The Swelling World of the Influencer

By Kelvyn Yeang

November 2021 FEATURE
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INFLUENCER CULTURE HAS become a major phenomenon. Scroll through your Instagram feed and most likely for every third photo you see, a “sponsored post” will appear right after, carefully created and personalised to whet your appetite.

The influencer market is distinct though, from celebrity endorsements that are massive in scale and reach; for example, when McDonald’s and the K-pop band BTS teamed up this May to launch the BTS Meal, fans flooded the outlets nationwide to snap up the band’s signature order of chicken nuggets with special dipping sauces, fries and a cup of Coca-Cola.1

The evolution of the influencer market is slower albeit steadier in pace. Bloggers who had a knack for creating engaging content were initiated first into the market in the 2000s; better still if they already had a sizeable following, for businesses to engage and leverage for brand promotions.

Jessica Sow started down the same path, and is now an aspiring influencer on Facebook and Instagram. Ironically enough, she never saw herself as an “influencer”. “I just enjoyed sharing what I do in my day-to-day, I did not expect for it to pan out the way it has,” she laughs. What began as a hobby has suddenly turned into a commercially lucrative career for Jessica.

Jessica Sow started as a blogger, and is now an aspiring influencer on Facebook and Instagram. Photo by: Jessica Sow

The influencer market gained more traction in the 2010s, when like Russian nesting dolls, social networking sites began multiplying on the virtual landscape. Social media influencers and marketers, individuals who have garnered enough online following and audience retention to command the attention of many, began courting businesses on the lookout to market their services and products to a guaranteed demographic.

“Social media is like the new world Bible. You wake up to it, sleep with it and even go to the toilet with it. It is no wonder digital content is receiving so much sustained attention,” says Marilyn Kee of Envisage Digital Space, a social media marketing agency.

A Shift in Culture

Many influencers today do not operate solo. Jessica, for example, has with her a team to brainstorm creative content with. “The nature of social media is fluid and the choice of creative expressions endless; from creating videos, photography, copywriting captions, to choreographing skits and even dance routines!” Clearly, a lot of work happens off-screen than influencers are given their due credit.

“It’s a highly competitive market these days. You are no longer just competing with similar products but against every other content out there vying for user attention. A successful campaign is measured by how much traffic and viewership one gains. At this stage, it is all about staying relevant, and not about return on investments,” explains Marilyn.

Unlike campaigns run on the radio or television, where success is heavily quantified by the actual turnover of sales, campaigns on social media platforms offer more metrics, including impressions (the number of views per post), retention time (how much time users spend on the post) and responses (the number of clicks per post).

Marilyn Kee works at the social media marketing agency, Envisage Digital Space. Photo by: Marilyn Kee

It is common practice for influencers or key opinion leaders to submit a report on how much reach or response they have garnered; these services are used on social media platforms to track and analyse users’ interaction with the contents, and for allowing influencers to readily adjust their campaign and marketing strategy to best suit the purpose or product they are promoting.

“Once I have finished my promotions, I’ll submit the data to my clients; this will usually contain the number of views the promotions have amassed, as well as age and gender demographics to help my clients reposition their campaigns if needed. It is much easier to manage a social media campaign than say, a campaign for radio,” says Jessica.

“We must remember that 5G is coming and when it finally arrives, information will be dispersed at a speed previously unimaginable. Things will never go back to how they were,” adds Marilyn.

Covid has blurred even more the boundaries of work and play, as well as giving rise on social media to new viable job options; content creators and social media strategists and planners are among the many. But consumers-followers are getting savvier too, with many demanding for transparency. #Ad is used now to indicate when a post is sponsored.

Interestingly, companies are also experimenting with a move in the opposite direction: To find more micro- and nano-influencers who, because they are connected to niche follower bases and have more product expertise, are able to better employ emotional marketing strategies.2

Kelvyn Yeang

Proficient in multiple creative disciplines, Kelvyn Yeang is a musician by night and media content creator by day. When he is not writing, designing, or creating, Kelvyn wanders the streets of George Town in search of a good story and a cup of coffee.