I've been in the influencer marketing space in the Philippines for several years now, even before the term "influencer" became a buzz word and way ahead of Instagram being a mainstream social networking platform in the country. I've seen plenty of changes and developments over the years, but not enough revolutionary leaps. I've witnessed influencers play roles that continuously cross the lines of PR and advertising, making influencer marketing a unique industry in itself.
Being Blogapalooza's Chief Executive, I get the privilege to be at the forefront of this radical movement in marketing, which has seen tremendous growth in the recent years. I've personally met and formed partnerships with several other influencer marketing companies in various parts of the globe, knowing that credibility as a competent player in the industry requires deep-rooted understanding of cultures, localization of processes, and knowing how the influencer marketing scene has evolved through the years in our specific contexts.
Here are 3 important things I've learned after working with around 400 brands and almost 6,000 influencers in a span of five years.
1. The influencer marketing industry is similar across Southeast Asian markets. We have the same problems, challenges, struggles, and general behaviors. I've been consistently in touch with founders and chief executives of influencer marketing companies in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Hong Kong for around a year now, and we regularly share news, best practices, and challenges (through our WhatsApp group). We realized that across Southeast Asia, behaviors of influencers, brands, and agencies are quite similar.
Being in the influencer marketing space means you're a subset of a subset -- you only get a percentage of the digital budget, which only gets a percentage of the entire marketing budget. Fighting for value is challenging to justify, most especially because there are no standards yet in terms of metrics and compensation.
Everyone (brands and agencies) sort of knows that the right and relevant influencers are effective, but the industry demands more transparency and a better way to engage appropriate individuals -- interestingly, across Southeast Asia, not a single one has taken a step to streamline the industry's practices and ultimately solve the problems. Number 2 below will somehow shed light on why things are like that.
2. Influencer marketing activities and campaigns are usually executed using the agency business model, because markets all over the world seem to have a difficulty transitioning to platform business models. There are hundreds of influencer marketing platforms all over the world -- not a single one can boast of traction that's off the charts. I've always thought about why this is so.
In Blogapalooza, we've developed a learning machine that's powered by all these AI techologies (it's called Buzzin, but we've temporarily placed on hold all developments for users and we're using the machine just internally for the meantime) but we didn't see any significant usage since the first launch. Apparently, that is how it's like across many Southeast Asian geographies. The systems are there, but users are still averse with regard to usage, because it's not how they currently do things -- and how they currently do things is so much easier and more convenient: call the influencer marketing company, talk to them in detail about what's needed, demand a revert by end of day, go on with your life. That is so much more comfortable than getting into a platform, learning how things work, familiarizing yourself with the commands just to execute what needs to be done, and hope and pray that things get through well; of course you'll still check via phone call anyway, so what gives?
Bloggers have been PR vehicles and partners for the longest time and as such, platformizing relationships poses a thought-provoking challenge. Moreover, with the advent of "influencer" being a buzz word of the times and how the industry has evolved, the lines between PR and advertising in terms of influencer marketing are becoming thinner and thinner -- when is it PR and when is it advertising? Because PRs don't usually have pay-for-post budgets unlike advertising, that's why PRs have plenty of ex-deals instead of cash. Because the influencer space inherently has relationships involved, the industry needs to find that sweet spot between being relationship-driven and results-based, so as to help transition to a more scalable platform model.
3. Brands have yet to "mature" and get to understand that influencers have become a hybrid of being message builders and amplifiers (PR) and being media outfits (advertising). Influencers, on the other hand, need to understand that in order to make money as an influencer (i.e, be in the business of influence), specific metrics (i.e., measurable, valuable) have to be met -- and whoever pays the bucks calls the shots. Of course there always has to be some form of give and take, but making money from anything is in simplest terms, a business deal. And being in a business deal means providing a fair value exchange. Emphasis on the word fair.
The industry is extremely young and it has a lot of potential; it would be interesting to see how it will evolve in the coming years!