Who is an influencer? For many, the understanding of the term is restricted to Instagram and the creators on the platform with lakhs of followers. However, a creator is not always an influencer, says a new report ‘Wielding Influence, Nurturing Trust’ by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).
At a time when influencers have a significant impact on social media platforms with their reach, it is important for users to make the distinction between a ‘creator’ and an ‘influencer’. ASCI says that a creator may only create content on social media to express or showcase their skill and may not necessarily promote a product or a brand. An influencer, on the other hand, may not be a content creator, but “is someone who can influence the decision-making or attitude of the masses. They are able to influence the way a person thinks or perceives a certain topic or brand”.
In order to further understand the influencer ecosystem, the ASCI identifies different ‘archetypes’ of influencers based on their content strategies, rather than just based on the brand or product they promote. These commonly cover domains like finance, health, beauty, exercise, lifestyle and food.
Why it matters: Though concerns of misinformation and manipulation plague the influencer space, one cannot ignore the influencer-driven usage of social media and its impact on users’ choice and decision making. In order to tackle the negative effects of a domain that’s only getting big, it is important to understand what makes them important for both, the users and the brands. The ASCI report offers a glimpse into this area.
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Here are the archetypes defined by the ASCI:
- The Amicable Oracle: These influencers offer in-depth expertise, tips, hacks and advice based on their first-hand experiences, personal anecdotes of the products and ideas, thus making the knowledge accessible to the users. They are either experts or associated with companies, entrepreneurs, which offer credibility to their word. For example, influencers like Drcuterus, Seema Anand and Fertility Scribbles are well-known when it comes to talking about sex positivity and female sexual health.
- Survival Wizards: If you need quick tips on how hack “success in life”, survival wizards, who are not necessarily experts, are best known for their smart curation of information and advice. From finance to job interviews and relationships, these influencers, the ASCI says, can present a brand’s clear role to play in a consumers’ life. Curators such as Ankur Warikoo for stocks and investments and Neha Nagar for personal finance fall within this category.
- Soul Stylists: These influencers make “make spirituality a means of managing challenges, and answering questions” by making spiritual lessons accessible through their own experience, quotations from spiritual texts and other resources. The likes of Jaya Kishori, Devi Chitralekhaji, Jay Shetty and Gaur Gopal Das are a part of this category. ASCI notes that brands can use their reach to address the larger questions of life rather than a “single moment of consumption”.
- Radical Normalisers: This archetype consists of people who challenge societal norms about beauty, gender, mental health and self-conduct. They are “rejectors of rejection” and initiate discussions about unaddressed evils by chronicling their experiences, struggle and trauma. These mainly include body-positivity icons, trans-icons, anti-caste icons and other trauma survivors. Brands have started collaborating with these influencers to cater to a larger audience who empathise with their fight for acceptance and self-identity.
- Everyday Blissmakers and Sabki Saheli: This archetype, the ASCI notes, is dominated by women homemakers who love sharing their everyday life on screen. From daily chores and interactions with their family members to episodic details of their travel life, hobbies and DIY tips on a variety of homely stuff, they cover a wide-range of subjects. They are popular among an audience that “tunes in to affirm that their experiences are common and their feelings are witnessed by other women”. For brands, this is a powerful set of influencers given their ability to establish a bond with users, particularly women. Some examples include Loveeshi, Garimaspride, Dr. Priyanka Shukla and Neena Kapoor.
- Mega-jesters of Mundanity: Those breaking the mundanity by giving “bit-size entertainment by juicing humour in the everyday” come under this archetype. These influencers are essentially actors and performers who have now gained so much popularity that they are now being offered roles in movies, OTT series and ambassadorship of big brands etc. These include the likes of BBkivines, mostlysane, kushakapila, dollysingh among others. Given their huge following, the ASCI notes that, “they inch more towards traditional celebrityhood where associations with brands seem more like conventional advertising”.
Why are influencers important for social media marketing?
It’s interesting how social media influencers, who became popular during the pandemic, gradually became promoters of products and brands within a year or two. It’s hard to escape the influencer imprint on the internet, so much so that it turns to be an unmissable domain to tap on when it comes to ticking off the social media marketing checklist for brands.
“Social media and the ‘content-isation’ of the self has added previously non-existent dimensions to how consumers choose, compare, like, engage and relate with brands. To understand the phenomenal rise of the influencer, we need to understand the driving forces that make the influencer not just a good-to-have weapon in the arsenal of marketing, but a must-have interpreter that fluently speaks the language of social media-age consumption in every diverse accent, which brands are still learning the A-B-Cs of,” says the ASCI report.
Nine reasons why social media influencers are important for brands:
- Consumption surveillance: The ASCI notes the ability of influencers to “pool aspirations” of users and “translate evocatively through their content creation talent, which is otherwise difficult to verbalise”. It’s also about getting a view of people’s satisfactions, disappointments, needs and other consumption habits.
- Provides access into subcultures through consumption: People’s consumption choices have led to the formation of different sub-cultures or “collective identities” on social media, such as the ‘Sneakerhead culture’ of people who are obsessed with sneakers. “Influencers model sub-culture behaviour giving consumers the passwords to enter sometimes tightly coded and gated subcultures,” the report observes.
- Globalisation of cultures: This is mainly about the global reach of different cultures through the internet. ASCI highlights the capability of influencers to “import and translate branded cultures/subcultures into native languages”, which is essential for a multi-lingual country like India.
- Narrowcasting in the increased fragmentation of a mass-audience: The report observes that the culture of personalisation through social media has rendered ‘broadcasting’ as an age-old concept in a digital sphere. “Traditional icons like the celebrity, though they stay relevant in terms of sheer recognisability to large numbers, fail to generate the kind of one-to-one engagement that an influencer promises,” it states.
- Engaging with emerging movements in society: For many consumers, social media has enabled engagement with socio-political movements in the society in different areas, may it be about gender rights, environment sustainability, freedom of choice and expression or fighting racial and caste oppression. As “ideas of social change” affect how people view brands, the ASCI states that influencers “allow brands to associate with values that are becoming important to their consumers and even triggers for consumption”.
- A guide to one’s consumption of a category or product: The report underlines that influencers can “seed ideas of consumption through portraying sustained practices of consumption through their content”. This is to help consumers move higher up on the product ladder of a brand in accordance with their “path of consumption”. For example, rising up the coffee wave – from instant coffee drinker to becoming a brew perfectionist.
- Shrinking distance between fans and who they follow: This is one of the peculiar features of social media when it comes to the relationship between users/followers with brands/influencers/celebrities given the ability to like, react, comment and engage instantly. Celebrities are not really active on social media are bound to feel distant with their followers today. “The influencer has tapped social media in a way that traditional celebrities (movie, music stars) have been reluctant to. For example, acknowledging and even including their followers in content. This is the source of the authenticity and intimacy that is attributed to influencers,” ASCI observes.
- Unboxing brand experiences and ‘proxy-consumption’ influencing decision making: Amid a proliferation of choices of products, people turn to social media for consumer experiences about the brands once it is ‘unboxed’ by any other user, who may or not be an influencer. An influencer is the “production manager of this new leg of product-selling” and are more adept at creating the “proxy-consumption”, which triggers the actual purchase.
- The audience simultaneously consumes, produces and distributes: The ASCI highlights the multi-dimensional role of a consumer as an audience, producer and a medium on social media. “In some ways, every consumer is an influencer with their own ‘influence radius’,” the report observes.
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