shop has certain mandates that we tick off before engaging in influencer collaboration as we are try to give out the right communication to our audience rather than just falling for likes and followers.”
Harmeet Singh, VP, marketing merchandising and ecomm South Asia, The Body Shop
“Strategic tie-ups with influencers have helped create some brand awareness, but whether that translates into building a consumer base among their followers is difficult to gauge as yet”
Shridhar Taparia, brand head, Future Consumer
“There has already been a correction of prices in cases where brands have not seen returns or even reorientation of spends out of influencers. Mobile phones for example used to spend heavily on influencers with every launch. That spend has reduced once it was observed that they didn’t bring a significant impact. Similarly, in beauty there has been a renegotiation of prices across the board.”
Harshil Karia, Founder & MD, Schbang
“Influencers who have grown organically will not see major changes with a platform’s policy changes as engagement metrics have gone beyond likes now and brand managers have already started demanding quality engagement from influencers. Metrics and KPIs are already changed for most of the influencers. Yes, they will have to justify the amount charged either with quality content or quality engagement. There is a rise of Tik Tok influencers who are showing tremendous potential to drive conversations and content.”
Harsh Shah, Senior V-P, Client Services, Dentsu Webchutney
“It is important for brands to understand that consumers follow a certain influencer primarily for the content and unless their products are weaved in to with quality content, the efficacy of the exercise won’t yield the desired results. A mistake that brands often make is that they try to tell their story through the
influencer, rather than letting the influencer integrate the brand in their story. Fans follow an influencer to know about them, not about the brand per se.”
Neville Shah, Executive Creative Director, Ogilvy
As influencers, we make sure to vet the brands and products as best we can before agreeing to collaborate. We also ensure that the brands are a good fit for our brand and for our audience.
Mitali Patel, content creator
Getting the numbers has become an easy task, a click bait title, a great thumbnail and you’re done. Brands and marketing agencies have become smart in figuring this out. If I switch to a different brand every month, my credibility as an influencer and confuse viewers too.