A generation of entrepreneurs is making a good living by building their own personal brands online, but the road to the top is filled with intense competition and anxiety
Data shows influencer ads elicit 277% more emotional intensity than television ads and are 87% more memorable
When Aashqeen posted his first funny video on YouTube in 2015, he did it because he was bored of his engineering books and wanted to make his classmates laugh. The video, called “Group Study—Expectations vs Reality" garnered 38,000 views within a day. “The views were enough to push me to refine my skills. After that there was no turning back," says the 26-year-social media influencer, with 2.3 million followers on YouTube and three million on Facebook, who has turned his social media channels into a lucrative, full-time business. At present, Aashqeen has 12 employees to help him make video content and has tied-up for collaboration with brands like Gillette, Kingfisher, and Myntra.
Social media influencers are those who nurture an audience, often centered around a particular passion or cause, by using digital platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube, explains Saket Jha Saurabh, head of entertainment partnerships, Facebook India. “Creators epitomize the spirit of any online community by building an engaged, loyal audience, understanding what they enjoy and providing them with creative visual storytelling," says Saurabh.
Perhaps that is what makes online influencers so potent as a marketing device for companies. According to a report released by US-based influencer marketing agency Whalar earlier in June, influencer ads elicit 277% more emotional intensity than TV ads and are 87% more memorable. For influencers like Aashqeen, who command these audiences, business is robust.
“As creators grow their audience, they have a larger impact and the revenue streams unlock," says Praanesh Bhuvaneswar, chief executive officer of Qoruz, an influencer data analytics startup based in Bengaluru. There are many avenues for influencers, including brand collaboration, sponsored posts, affiliates, and content licensing. Beginners, according to Bhuvaneswar’s research, can earn as much as ₹20,000 which can go up to ₹1-3 crore. “An influencer is an expert in a domain, has build a following or a cult around them and cater to the needs of the base who follow them," says Bhuvaneswar, adding that they are not offline celebrities like actors but creators who command a loyal audience.
Find your niche
The first step in the path to become an influencer is to find a niche, and cultivate a loyal audience around it. “Social media is all about creating niche content that is engaging to its audience," says Nikunj Lotia, who started his YouTube channel in 2014 with funny videos involving everyday life experiences. “I started making videos that I wanted to watch and soon, one of them went viral," he says. Five years later, the 30-year-old has over 8,00,000 Instagram followers and 3.2 million YouTube subscribers.
Data by Qoruz shows India has over 2,00,000 social media influencers, but only 8-9%are being tapped by brands. Though the top influencers, actors and cricketers, still command 82% of brand campaigning budgets, it’s the micro influencers—the ones with 10,000-50,000 followers—who get 63% of a brand manager’s budget in terms of market volume.
The most vital part for brands, says Mark Titus, marketing director for Nippon Paint India, is engagement with a niche audience. “We look for creators who are influencers in certain geographical areas, whose personality can be synonymous with the brand, and who have a reach on multiple platforms to a specific audience," he says, adding that it’s not about the number of followers but the amount of influence you have.
It’s also important to constantly go to your audience, take positive feedback and understand what they need. “The better you know your viewer, the better content you can create and deliver," says Aashqeen. “Listen with an open mind and don’t serve monotonous content to your viewers for they have a million new options to see."
It won’t work unless you have clear goals and are true to your personality. Audiences can smell a fake from a mile off, says Pooja Dhingra, pastry chef and owner at Le15 Patisserie, who was awarded Instagrammer of the Year earlier this year. “I became a creator as I wanted to show my interest and life on social media. It’s a representation of me, my interests and my business," she says. The recognition and an engaged audience have brought several businesses to her shore, keen to collaborate. She, however, only says yes to partnerships that are fun or challenging. “It has to work out mutually," she says, adding that creators need to respect their audience and post content that truly engages them.
Develop a style
An influencer needs to be adaptive as the space they are working in is constantly evolving. Newer formats within platforms like Facebook and Instagram or newer platforms like ShareChat, there is always something new coming up online. Being an influencer is not easy, insists Lotia. Like any other career, there is constant effort and sweat involved in content creation. “You can never rely on what’s that one great piece of content that will go viral, but what you can rely on is that if you are consistent and bring out many good pieces of content, you will increase your followers and engagement," he says. The idea is to keep at it, with your style, develop your creative style, use new tools and features and keep engaging with your audience.
“The role of being influencer comes with a lot of responsibility but it can also create pressure," says Kamna Chhibber, clinical psychologist and head (mental health and behavioural sciences), Fortis Healthcare.
It exposes the influencer to all kinds of audience, some of who may appreciate the perspective or be opposed to it. This negative attention, trolling or people becoming offended or aggressive by online content can make influencers, mostly youngsters, vulnerable, anxious or insecure. “It’s important to be prepared for the fact that building and maintaining a following can be challenging," says Chhibber. You need to have a well-developed thought process, a conviction in your beliefs and recognize that you have immense responsibility in shaping the narrative online, she adds.
It might sound counterproductive to the idea of social media, which is all about posting online impulsively, but a key difference between the amateurs and the influencers is patience. There will be days when your content gets millions of views and then there will be days when your content is a flop show, says Aashqeen. “There is a lot of competition and the industry is hard so you have to take risks, create fresh, innovative content, and develop a thick skin."