Brands are becoming increasingly keen on working with micro-influencers, but what does that entail?
On social media, the accounts with the most followers are usually celebrities - actors, sportspeople, musicians etc. Brands began to see potential in these influencers and began to work collaboratively with them on digital ad campaigns to increase brand awareness, reach and engagement. Since so many influencers now inhabit social media, they are broadly classified into two categories - macro and micro-influencers. Specialised agencies have cropped up whose job is to connect the right influencer with the right brand. Globally, some of the most popular influencer marketing agencies include Famebit, Upfluence, Hypr, and Trendkite. In India, names like Blogweet, Winkl, Scrunch, Pulpkey, and Viral Vagon are popular.
Globally, influencer marketing platforms maintain a database of millions of influencers. In India, that figure is a few thousand since influencer marketing is a relatively new concept. Within this niche, we noticed that brands were keen on working with micro-influencers.
So who is a micro-influencer? Typically, a user who has a following in the range of 500-25,000 followers and specialises in the creation of a specific type of content in specific segments like travel, fitness, pet health, music etc.
These users are not celebrities or sportspeople, but they have amassed a following by creating content that caters to a particular niche audience. To understand the phenomenon of marketing using micro-influencers, we spoke to some industry experts...
We reached out to Rahul Singh, CEO, Winkl who informed us that the platform currently hosts approximately 7000 creators who reach out to an audience of about 40 million users across India. The platform has worked with brands such as Curefit and Flipkart. He tells us that mostly, brands that are looking to reach out to the end consumer (not B2B brands) typically invest in influencer marketing. Singh cites the example of brands in categories like fashion, lifestyle, travel, and even banking (ICICI Bank, Yes Bank) engaging with micro-influencers for their marketing campaigns.
"Influencer marketing, if done right, gives 4-5x higher ROI than a traditional campaign or a digital campaign. That is where platforms like us come in - we advise brands on how to go about the entire campaign. Winkl treats influencer marketing campaigns in the same way that they treat a traditional campaign," Singh explains.
Singh tells us that the main challenges of influencer marketing are pricing and the type of content that influencers create. "Often, when they're creating organic content, it's good; but the moment they start working with a brand, the brand starts imposing certain rules. Influencers then need to take a call as to whether that would work for their audience or not. At the end of the day, the influencer is in direct touch with their audience - so they're the ones who know what works best for them," he explains.
He also tells us that there is no standardised pricing procedure followed when it comes to paying influencers. "For the benefit of both sides, there has to be a standardised way of pricing. The influencer needs to know how much to charge and the brands need to know how much to pay," Singh adds.
Shradha Agarwal, COO - Grapes Digital, owns a micro-influencer marketing agency called Blogweet. It currently works with 8000-9000 influencers. She explained what sets a micro-influencer apart from other celebrities and influencers - "In some genres like lifestyle, fashion, beauty, home decor, travel, food etc. one can find 100s of influencers; for campaigns, micro-influencers act like noisemakers to supplement the macro-influencers. But in certain genres like education, finance, music, pets, gaming etc. they are the key influencers as they have more knowledge about their domain.
"In a large-scale campaign, we may create a mix of 10 per cent celebrity-influencers, 40 per cent macro-influencers and 50 per cent micro-influencers. In case of a mid-scale campaign, we will have 30 per cent macro and 70 per cent micro-influencers; and in a low scale campaign, we may have 100 per cent micro-influencers. It depends on the brief, budget, KPI, and genre. After deciding the mix of the campaign, we focus on the engagement rate as the key to select influencers," Agarwal tells us.
Identifying an influencer with fake followers has become easier thanks to engagement rates. "If the engagement rate of the influencers is lower than profiles with a similar follower base, you can tell that they don't have genuine followers. Secondly, various tools help us identify the demographics and psychographics of an influencer follower base. Thirdly, the quality of content also acts as a key to choose an influencer for a brand," says Agarwal.
She also tells us that ownership, credibility and timelines are the biggest challenges of working with a micro-influencer today. "They all act like half-celebs with very little corporate and professional etiquettes. Missing timelines are very common. This problem prevails - be it a micro or macro influencer. Sometimes even if the content comes on-time, quality becomes an issue, especially with video content. With macro-influencers, the quality of production is good, but the challenge is innovation," Agarwal explains.
Anushka Clarence, social media strategist, VMLY&R India, emphasises that brands typically work with micro-influencers when their objective is to engage with an audience. "With a smaller but devoted follower count, they can bring more bang for the buck, especially when a brand is seeking high-level engagement. FMCG, lifestyle, fashion, and automobile brands are usually some of the categories that adopt micro-influencer strategies," she tells us.
Clarence also states that when it comes to micro-influencers, marketing strategies that they're involved in are far more flexible. "You have the option to choose between 5 and 50. You can easily track ROI for each influencer and how they impact your particular objective. To top it off, you're still sitting with enough money in your kitty, as opposed to working with a single macro-influencer whose price-point is sure to put you at the upper limit of your budget," she highlights.
"ROI can be measured by generating affiliate links or unique discount codes, which help the brand track sales with respect to each influencer. Another way to measure this is through their engagement rate (i.e. post engagement per post reach). Lastly, on the brand's channels they can compare before-after fan following, rise in engagement numbers or even direct sales, to decide if this micro-influencer strategy has worked well or not," she adds.
"One of the biggest challenges we face with micro-influencers is that today, they speak for our brand but tomorrow, they might speak for the competition. It is the rule of the game and there's little we can do to change this. Apart from this, micro-influencers that belong to the same category tend to have an overlapping audience. This is not always great for a brand. Lastly, since the output is not always in the hands of the brand - it's hard to maintain the desired quality for content," she states, outlining the pitfalls of working with influencers.
Lubna Khan, a brand strategy consultant, pointed out that fake news and fake images have created a trust deficit among consumers. She says, "Micro-influencers is one way for brands to create that deeper connection, riding on trust, relatability and engagement."
Khan emphasised that brands need to understand some critical elements while creating a micro-influencer strategy. "The first element is to know the brand's audience. Who do they like and trust? What are their passions and who do they reach out to for exploring those? The second element is to research the micro-influencers beyond the numbers of followers and likes. What kind of content do they post? What kind of persona have they created? Finally, does the influencer align with the brand's purpose, values and ethics? Once these elements are done right, there is tremendous positivity a brand can generate for itself," she signs off.