Confessions of an influencer

Confessions of an influencer
With Social Media and Digital Advertising, this term ‘influencer’ holds a pretty specific meaning – a person who is a member of an online community and tries to influence your online choices in either a personal or professional capacity or sometimes both.

I tend to stick with a general idea instead of trying to pinpoint an exact definition. I see it as a dynamic role – one that changes according to the evolution of the space that it belongs to. Social media itself is a dynamic entity, one that changes based upon the tastes, interactions, and technology that the people who make that space adopt. An influencer is a position that a person occupies in this constantly evolving space.

The influencer is a role that falls into overlapping areas of interest – Online community building, Public Relations, Marketing and Advertising. Up until a couple of years ago regular social media guys had spent a significant amount of time online. They’d be logged into Twitter and Facebook for hours on end. There was just one problem – there was no way to make money from this, it was like a video game being played over and over and the thrill of online interaction was diminishing everyday.

The aspiration was a necessity. Twitter itself needed a business model to survive. It was becoming bigger by the day and there was no way of sustaining that growth without building a financial ecosystem. So when the digital advertising wave struck and companies started to realize the potential of the space – they started to pay to get noticed, and that gave birth to Social Media Entrepreneurs, Digital Marketing Companies, Social Media Agencies, Digital Solution Providers and a whole host of vendor services.

For brands, embracing this was a no-brainer, the cost of an entire campaign is much lesser and more effective than a single TV ad or newspaper slot. For most small brands, it is the only way to even get noticed in an insanely competitive marketing environment.

Companies rely on agencies to conceptualize and execute campaigns. For the agency itself, its campaign execution is critically dependent upon the influencer – an individual whose task has become to get people to notice and talk about a company and a particular advertising campaign online. It’s a high-pressure deliverable operating in real time.

But beyond the facade of hashtags and impressions and link visits, tweets, retweets and likes is an ecosystem that is yet to evolve a consistent standard, and it is this that will dictate the future course of the social and digital advertising industry.

An influencer is a critical role and an agency is a crucial conduit. A brand that pays for a campaign must receive value for money. Brand value online goes a long way in sales and reputation offline. And those companies who have had bad experiences with agencies and campaigns tend to swear off digital for good and it is understandable – Some agencies and Influencers have hopped on the gravy train, gotten everything from money to free merchandise but haven’t delivered value. And it’s made everyone else in the space look bad.

Dissing the whole industry is a ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ approach. The problem lies in the fact that the standards are yet to be enforced. From an industry point of view, it is still a recent phenomenon. For a long time people were unsure if Twitter or Facebook were here to stay. Then they were unsure if these avenues which take up so much of our time could offer a chance at making a livelihood.

Nowadays it has become clear that unless the industry continues to evolve and enforce standards, they are going to lose out on significant revenue and reputation as a whole and that in the end will be the Industry’s undoing. Agencies must be very clear on which influencers they choose to work with,focus on those who can deliver content, interaction and numbers – all 3 of which are equally important. Quality must take precedence over quantity.

From experience and hearsay I can attest to the notion that many Agencies enforce a variable yardstick for influencers. I’ve worked with all kinds of agencies and the ones who value quality are the ones who inevitably nail the campaign brief as well.

Quality agencies work with quality influencers, who like the agency have their own standards. When standards tend to align, you get a more or less workman like campaign execution. Over a long period it tends to form an industry trend. At present the trend is more result oriented than process oriented but I am confident that with time this will be consolidated. Agencies that approach influencers with an experienced work history usually set the pace with good campaign executions.

Companies must be stringent on working with such agencies that focus on quality and maintain high standards. Not only should they be professional but also passionate about the space. Ultimately, it is a space that has taken a long time to emerge. If it is disrespected, it will disappear or worse – change into something we regret.

Agencies ought to be stringent with companies about meeting payment deadlines. Many times,the influencer who is executing the job gets paid 3-6 months (or even longer) down the line. Delays impact performance and don’t augur well for the future.

Most of all, let’s not forget that the most important aspect of social media is community building and individual space. Spamming people is not cool. In the pursuit of profit, one cannot override these basic tenets. That would spoil everything for everyone.

The article is written by Aditya Magal. You can follow him on twitter@jhunjhunwala

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