Your earned influencer engagement model may be flawed

Last week, I was on a call with one of my friends from Thrissur, and he mentioned the latest episode by Kunjan. (Those who are reading his name for the first time. He is an interesting character from my home town who unknowingly become a part of my columns).

So, Kunjan was cycling by when he got a call from his recent customer. The customer was angry that the door Kunjan had installed last evening was stuck and they were now forced to use the back door. After a full minute of hearing the issue, Kunjan calmly questioned the customer, “By any chance did you try to open or close the door?”

“What else is the door for?” the customer shouted back.

When influencer engagement became a buzzword, it was largely a function of the marketing team. The idea was to use people who have a certain influence on subject matter would be used to create branded counted to reach to more consumers.

As time passed, the communication professionals coined the term ‘earned influence’ wherein they would earn this space and content from an influencer basis the power of the idea, content or collaboration. Hereon, the lines have kept getting thinner and thinner.

Slowly, the influencer tribe was classified as Celebrities, Macro Influencers, Reach Rakers, Micro Influencers – and now Nano Influencers. Of course, Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) who were truly subject matter experts found lesser space to operate. Further, influencers as per genres were introduced and in the last few years several influencer management agencies mushroomed.

Today, a majority of influencer engagement is paid influence. It becomes even more complicated when despite a guideline issued by ASCI last year, over 20% of posts screened were found violating the rules. In fact, several celebrities and brands faced scrutiny of ASCI for this breach.

From Dr. Robert Cialdini’s seven principles of influence, authority is one of the key ones when it comes to influencer engagement today. However, over my last few years working with influencer management agencies, this is the least talked about factor while selecting an influencer. Rather, the discussions are primarily on the number of followers and the genre. Not surprisingly, I have seem profiles which feature into multiple genres – food, travel and lifestyle being three of the oft-abused genre. The size of influencer’s reach and followers is now becoming a blinder during selection process.

Offering cash for publicity will of course get us more influencers saying yes to brand talk. However, this dilutes the power of influence as well as the capability of a public relations team in comparison to the brand marketing team.

It is fundamentally an antithesis of the idea of earned influence when reputation management experts need to pay money to buy influence. Consumer has evolved and is much more aware today. It would be foolish to think that an average consumer cannot see through the paid influencer’s post. It’s usually inauthentic and doesn’t carry a RTB (Reason to Believe). How many of us actually believe that 9 out of 10 dentists prescribe a certain brand of toothpaste?

To give you a corollary, most public relations professional will never take credit for a brand advertorial executed because though the content and messaging would have been worked upon by the communications team, it doesn’t give the same kick as earning a space with efforts. Then, why use a different parameter for influencer engagement?

If your earned influence strategy had been predominantly relying on paid influencers, then it is similar to Kunjan’s customer’s question, “What is earned influence then?”

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Supreeth Sudhakaran
Supreeth Sudhakaran is Deputy General Manager in the Corporate Communication and Brand Team of Aditya Birla Group. He was earlier associated with Godrej Industries Limited, leading owned media platform - Design Dekko, research-driven narratives, hybrid media engagement, and brand communication mandate for the Godrej Agrovet Ltd.

Supreeth is a journalist by education, he started his career working as a desk editor at the digital arm of the Dainik Bhaskar Group. He later worked at senior editorial roles with several leading general and trade media publications such as the Indian Express Group, IPP Media India, Haymarket Media Group, and Geospatial Media, writing and editing stories on various niche subjects including marketing technology, printing, packaging, publishing, and geospatial science. His first stint as a communication professional was with India’s largest PR firm, Adfactors PR Pvt Ltd., before moving to his current role.

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