Collaborations between brands and influencers to reach customers have become standard. But while these symbiotic relationships have normally thrived, concerns exist if an overstuffed bubble has formed. What’s more, recent events such as the COVID-19 global pandemic and protests in Hong Kong have sent ripples through the local influencer ecosystem. Simon Yuen talks to several influencers and agency experts to examine the risks and remaining potential of this part of the industry.
Online personalities have existed since the dawn of the web, but it has only been in the past decade of massive social platform growth that traditional celebrities and prominent figures have had to compete with content creators.
As this phenomenon first became apparent, marketers or their appointed agencies reacted by simply combing through social media accounts, looking for individuals with an impressive follower count. Once identified, marketers would then have to spend hours trawling through the individual digital histories of these preferred influencers to determine if they were brand-safe.
“Multiply this by the number of influencers that a brand needed in a single campaign, and it became an arduous process,” says Kosuke Sogo, CEO of AnyMind Group.
“Marketers might not have any visibility into an influencer’s followers, [knowledge of] the actual audiences that marketers wanted to reach, or what the followers would do after seeing the posts.”
Since that time, influencers, marketers, and agencies have greatly improved and streamlined their methods. One of the biggest results of that has been a huge increase in the number of influencers, and the marketing agencies and platforms that support them, each touting their own uniqueness.
Sogo explains: “Another key change is the perception of influencer marketing. Early on, influencer marketing was perceived to be a once-in-a-year activity or a guerrilla marketing tactic. This has evolved over recent years, with brands even activating always-on campaigns, which is why there is more scrutiny and questions about influencer marketing, and it’s similar to how programmatic matured in Asia.”
These changes ultimately led to the same conclusion: making influencer marketing an easier process and providing marketers with more insights. Now, according to Business Insider Intelligence, the influencer marketing industry is on track to be worth up to US$15 billion by 2022. And to put that growth into perspective, that’s almost double the 2019 figure of US$8 billion.
“I didn’t intend to be an influencer. I started off by sharing my daily photos and styles on Instagram, and then eventually gained a certain amount of followers who liked my photos and then ‘entered’ the industry,” Travis Li says.
A Hong Kong-based fashion and lifestyle influencer, he tells Marketing the path to becoming an influencer isn’t difficult, it’s staying relevant.
“Followers now expect to see more sides of you. For example, you have to be a lot more versatile and creative in terms of styles and the content that you are creating,” he says.
Influencers need to work hard to remain popular, but the industry has a low threshold for joining. From either an influencer or agency perspective, the industry is still solid.
“Social media is still an important part of most people’s lives. Brands usually choose influencers who match their styles or brand image for collaboration or paid partnerships, while each influencer is unique.” Li says.
Sogo also doesn’t think there is a bubble in the industry. He says that AnyMind Group currently works closely with influencers, not just to monetise their content, but also educate and coach them for further growth in terms of content development, branding, and more.
Other initiatives the group is working on include offering opportunities for influencers to produce and sell their branded merchandise to followers more easily.