Ruchika Jha
Influencer Marketing

Are content creators the only catalysts for authentic influencer marketing?

Industry experts reveal how influencers shape public perception, offering insights into their evolution.

When people hear the word 'influencer,' they often think of popular individuals on social media who monetise their influence. Between 2015 and 2016, there was a notable surge in influencers on YouTube and various social media platforms in India. Content creators like Bhuvan Bam, Ashish Chanchlani, Ajey Nagar (also known as Carryminati), Amit Bhadana, and others were creating specific and funny content to connect with their audiences.

With the increasing number of influencers, brands began considering influencer marketing more prominently in India. They started targeting specific audiences and adopting content-driven marketing strategies. According to Statista, the influencer marketing industry in India is expected to reach around Rs 2,800 crore by 2026. In 2022, about 55 million people in urban areas were directly following different kinds of influencers.

At Communicon 2024, industry leaders discussed What Role Can Influencer Marketing Play In Moulding Public Perception. Hosted by afaqs! and powered by Kaizzen, the conversation explored the role of influencer marketing in moulding public opinion.

The panel comprised Aparajita Mukherjee, general manager - content and advocacy, DIAGEO India; Kunal Kishore, founder and director, Value 360 Communications; and Anurag Iyer, CEO, BigBang.Social. The session was chaired by Shreyas Kulkarni, assistant editor, afaqs!

Kulkarni shares that aspiring to become an influencer is a common phenomenon today. One becomes a modern-day opinion maker as people listen and quote them. He notes that when considering influencers from a public relations and communications strategy standpoint, there's a distinction from the typical perception of influencers.

He asks panellists to what degree influencers are influencing their campaign ideas. Mukherjee says that it is not just about creative agencies anymore, as influencer marketing has become a standalone business. If someone wants to add authenticity to their brand, they will have to consider influencers as one of the ways to do it. This is because, in this scenario, the brand is not reaching out to the audience; it is more like pull communication rather than push communication.

“You are giving people a chance to see your brand in the lives of people they follow which is very important because you want to build relatability as well. Therefore, for reach, authenticity, and engagement, onboarding influencers is very important,” she explains.

India has observed a rise in micro-influencers — content creators who have around 10,000-50,000 followers on social media. According to a GroupM INCA India Influencer Market Report, micro-influencers were the fastest-growing category in 2022, up 30.5% compared to 27.7% for macro-influencers.

When one looks at macro and mega-influencers, micro-influencers have a better grasp of who their followers are and what motivates them. These micro-influencers also assist brands in connecting with people locally and regionally.

Iyer believes that the trend has remained the same in the way the trend has moved from a micro to a nano to a mega influencer. The influence criteria for each one of them are different. To even buy a car or a smartphone, one refers to a YouTube or social media channel of a tech influencer.

He notes, “Purchased decisions are moving towards authenticity and that is not about whether one trusts them or not, but the preferred format in which the information is conveyed. Micro, nano, and mega are interesting terms as it is about the number of followers these influencers have.”

Kishore emphasises the true meaning of authenticity in influencer marketing, stating that it is not just about the influencer but also about the collaboration and creation that occurs together. He exemplified his statement by pointing out that it would not make sense for a fitness influencer to endorse a junk food brand.

“Content creators know their audience base. We need to give the guardrails of the brand. We need to let content creation power be with the content creator. That is where the authenticity comes because creators know their audience,” he adds.

Concluding the session, experts deliberated on the kinds of brands or messaging influencer marketers should not be involved in. Iyer says that he and his team are categorically sensitive about the audience they are speaking to. “Our responsibility also stems from the fact that we are not just looking at making one a successful creator but also a responsible one,” he shares.

Adding to what Iyer said, Mukherjee conveys that it is always about how one leaves the world a bit better. Representing an alcobev brand, she and her team do not address people under 25 years of age as they want people to be responsible for what they are doing.

“It depends on what your brand and category can do well, where can it have a possible negative effect, and how you can negate that negativity,” she notes.

Addressing the issue of influencers purchasing followers and engagement, and how brands and agencies deal with the pressure of building trust among the audience, Kishore recalls that previously, when agencies worked with influencers, they only needed them to create a belief that influencers consumed the products they endorsed. Today, it is different. Influencers are only creating awareness about a product without necessarily using it.

“Moving ahead, the endorsements will become only an awareness-driving platform for influencers. There will be a certain level of communication which will create a trust factor. Through certain tools and algorithms, we can check the authenticity of followers and where the engagement has boosted,” he says.

Have news to share? Write to us