Influencer marketing is growing rapidly, but may seem baffling to those who have not explored this world. People who regularly post photos and video content on social media channels can become influencers if they develop an online following, making them valuable potential brand ambassadors.
At a YEC webinar on 9 June, Ivy Wong, CEO of VS Media, introduced influencer marketing, how it differs from traditional advertising, and the latest trends.
Although influencers are not usually household names, the numbers involved show that it is a segment that should not be ignored. PewDiePie, whose YouTube channel focuses on video games, has 110 million subscribers. Here in Hong Kong, Emi Wong’s fitness channel has 4.1 million subscribers, far more even than established media outlets.
The influencer world has grown during the pandemic, with people consuming more online content. And much of this has come from non-mainstream sources: according to research from AMPD, 90% of streaming minutes during Covid were spent on YouTube and TikTok.
“This is also affecting e-commerce, as people will buy things that have been recommended by influencers,” Wong said. “According to research, around 55% of respondents in Hong Kong have purchased products endorsed by influencers they follow.”
So what explains this surging interest in such user-generated online content and the related rise in influencers?
“During the pandemic, we still want to be socially connected,” Wong said. “Social media is really about two-way communication.”
Unlike traditional media, where content is created and finessed before being released to the audience, online content is very dynamic and audience interaction plays an important role. It can also be in very niche areas, and is seen as being more authentic than celebrity endorsement.
As Wong explained: “Influencers are not just people taking selfies and putting them online.” Successful influencers have to be directors, producers and actors in their own content, and then build a connection with their followers. Once they have established trust with their audience, they can become sales advocates.
Looking at the latest trends, Wong said that the demand for influencer marketing is set to increase, with brands increasingly aware of the effectiveness of the medium. Video will be more critical, with very short 6-10-second videos currently popular.
Livestreaming in particular has been “getting crazy” in the last few years, with people buying products in response to flash deals.
“This is a new wave of e-commerce,” Wong explained. “In the past, you would go to an e-commerce site and search for what you want to buy. But with live streaming, it is more emotional buying.”
Besides KOLs – or Key Opinion Leaders – Wong said Key Opinion Customers are also useful. These are current customers who can be rewarded if they post about your business online, and for referring their friends.
“Celebrity influencers will continue to decline,” Wong added. “They often have a lot of followers, but if you look at the comments and engagement, these are actually very low. And when celebrities promote products it can come across as inauthentic.”
At the other end of the scale, micro and nano-influencers are an increasingly important part of the influencer world. While they may have relatively few followers, this means they have a much closer relationship with their fanbase – and therefore their endorsements seem more genuine.
For brands that want to start using influencer marketing, Wong said that the content should be authentic, and they should understand what their consumers want.
“They want to be informed, they want to learn something, they want to be entertained and they want to be socially connected,” she said.
Wong said that Hong Kong is behind when it comes to influencer marketing, particularly when compared to the Mainland, which has platforms including Bilibili, Douyin and Little Red Book.
Some brands in Hong Kong are reluctant to use influencers as they are not famous in a traditional way, such as pop stars or actors. But brands can leverage the trust that the influencer has built up.
“Remember that influencers know their audience well, they have built their community already,” Wong said. “They can be your sales advocate.”