Gia Kashyap knows it’s not business as usual anymore. The 27-year-old Instagram influencer, who boasts of 1,11,000 followers and posts about fashion and beauty, has endorsed more than 200 brands in the past four years. This is as per a report by Megha Mandavia in the Economic Times.
“In the past one year, there has been a huge difference. Brands want to now work with only four-five influencers, not 30 like they used to,” said Kashyap. “They also make sure you don’t work with multiple competing brands. It’s just not about number of followers anymore. They look at quality of content, past brand endorsements and so on. They are much smarter now.”
Social media Influencers are ‘people like us’ who post on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook about everything from travel to luxury hotels, from yoga to fitness or fashion to beauty like Kashyap. Top marketers believe consumers are more likely to make a purchase decision based on influencers because of authenticity and affinity. However, a backlash seems to be brewing against the 20-somethings who make anything from a few thousand rupees to Rs 3 lakh for each brand engagement.
Gargi Guha, a senior hotel industry executive, is fed up with the social media influencers. In the past few years, she has dealt with dozens of Influencers, hundreds of requests for free stays and some outrageous demands.
“These social media influencers are taking us for a ride,” said Guha, spokesperson for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. “Their deliverables are fuzzy and some of their followers are bogus chat bots. There is no punch in their content and some of their posts are not even grammatically correct!”
Brands and digital marketing executives are distinctly less enthusiastic than they used to be.
There was a news report by Reuters in June 2018, mentioning that Unilever, the world’s second-biggest advertiser, is cutting ties with digital media “influencers” that buy followers, saying it wants to help make advertising more transparent.
Some are questioning the authenticity, brand loyalty, usefulness of the whole influencer marketing concept.
“Many influencers think that free stay at hotels is their birthright with all of 5,000 followers and an iPhone,” said a senior executive at one of India’s largest hotel chains. She didn’t want to be quoted due to the fear of a backlash from influencers. “I get 150 emails a day from bloggers, Instagram Influencers — it’s ridiculous.”
Search volumes for influencer marketing in India have gone up more than three times in the past three years, according to a recent report commissioned by lobby group Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and digital advertising agency Yaap. There are over 1 million social media influencers globally and that number is expected to climb exponentially as the field offers a lucrative career with no barriers to entry.
There are about 30,000 influencers in India, each with followers numbering about 50,000. we can add the so called micro influencers and the number would be above 1,00,000.
“Everyone with even a reasonable number of followers/audience online consider themselves to be an influencer,” said Karthik Srinivasan, former national lead, social, at Ogilvy. He now works with professionals on social media branding. “There’s a running joke in agency circles that influencers value their rate card more than the Aadhaar card.”
Brands are taking a hard look at not just the gross number of followers but also engagement, reply and reply-to-reply rates to make sure an influencer profile is not a sham. To combat the lack of loyalty, many have started adding non-compete clauses to contracts. Others want to meet influencers face-to-face before hiring them.
“We have a stringent vetting process in place which entails analysing the influencers’ content on Instagram, the style of imagery, the product descriptions, the kind of comments received, engagement levels, age of followers, countries that the followers reside in and other brands that the influencer has worked with in the past,” a Taj Hotels spokesperson said.
India is one of the biggest markets for social media giants such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. As scrutiny of social media increases due to their role in spreading hate speech and violent content and users in India explode, brands want to make sure they avoid collateral damage. Algorithms are good for shortlisting influencers but Suneil Chawla, cofounder of Influencer.in, said his team meets anyone before signing them up for brand engagement. His company connects brands with content creators to create content and run viral campaigns.
“It helps build trust,” he said. “We tell our influencers to disclose paid advertising. We suggest they don’t work with brands they don’t believe in.”
Influencers worry that they are all being unfairly tarred by the same brush. Many believe that working with multiple brands is actually a good way to remain neutral and retain the trust of followers.
“Influencers can be unprofessional all the time. They are changing the perception for all of us in a bad way. We are being clubbed in the same bracket. Tightening of quality was expected as there has been an increase of influencers overnight,” said Magali Vaz, a 26-year-old influencer with 30 brands in her kitty.