The Economics of Social Media Influencers
Here were people who seemingly made their presence on social media apropos of nothing. They knew how to dress, where to eat, and they could Crossfit like a beast.
When the term “influencer” started being bandied around a few years ago, folks from traditional media—writers, I guess you can call them—scoffed, yet were secretly envious of this new genre of livelihood. Here were people who seemingly made their presence on social media apropos of nothing. They knew how to dress, where to eat, and they could Crossfit like a beast. They took photos of their endless beach trips, or their babies, or their babies on a beach trip.
They had followers—like, thousands of them—because people are suckers for the aspirational, the hashtag-blessed life. Some of them may be actual models/chefs/designers IRL, but others, it seemed, curated themselves to online stardom with only the help of an IG husband and a knack for flatlays. Marketing agencies on the social media tip took notice of this and “influencer marketing” was born, just around the same time traditional advertising like print ads (which keep magazines such as this alive) started to falter.
KC Montero, consummate host and former MTV VJ was one of its early adopters, or instigators, having started two of his own companies before being pirated by the guys at Virus, a digital agency that was founded in 2008. KC was behind the #PacquiaoPositive campaign that was launched on Twitter in 2012, when Twitter itself was still highly influential. Following allegations of the boxer doping, KC tweeted: “Breaking news: it’s true..I can’t believe it!” Rhian Ramos, KC’s girlfriend at the time, tweeted back, “OMG. #PacquiaoPositive? I didn’t notice before..but now..it kinda makes sense.” Thus began a conversation among several celebrities, 14 of whom were paid to sow intrigue, but even more who jumped in, having no clue. A few days later, a TV ad disguised to look like a high-profile press conference featured a somber-looking Manny about to address the wild speculations. “It’s true, I’m positive….” here someone brings out a potted plant… “with malunggay!” Reactions were mixed, from people tweeting that they felt duped, but mostly, people got the joke.
“It’s not just about how many followers you have...Sometimes they may have a very niche following with less than 5,000, but this could be more effective, given the objective of the client.”
Fast forward to now, when audiences are way savvier when it comes to identifying paid promotions and spotting viral campaigns (but strangely, not fake news), and they generally go along for the ride. KC joined Virus to form Squad Social, its influencer marketing arm. With KC’s showbiz connections and Virus’ resources (i.e. two entire office floors of millennials on computers), they plan to take influencer marketing to new levels of entertainment and engagement this year, moving well beyond the sponsored post or blog entry.
“The last thing influencers want is to be accused of ‘bayad ka,’ so they might as well embrace it and be entertaining. Anyone can sniff out a fake,” says Miguel Quesada, Virus president and CEO.
What makes an influencer influential? “It’s not just about how many followers you have,” says Andre Tani, Virus managing partner. “Sometimes they may have a very niche following with less than 5,000, but this could be more effective, given the objective of the client.”
Indeed, I would be more influenced by a post from David Ong (IG following: 3,819) about small batch gins over a post from Anne Curtis (IG following: 6.5 million) of instant pancit canton (girl, we know you don’t really eat that. We’re cross-referencing Erwan’s page.) You’ll notice too there are significantly less likes, shares, and comments on these product placements and half-assed endorsements than there are on her selfies or videos of Anne just being Anne. Huge social media presence does not always equate to action, but at the same time, a single post on one or multiple channels that reaches millions will still cost less than what a client would spend on a TVC.
Huge social media presence does not always equate to action, but at the same time, a single post on one or multiple channels that reaches millions will still cost less than what a client would spend on a TVC.
“With all of this happening, it’s very important that we make our posts and campaigns and videos stand out,” says KC. “Let’s have a good time, make people remember what we’re doing.” His sense of absurdity is infectious, or at least it aims to be—influencers and clients he works with are given license to go a little crazy. Miguel acknowledges that only someone like KC could get a hot girl to fake a nipple slip.
Rather than merely endorse a product, the influencer should create something of value for the audience, whether it’s a silly prank, or an informative series on life insurance. Their campaign for Insular Life led to the first ever policy sold online in the Philippines, through an e-commerce platform Virus created. Naturally, the influencers they prefer to work with rarely come from the big network studios with their big talent fees.
“With Facebook and Instagram Stories, everyone is making an SDE of their lives of the past 24 hours. Every user is empowered to become a content creator now,” says Miguel. “We’re embracing this evolution of digital marketing.” Now excuse me while I start my live feed, trying on different kinds of organic homemade facial masks. Oh wait, that’s just baby vomit. #Blessed!
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.