Let us make you a celebrity: Agencies are tapping into the talent of your favourite social media stars

Social media influencer platforms guide content creators through brand promotion, digital culture and legal contracts
Sonal Devraj, co-founder of YouTube channel Team Naach, promotes brands which are in sync with her lifestyle and profession.
Sonal Devraj, co-founder of YouTube channel Team Naach, promotes brands which are in sync with her lifestyle and profession.
Updated on Mar 19, 2020 06:29 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By

Mumbai-based choreographers and dancers Sonal Devraj and Nicole Concassao started their YouTube channel four years ago. The idea was to reach out to newer audiences and to mark their presence online. It worked. The queries for dance classes multiplied and their versions of popular dance covers clocked in lakhs of views.

Endorsing a brand was not in their scheme of things. Nor did they look at themselves as influencers.

Last year, both Sonal and Nicole signed up with Chtrbox, a Mumbai-based influencer marketing platform, to handle their Instagram accounts. Sonal has promoted multiple brands through her Instagram handle which has more than five lakh followers.

“In addition to our routine work, now we also express creativity through brands. Plus, it gives us a supplementary source of income,” says Sonal.

Globally, social media celebrities signing business deals with brands or the influencer marketing industry will be worth $5-10 billion this year, according to US-based influencer marketing agency Mediakix.

More than 70 percent of Indian brands will increase budgets for social media influencers in 2020, according to a report by social media analytics and monitoring platform Talkwalker and social media news portal, Social Samosa.

Increasingly more companies are emerging to connect brands with influencers. Two factors work for such companies: brands are now taking influencers seriously and the potential of influencers to sway the choices of their followers.

MATCHMAKING
Depending on an influencer’s understanding of digital marketing and brand promotion, these firms offer a range of services to influencers such as content curation, dos and don’ts of signing contracts and tools to track their performance online.

Sonal’s target audience is women, many of them interested in lifestyle products. Once she signs a contract with a brand, she creates content on her own and discuss it with the agency. One of the products she has endorsed is a hair care range . In the Instagram campaign, she asked her followers to share their biggest hair care challenges. “What can be done with long hair and how to take care of it is something that connects with my followers,” she says.

Pranay Swarup, co-founder of her agency, Chtrbox, says that the consumer relates a lot more to an influencer than a star celebrity. “When we see a film actor promoting a budget car, most of us know that he does not drive or own that car in real life. But when influencers promotes a vehicle, they actually have a similar product or something in the same price range. Therefore, there is a lot more aspirational value and relatability.”

In 2018, YouTuber Angry Prash signed up with Nofiltr, a Mumbai based influencer marketing agency. He has promoted a phone brand, an online Diwali sale and restaurant chain through his Instagram handle.

In one of the posts, he is telling how a hard drive he brought from Amazon site has been helping him store his content, followed by reminder about #AmazonGreatIndianFestival.

After signing up with a marketing agency, YouTuber Angry Prash began participating in events and fan meets offline, wearing his signature helmet. Seen here with actor Jim Sarbh.
After signing up with a marketing agency, YouTuber Angry Prash began participating in events and fan meets offline, wearing his signature helmet. Seen here with actor Jim Sarbh.

Audience influencer demographics (profiles of influencer’s followers including age, location, gender) determine which brand would be the most appropriate for an influencer to promote, says Nofiltr’s co-founder Sumedh Chapekar. “More than 80 per cent of Angry Prash’s audience is male in 18-25 age-group. So a phone brand works well,” he says.

CHARTING NEW TERRITORIES
Influencers are not always defined by their social media reach. And they do exist in non-conventional spheres as well. Spothlete, an influence marketing company, handles brands for sportspersons including weightlifter Deepak Lather, three-time Deaflympic gold medallist Virender Singh, hockey player Yuvraj Walmiki and Majiziya Bhanu, the hijabi powerlifter from Kerala. “The idea of being an influencer is not confined to personalities in certain fields. A non-cricket sport personality can be an influencer because thousands of people in small-town India look up to him or her. There are many games which do not get the attention of the majority but they matter to people living in the state where these players come from,” says Prateek Goyal, co-founder, Spothlete.

YOUTUBE OR TIKTOK?
One of the jobs of influencer marketing agencies is to identify which social media platform works best for the brand and who the most appropriate personality is on that platform.

Apaksh Gupta, founder and CEO of Gurugram-based influencer marketing company One Impression says that currently, Instagram and YouTube are most popular among brands, but TikTok is catching up too. “Instagram is shorter form content. It is typically used by brands for awareness, creating brand equity or pushing aspirational purchases. Youtube offers longer form content and is educational in nature. It is used by brands that are from newer categories or need more user education. YouTube is also better for vernacular penetration as the platform offers great regional audiences,” says Gupta.

This dental surgeon and powerlifter from Kerala is one of the 12 athletes currently working with the influencer marketing platform Spothlete. (Photo/Ajeeb Komachi)
This dental surgeon and powerlifter from Kerala is one of the 12 athletes currently working with the influencer marketing platform Spothlete. (Photo/Ajeeb Komachi)

Companies such as One Impression don’t charge the influencers for collaborations. They take 10-20 percent cut from the brand’s campaign budget. “If we are paid 10 lakh which is the total cost we might have incurred, the influencer will get around 8.5 lakh once the campaign is over. We will get 1.5 lakh from the entire spent,” says Gupta.

MATTER OF ETHICS
Despite so much money involved, the influencer market is still evolving and largely unregulated. “What is perhaps worrisome is that a lot of people who are at best digital billboards (with high follower numbers, just like billboards at busy traffic junctions) are either posturing as influencers or being engaged with by brands as “influencers”. Brands need to understand the difference between reach and influence. While both can come together, reach does not indicate quality of influence,” says Ashok Lalla, independent digital business advisor.

Federal Trade Commission (USA) routinely files complaints against companies for social media and digital advertising disclosure violations.

In the backdrop of red flags raised by the Commission, tech companies have started putting in place checks and balances. For transparency, YouTube has introduced a tool through which creators can declare if the content is paid or promotional. Instagram has started weeding out inauthentic likes, follows and comments from accounts that use third-party apps to boost their popularity.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Danish Raza is a special correspondent with the Hindustan Times. He covers gender, identity politics, human rights, conflicts and online speech.

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