After TikTok ban, brands reconsider the role and power of influencers

Sonu Sood has emerged a big influencer in the past few months with big brands such as Edelweiss Tokio launching digital campaigns with him
The community of influencers has grown from strength to strength. Be it cola major PepsiCo or conglomerate Marico or numerous confectionary and beauty brands and ecommerce platforms, social media stars have wielded the baton of influence with increasing power. 

But now as the pandemic keeps its unrelenting grip on economic activity, changes consumer behaviour and alters brand priorities, influence is being viewed through an all-new lens, forcing a rethink on the use and reach of influencers. 

According to a report released last week by the Indian Institute of Human Brands (IIHB), the top 100 influencers on various platforms could collectively see an income loss of close to Rs 120 crore. According to another study by Influencer.in, a social media tracking agency, the number of collaborations between brands and influencers has come down considerably in the past three months, especially for travel and fashion. Payment delays were also a huge concern during the period, it said. 

While Covid-19 had already ruptured the relationship between influencers and brands, it was torn further apart by the ban on TikTok. Without the platform, influencers lost their flock of fans and their brand associations. Is it time then to turn off the lights on a community that barely six months ago was being feted by marketers and scripted into every advertising campaign?
“The world is shifting from digital to a priority-digital era and influence marketing is likely to evolve,” says Ashish Mishra, MD, Interbrand India, who believes that brands must redefine the relationship. Influencer marketing will need to get more authentic and engaging and Mishra says, “The selection of influencers should be based on their brand overlap and engagement capabilities and dependant on target audience demographics.” 

His view is echoed by several others in the industry who believe that brands and influencers had built in too much artifice in their relationships. Sandeep Goyal, chief mentor of IIHB, says it is wrong to say that the pandemic killed the social media influencer. “Actually, the word influencer itself is the issue. The moment we start equating the reach of a digital performer, the millions of followers, as being his sphere of influence, we start to err. Specifically on TikTok, most of the creators were producing content that is more entertainment, that too, crass entertainment,” Goyal adds.

 

How must influencers adapt to the changing times? The past few months have forced brands and consumers to look at the relationship more closely and here there is a role that influencers could play well. Build brand trust. But for that both influencers and brands need to choose their associations carefully, not just on the basis of number of followers on social media. A personality fit as also a close alignment on the nature of the content that the influencer uses on his or her social media timelines are important.

For instance, the recent rush to use Sonu Sood, a Bollywood actor who rose to fame for the help extended to migrant labourers looking to get back home during the lockdown, is an example of how brands often go wrong say experts. Many were drawn to the swelling numbers on Sood’s social media timelines, but not all brands have a target demographic matches that of his followers. Such relationships end poorly for both.
Sood has become the face of several big, national brands such as Pepsi, Godrej Interio and Edelweiss Tokio. “In the current scenario, influencers exude authenticity. Their role as micro-amplifiers to drive engagement and reach of ideas is more important now than before,” says Shailja Joshi, associate director-Potato Chips Category at PepsiCo India.

Authenticity is important and one way to do that is to ensure that the influencer’s content and personality are in sync with the brand. Also Mishra says, influencers must be a part of the brand’s overall social media marketing initiative and not just a face to carry its message across on one platform.

Mihir Karkare, executive vice president of Mirum India, a digital marketing agency says, “Brands/industries might increase or decrease the use of influencers in the marketing mix, but broadly speaking they continue to be relevant.” He believes that influencers will survive the pandemic and the ban on TikTok. “What matters most is how large and real and how engaged the said audience is with the influencer. The TikTok episode has certainly made plain for both brands and influencers that one cannot be overly dependent on a single platform.”


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