Aurora Magazine

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Are Influencers Good Value for Your Brand?

In the labyrinth of social media platforms and metrics, Sami Qahar proposes five parameters on which to make your judgement call.
Updated 07 Mar, 2024 12:13pm

Flashback to 2015 when I penned down my thoughts in Aurora about the good, the bad and the glamorous in terms of celebrity endorsements. Ah, the good old days when a celeb was just a celeb. No ‘social media influencers’ or ‘TikTokers’ were roaming the digital realm. YouTubers were still in their infancy, and choosing a brand ambassador boiled down to one simple question: ‘Are they popular with the public?’ How times have changed!

Welcome to the labyrinth of the 21st century; it’s not just celebs anymore. It is an entire circus of social media platforms, each with its own ringmaster. Some swing on the Instagram trapeze, others groove to the TikTok beat. There are podcasters on Facebook and YouTube and there are still mainstream media personalities and sports stars. Let’s also not forget the ‘Spotify stars’. Picking the right face for your brand now feels like navigating a maze blindfolded. Platforms like ‘Walee’ are attempting to decode the cryptic dance of brand fit and analytics. However, truth be told, in this wild carnival nobody really knows who to spotlight and how much confetti (read: money) to shower for the best brand bang.

In the age of selfies and swipes, Instagram has become the influencers’ playground. Influencers command ubiquitous popularity and this meteoric rise of the ‘influencer’ phenomenon has garnered significant interest; brands and researchers are donning their detective hats, trying to decode the mystery behind this ‘Insta-fame’ explosion. 

However, with great power comes great responsibility. But let’s be real – in the influencer jungle, things get wilder than a safari on roller skates.

Do social media platforms guarantee the authenticity of the engagement and reach these influencers offer? It’s like asking if your pet goldfish can do calculus – questionable at best. Followers? Well, turns out you can buy them faster than you can order a pizza. Likes? A glorified high-five in the digital realm but not a reliable yardstick for post prowess. The analytics? Oh, it’s a mysterious abyss, a rabbit hole so deep that brand custodians are still trying to find Narnia in there. Frankly, expecting them to navigate that labyrinth without a GPS and a PhD in data science is like asking a cat to do your taxes.

There are two kinds of influencers in the sphere. First are the ones who gradually gain popularity by creating content and gaining followers through hard work. The other kind are the overnight stars. Someone makes a broken-down car video and wakes up to one million followers and Mahira Khan dancing on their meme. The others crack a joke at a cricket match and spend the rest of their media career trying to play the character and making cringey content. They both coexist, and brands choose either of them suited to their needs; however, they come and go. Social media has a weekly celebrity, and it is cruel in forgetting the previous ones.

On the other hand, we have hard-core, old-school, mainstream media celebrities. The actors, the musicians, and the sports stars. They usually take the longer route. They are more marathon runners and not 100-metre runners and have a longer shelf life. They know their area of work and the effort and hours and hours required to create what we call branded content and commercials. In comparison to social media stars who make a pack-opening or wardrobe-changing reel in 45 minutes and move on with their lives.

You can see how I have been trying to avoid the word ‘influencer’, primarily because I doubt their ability to ‘influence’ purchase decisions or lifestyle changes in their audience. They are entertainers at max, who are having a good time and give 10 seconds of content to their followers. Most of them aim to reach TV and become mainstream stars anyway because they also know that sustainability lies in that format.

Can we club celebrities and influencers under one umbrella? For academic purposes, yes. However, I would then set certain criteria for using them for my brand. I will put five parameters in place, not necessarily in a particular order, to see if an influencer/celebrity is good value for my business.

Celebrity Appeal
Does my influencer have celebrity appeal? If we are clubbing the two together, then we need to know if it’s just the numbers that are working for their statistics or are they real-life celebrities. Jannat Mirza has more followers than Mahira Khan. Zulqarnain Sikandar has more followers than Fawad Khan. Do we need to debate who is the bigger celebrity?

This is a major area of concern as far as influencers are concerned and it’s a problem not faced as much by mainstream celebrities. Mainstream celebrities have TV or other media as their primary source of income. The main source of income for social media influencers is their social media; hence for them, volume is very important. A lot of influencers fall into this trap and start opening the so-called PR packs of every other brand. Some of them have three to four pack openings or endorsements in a week, which makes their content predictable and inauthentic. As compared to Saba Qamar who has never done a PR pack video and it will be a lot more authentic if she decides to endorse a brand. The other challenge is differentiating their personal and professional values. If you are vocal about boycotting a product because of certain geo-political reasons, you cannot show up hosting an event for the same product next week, right? But some social media influencers do and that is a major dent in their credibility and a reason for the internet trolling their behaviour.

Number of Followers
As basic as a criterion, I would not eliminate the simple matrix of the number of followers. However, it will be important to see the geographic and demographic mix of the followers instead of just deciding on the total number. Some of our stars are very popular across the border and a large chunk of their followers come from other countries. Should Pakistani brands pay them a premium because they have a higher number of followers? In the neutral words of a wise man, Absolutely not.

Average Reach/Engagement Per Post
More often than not, brand custodians choose influencers based on their total number of followers without going into the most basic analytics – i.e. average reach and engagement per post. Notably, a subset of influencers boasts millions of followers, yet their posts exhibit a nominal reach or engagement, often confined to a mere couple of thousand interactions. Despite the absence of advanced analytical resources, it is prudent for brand custodians to scrutinise these elemental metrics. It’s not a bad idea to have a look at these basic measures even if you don’t have access or capability for the advanced analytics of an influencer’s social media.

Last but not least, how much are you paying for what you are getting? And when I say what you are getting, I don’t mean the post on their pages. It’s a combination of all the things above. Are you getting a credible influencer? Are you getting engagement and reach? Are you getting a celebrity people look up to? If yes, then based on those answers, you must see how deep your pockets run. 

What I have written is not exhaustive. The domain of digital and social media is characterised by perpetual evolution, rendering current metrics susceptible to obsolescence. What I don’t expect to change is the human nature of looking up to the heroes and idols. From the deities and demi-gods of antiquity to contemporary celebrities and influencers, the paradigm remains intact. God knows what they will be tomorrow. Maybe AI bots?

Sami Qahar is CEO, Stimulus Productions.