Who do you connect with more: fashion icon Sonam Kapoor wearing a Ralph & Russo gown or your friend/colleague sporting a denim shirt? An average person connects with the latter better as they relate to their lifestyle more. This is the exact idea that has made influencer marketing the new kid on the block.Major brands in the lifestyle categories, be it fashion, home, or healthcare, have embraced this method to reach out to their audience.
Influencer marketing gives the impact of word of mouth, but at a larger scale. Unlike offline footfall, online sales can be tracked easily, and influencers who encourage their followers to consume a (sponsored) brand ensure great return of investment (RoI) for the sponsor brand.
Interestingly, influencer marketing is one field where women have established themselves above men in India. In fact, influencer marketing platform Zefmo Media surveyed that female influencers were earning more than their male counterparts in 2018.
According to the survey, 92 percent of marketers had launched at least one influencer campaign to drive brand awareness. In addition, 62 percent of businesses were planning to increase their budgetary allocation towards engaging social influencers.
MAKERS India spoke to a few women who have established themselves in social media as icons in their own right, to find out more about how this trend is growing.
On an average, most influencers earn in six digits every month, depending on the brand and the content of the campaigns they run. However, most influencers run a one-(wo)man show in terms of content planning, shooting, etc.
Delhi-based Nitika Bhatia, who started her blog Shopaholic Diaries in 2011 as an MBA student, says she initially attended to her website with DIY methods. But as the platform grew in popularity, she started outsourcing services from professional web developers and changed the template altogether.
“You are on your own when it comes to hiring a photographer and/or videographer, and planning the content for each brand. I try to do a healthy mix of organic and sponsored posts, but not more than 10 shoots in a month to avoid spamming,” says Nitika.
Her Instagram handle, @theshopaholicdiaries, has close to two lakh followers. But she claims that her blog, theshopaholic-diaries.com, is the “long-term relationship” with her audience, while Instagram is for building visibility for brand campaigns. She has worked with brands across a range of lifestyle categories, including fashion brand Vero Moda, ecommerce platform Shein, and home-essentials brand Tide.
Nitika says she started generating monetary revenue only by 2014; till then, brands used to give gifts, discounts etc. (Some influencers continue to accept holiday vouchers or gifts instead of all-cash payments even today.)
However, despite the glamorous results you see, the behind-the-scenes aspect is often tough. For instance, Nitika says, you need to schedule shoots at least two days in advance, to get in touch with photographers and figure out location(s).
“Often brands sometimes do not understand that we need some time to arrange shoots and produce content. Also, it is hard if this is your sole source of income as there is often great delay in getting payments. There are no regulations for freelancers; so both parties have to be professional, and fix a rate and time period to pay,” she says.
Mumbai-based Gia Kashyap, who has 142,000 followers on Instagram, agrees. She started blogging in 2009 as a journalism college student, and continued as an influencer for eight years managing everything alone. But multitasking has its limits, and she recently hired a manager and some interns.
“Most of the time, brands don’t get that this is how we make a living! They negotiate a lot, even quote 50 percent lesser than market standards. Some PR agencies take you for granted, and delay the payment up to even a year. But I try to work with ethical people,” she says.
Startups like Galleri5, Blogmint, Winkl, Chtrbox, and Look Who’s Talking act as online marketplaces, connecting brands and influencers, making it easier for both stakeholders to interact.
Spreading a message
Notably, not all social media influencers look at this line as a source of income.
Isha Priya Singh, a jewellery designer based in Dubai, started posting pictures on Instagram less than three years ago and has gained close to 70,000 followers already. Isha says she started the Instagram handle, @DesiDrapes, because she wanted to share her love for Indian textiles and outfits, particularly sarees.
“At that time there were hardly any (Instagram) accounts focused on the Indian fashion space. Later, it became a creative outlet for me as I started basing my work on stories and themes (rather than as a source of income.) This was never a business for me; so there was no investment. It was always about my every day, personal style and still is,” she says.
But Isha refuses to be called an influencer. “Influencer is not just a word anymore; it is a profession and I don't do this professionally. My pictures are mobile shots mostly taken by friends and family or by timer. Most influencers collaborate not just with brands but also with make-up artists and photographers, and shoot at exotic locations. I've hardly done this.”
Isha prefers the tag “blogger”. She says, “A blogger is someone who has a unique personal style and promotes that through posts (both images and words). These words are not motivational quotes or random poetic lines from the internet; they are real thoughts about fashion, style, and that particular product.”
She mostly works with brands she uses regularly (not just for shoots) as a user/reviewer. Every product she receives from a brand becomes a part of her wardrobe and she wears it repeatedly in different styles.
Isha believes in a sustainable, ethical approach and wants to promote fair trade, ethical, conscious, culturally-rooted yet modern clothing, “not mindless consumerism”.
“I don't want to appear in new clothes every day, to encourage impulse shopping! My focus is now on promoting fewer but more conscientious brands, to encourage people to buy less but buy sustainable, and use what they have to the fullest,” she says, adding that she engages with her audience by responding to messages and comments regularly.
Promoting body positivity
Influencers are also calling out the unrealistic beauty standards set by models and actors, while promoting body positivity.
Nitika admits that she was not confident about sharing her photos on a public platform in the initial years, a time when Facebook and Instagram was yet to take off in India. She was worried about people being judgemental too.
“But I started doing it in 2012, and readers were quite encouraging. They often commented that they found my posts motivating and that they got the confidence to carry off different outfits too,” she says.
But online audiences can also be merciless trolls. “Some people make rude comments, often body shaming. I don’t block them; I say everyone has a right to wear whatever they like,” Nitika says.
For Gia, the trick is to go offline after posting online, as the bullying messages can be draining. However, the haters are a minority. Instagrammers like Vijayalaxmi Chhabra and Saloni Mathur are among the many proving that age and unconventional aesthetics are no hindrance for influencing thousands. For those who like to play with cosmetics, connoisseurs like Ankita Chaturvedi and Jovita George offer a wide variety of content through YouTube channels, having established themselves as prominent influencers over the past five-six years.
The trick to gaining followers is regular engagement on your platform – especially with YouTube videos and blogs. Nitika recommends posting new content at least once a week. She says finding a niche will help an aspirin influencer, like she did with body positivity.
The possibilities are endless for these self-made celebrities. Thanks to the internet, we finally have a job profile in India where women outdo men!