Rise and rise of influencers

Oct 03, 2023
Rise and rise of influencers
With brands increasing their spends on and partnering with online content creators, and consumers avidly following them, influencers in India tell us how they are upping their game

The influencer marketing industry is on a remarkable growth in India—something that was unfathomable till a few years ago. According to a recent report by Statista, an online data gathering and visualisation platform, the industry was worth Rs 900 crore in 2021, and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25% to reach Rs 2,200 crore by 2025.

Its importance can be gauged by the fact that several Indian companies—whether small, medium or large-scale—have now dedicated budgets for influencer marketing, and are partnering with leading content creators to promote their products and services. As per the ‘Influencer Marketing Report 2022’ released by Influencer.in, an influencer marketing platform, 28% of Indian brands say their influencer marketing spends have increased by 2x over the previous year. About 76.4% of brands surveyed also predicted that influencer marketing will grow in the years to come.

And why wouldn’t they? A majority of Indians (up to 70%) believe that influencer marketing has an impact on them, with 21% saying they are “extremely likely” to purchase a product or service promoted by influencers, says a recent report titled ‘Impact of Influencer Marketing in India’ released by Recogn, Dentsu India’s research division, and Boomlet Group, an influencer marketing and crisis communication agency. Another 31% say they are “very likely” and 26% say they are “somewhat likely” to do so.

Influencer marketing has the highest impact on Gen Z and millennials, “who avidly follow social media influencers”, the report adds.

“Influencer marketing has had a transformative impact on brands and businesses—from increasing brand awareness to building loyalty, from fostering one-on-one meaningful connections to building loyalists, from increased conversions and ROI to transforming cultures, and more. People are buying after being influenced by both virtual and real ones,” says Karishma Gupta, partner, Deloitte India.

Naturally, online content creators are on a roll. Earlier this year, Zefmo, a marketplace connecting social influencers with brands, in a report said that India will have over 100 million content creators across all social media platforms in 2023, making it the largest base of influencers in the world. The figure is slightly higher than the one pegged in October last year by venture capital firm Kalaari Capital, which said that there are around 80 million online content creators in India, including video streamers, bloggers, influencers and physical product creators.

Even though the number is small (of the 80 million, only 1,50,000 could monetise their offerings and earn around Rs 16,000– Rs 2 lakh per month, as per Kalaari Capital), influencers are now looking at merchandising and ‘productisation’ (converting content streams into ‘products’, such as training courses and knowledge repositories) for additional sources of income.

Take for instance, Saheli Chatterjee, 23, the founder of AmbiFem, an agency that is targeted at growing brands organically with the help of social media. She built a successful business with a turnover of Rs 2 crore in revenue when she was just 21 years old, as per reports. She also runs Freelance 101 Academy, where freelancers are taught everything they need to upskill and diversify.

However, aspersions and adulations are part and parcel of social media life, where feeds on Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) erupt from time to time to shape public opinions. In the Internet age, there is perhaps no better medium to influence the collective conscience of the public than social media, which has made the process of sharing information and even disinformation pretty swift.

There have been instances where some finfluencers (financial influencers) have led their followers astray with their advice and at times for their personal gains. To quote a recent incident in India, popular finfluencer Ravisultanjani Kumar was accused of forging qualification degrees by another social media user, which best explains the problem. This resulted in Kumar deleting his social media accounts.

This event, and several others in the past, where finfluencers have been found misleading a nexus of investors to make personal gains on the stock market and elsewhere, are calling for regulations, which are still in the works. In August, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) came up with a consultation paper that proposes regulations to control the menace. The Advertising Standards Council of India has also made it mandatory for finfluencers to disclose their qualification and register with the SEBI.

“While there have been cyclical phases in the content and influencer business in India, we have been able to not just survive but thrive in this ecosystem because we don’t have all our eggs in one basket. Our talent management and influencer marketing verticals are genre-agnostic, hence the business is not seasonal but consistent,” says Viraj Sheth, who started Monk Entertainment, a creative digital media firm in 2018 that now works with over 100 profiles across genres like entertainment, lifestyle, podcasts, fashion, music, tech, travel and food. The company has clients such as Ranveer Allahbadia, Niharika NM, Abhi and Niyu, Yashraj Mukhate, Ruhee Dosani and Chef Sanjyot Keer, to name just a few.

But the influencer business in India is yet to realise its true potential if we go by trends in the US, where a big chunk of the brands have adopted influencer marketing and no longer rely solely on traditional marketing tactics. “While the US is number one and India is number seven in influencer marketing spends, the creators in the US exercise more creator’s freedom and are able to build a better authenticity and trust because of the governing laws,” says Gupta of Deloitte India.

On the policy side, all creators in India are required to adhere to regulations and guidelines laid out by the department of consumer affairs to ensure transparency and to help consumers make informed decisions. This includes using clear disclosures of sponsored content with labels like ad, paid partnership or sponsored. This is applicable for celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers alike. “The folks we represent understand the importance of complying with these regulations. We ensure that they are apprised of how crucial it is to follow these guidelines to maintain transparency and avoid legal consequences or reputational damage,” adds Sheth of Monk Entertainment.

These disclaimers cause no hindrance to the influencers, and the ones FE spoke with have welcomed them, as they are in the interest of all parties concerned. Here, we profile a few influencers and show how they are upping the game.

Sanjyot Keer | 31 | Chef, Internet personality

If you are into food and cooking-related content, chances are, you already know the ‘Your Food Lab’ social media page. A brainchild and initiative of Chef Sanjyot Keer, Your Food Lab started on Facebook in 2016 and it now has 4.86 million subscribers on YouTube and 2.7 million followers on Instagram. Interestingly, Keer adopted the short-video format at a time when the 60-second videos weren’t the norm. “I wanted food content to be as easily accessible as possible, so I decided that all of my videos would be less than 60 seconds. I was one of the first in India to make short-format food content and people instantly loved it. Within a month’s time, Your Food Lab had 1 lakh followers organically, and within a year, we were at a million. We soon crossed a billion views,” the chef-creator says.

Subsequently, by the seventh month of content creation, Keer started getting enquiries from brands who wanted to place their products in his videos. “The initial enquiries were for barter deals, which I declined, before I finally got my first brand deal with an edible oil company,” says Keer.

As a creator, Keer now has multiple revenue streams, such as YouTube, which he feels has a great ad revenue system. “So, ad revenue becomes my first and foremost source of revenue. YouTube sells ads on videos and shares a part of the revenue, which is around 55% of the net profit with the content creator,” he explains.

According to Keer, Instagram is a different ballgame altogether. In the absence of a YouTube-like ad revenue system, one earns on the Meta-owned platform through brand collaborations. “I am a food creator and a chef, so a lot of FMCG brands, appliance brands, kitchen brands, beverage brands, etc, would like to work with me. This is how you can collaborate with brands and earn money out of it on Instagram, making it my second revenue stream,” says Keer. Among the brands he has collaborated with include Thums Up, Big Basket, Licious, Everest Spices and Smoodh Dairy, among others.

Elaborating upon his third stream of revenue, the creator says, “When you are an established content creator and have already built a good audience and community, brands would directly like to work with you as their brand ambassadors. I’m one of the first digital content creators who’s been a brand ambassador for legacy brand Wagh Bakri.”

Keer also has a D2C brand, YFL Home, a branch of Your Food Lab, where he creates kitchen appliances and sells them directly to his consumers.

Without divulging the exact or approximate revenue figures, the chef-creator explains, “For different content creators, the percentage of revenue earned from various formats is different. For me, it is almost equal, be it ad revenue or brand collaborations or brand endorsements. Sometimes brand collaborations will go really high, if the markets are good, and if not, then the ad revenue will be on the higher side but for us at Your Food Lab, it is almost equal.”

About the influencer guidelines released by the government earlier this year, Keer says that the move itself means that “they are noticing and conveying to people that content creation is a legit career and this is a positive thing. “Guidelines should be in place because content creation comes with a lot of responsibilities as you have a huge audience you are influencing and giving out information to which can impact and affect someone’s life,” he adds.

Priya Malik | 34 | Poet, artist, content creator

“I would not call myself a typical influencer or content creator. I try to stay very close to my roots,” says poet-creator Priya Malik. Building an audience one poetry at a time, Malik currently boasts over 5,06,000 followers on Instagram.

“It happened pretty early on for me, when influencer marketing started (picking up pace) in India,” she says, reminiscing about the time the profession of content creation became lucrative. “My first brand collab was via Twitter. It was a chocolate brand, and back then, I didn’t know what kind of money was into it. I was quite pleasantly surprised when I got to know that,” she adds.

While she says that brand collaborations pay the most, she would not want to sit at home and wait for a brand to approach her. “So, it is very important, especially for me as a poet, to continue doing the art form for the love of the art form, rather than just attract brand deals,” she says. Hence, apart from this, Malik does live shows, poetry, story-telling, theatre, along with private and corporate events.

Without divulging figures, Malik says, content creation “pays well”. Elaborating upon it, she explains that every content creator has different rate slabs. It depends on the number of followers, the engagement rate, the gender ratio, your target demographic, etc. “It also depends on the number of brands you collaborate with. So, it is a good source of income, but again, it is an unstable source of income,” she adds.

Some of the brands that she has collaborated with include Swiggy Dineout, Jeevansathi.com and Ashar Group, among others.

On the guidelines for influencers that the government released earlier this year, Malik says, “I think it is good that we are transparent when there is a paid partnership, and I think brands have also opened up to the idea and so have agencies. Back in the day, brands wanted to do brand collabs while not making it apparent that it is paid content.”

Ankur Warikoo | 42 | YouTuber, entrepreneur, life and finance coach, author

Ankur Warikoo calls himself an entrepreneur, and not a social media influencer. That’s because he has been helming the entrepreneurial role for more than 18 years, but working as an influencer only for the past three-and-a-half years. “For me, entrepreneurship is not a profession, it’s a state of mind,” says Warikoo, adding, “How you think, behave and operate in life make you an entrepreneur. And by that definition, I’ve always been an entrepreneur. But I have loved the role of a startup founder because the challenges are at a whole new ‘intellectual’ level and I learned my best lessons in this phase of life.”

Warikoo is very clear about his approach to business propositions and revenue streams. The affiliate income comes from the links of brands he shares, personally uses or endorses, and his posts vary from speaking about the art of managing finances, savings and investment to a variety of education and technology brands in his kitty, such as Coursera, Skillshare, Indmoney, Wint Wealth, HP, Dell and Microsoft. “Brand collaboration is the smartest way but a very small part of our overall business. I recommend a product only if I have used it. It should be a great experience because it’s very easy to recommend something without having skin in the game,” says Warikoo, who in FY2023 earned over Rs 65 lakh through brand collaborations and Rs 1 crore from intellectual property and royalty of books.

A very valid piece of advice from his experiences in the past, Warikoo warns that influencer business isn’t a cake walk for many. “This is literally the draw of luck. I don’t believe this is talent. It is something serendipitously coming together to make it work. I’m blessed. There are a lot of influencers and content creators who are at the top of the pyramid. It is a lot of hard work.”

Even though he has over 3.14 million subscribers, Warikoo says he is not a full-time content creator on YouTube as he now spends less than five hours a week working towards it. He has been busy building his education startup called Web Veda for the past three years.

Isha Borah | 33 | Fashion content creator

“Let’s make styling a therapy,” reads Isha Borah’s Instagram bio. A fashion influencer and content creator, Borah has made a niche for herself with a sizable base of 1.6 million followers on Instagram and 7,40,000 subscribers on YouTube. “What began as a mere passion has now evolved into both my passion and profession,” she comments on her journey of content creation.

With the blowing up of social media, brands are increasingly engaging with influencers, making social media marketing a viable career option. “Considering how impactful social media is, I would say it (content creation) is a highly lucrative career option,” Borah says.

Although the influencer declines to divulge any details, she says much of her revenue comes from brand collaborations. L’Oreal, Amazon Fashion, Ajio and Jockey Woman, among others, are some of the brands she has collaborated with. “I won’t be able to give an exact number as it depends on the product, brand and the type of content that I am presenting,” she says on her earnings through social media influencing.

While Borah doesn’t adhere to a rigid set of dos and don’ts when deciding brand collabs, “I do have a guiding principle. If I cannot personally connect with the concept or idea I’ve been tasked to convey, I opt not to pursue it.”

Speaking on the influencer guidelines released by the government earlier this year, the creator says, “The guidelines mandate that influencers should only endorse products they have personally experienced. I wholeheartedly endorse these guidelines and have, in fact, been abiding by them since I started my career. Also, the government has imposed tax obligations on influencers, a responsibility I readily embrace without reservations, seeing it as a positive step toward our nation’s progress.”

Junaiz VP | 27 | YouTuber, reality show celebrity

Born and brought up in Kannur, Kerala, Junaiz’s journey as a content creator has been “incredible”. He looks at the past five to six years, since he became a content creator, no less than a rollercoaster ride full of “learning and growth”. During this period, he collaborated with notable brands like Atomberg, Philips and Tata Group, among others. “When deciding to endorse a brand, I look for alignment with my values, relevance to my audience, and a genuine product or service that I can stand behind,” he explains.

Junaiz, who was also the second runner-up at the Season 5 of Bigg Boss Malayalam, feels that the creator economy in India has witnessed significant growth in recent years. “It’s become a diverse and dynamic space, with creators from various niches thriving,” says Junaiz, who has 1.34 million subscribers on YouTube and counting. About his participation in the reality show, he says, “It provided a platform to reach a broader audience and connect with fans on a more personal level. The experience was challenging but immensely rewarding.”

Junaiz mostly makes short comic videos, which he posts regularly on YouTube and Instagram. Nicknamed ‘Mallu Don’, Junaiz turned full-time content creator after quitting his job with a finance company in October 2021. “Inspiration for content creation comes from everyday life, personal experiences, and the desire to make a positive impact on my audience. I’m constantly inspired by the ability to connect with people and share stories. Through my work, I aim to convey messages of positivity, inclusivity and social awareness. I believe in using my platform to spread awareness about important issues and inspire positive change,” he reveals.

Asked what is the best way to increase a subscriber base, the YouTuber says it is consistency and high-quality content that matter a lot. “Collaboration with other creators and cross-promotion can also be effective,” he says. Choosing not to disclose his average monthly earnings, Junaiz says that income can vary depending on various factors like sponsorships, ad revenue and merchandise sales.

About the new policy on influencer marketing, he says that it hasn’t really changed the way he approaches content in any way. “I’ve always been committed to transparency and authenticity in my work, and I’ve been following disclosure and paid promotion guidelines from the beginning. It’s essential to maintain trust with my audience, and I believe that being open about partnerships and promotions actually helps in building credibility of my content. It has just reinforced the importance of honesty and integrity in the creator community,” he says.

Kaunain Hyder | 27 | Vlogger

Dubai-based vlogger Kaunain Hyder is having the time of her life. During her recent visit to India, where she was born (in Hyderabad), a brand collaboration in the form of an all-expense paid bike trip enabled her to experience the mesmerising valleys of Manali, Srinagar and Ladakh, which she counts as her “favourite travel memory”.

Commenting on the creator economy in India, she thinks it has witnessed a remarkable growth after the pandemic. “It is marked by diverse content, new monetisation avenues, and increasing professionalism in brand collaborations. My experience of working with an influencer marketing agency provided me valuable insights into this dynamic landscape. It’s a space where hard work, consistency and a distinctive approach are essential for success, whether in Dubai’s burgeoning market or India’s vast landscape of opportunities,” she adds.

Hyder feels there is more scope for micro-influencers to earn big in Dubai than in the Indian market, where competition is intense. “An influencer like me can earn anywhere between $4,000 and $5,000 every month,” she says, adding that it all depends upon the brand name, if there is an agency involved, festive seasons and occasions.

Hyder has carved a niche for herself through content on travel and food, and her page gets 19% traffic from India, 60% from the UAE. “I recognised early on the importance of infusing creativity into my work while staying true to my niche. It’s a delicate balance to strike, ensuring that the content remains engaging and relevant without coming across as overly promotional,” she says. She has collaborated with a wide range of brands such as Yamaha, Bosch, Zomato, Filmfare, Masaba and others. “It seems almost unreal how I have grown in the past two years,” she exclaims. While working as a marketing professional, something she admitted thoroughly enjoyed doing, Hyder was learning all the tricks of the trade. “There was an unshakable sense that something more meaningful was out there, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it,” she says.

Pandemic came as a blessing in disguise for her. “In order to shift my focus and bring more positivity around, I started sharing my food and travel experiences online, reminding everyone that we are not too far away from that life again. Over time, my modest circle of friends evolved into a thriving community,” she says.

A few months ago, Hyder, who believes that content creation is not as easy as it seems in the finished products, managed to quit her job to direct all her energies towards her content. Her series of short videos on hidden gems of the UAE takes one to little-known places in seven emirates—showing the UAE as much more than just swanky shopping malls and glittering skyscrapers.

Asked if she has a strategy in place to drive numbers, she says, “Social media algorithms are constantly evolving. There is no specific formula to increase your audience but there are ways to increase your subscriber base by hosting giveaways, collaborating with brands and fellow influencers in your niche.”

Masoom Minawala | 30 | Fashion creator, entrepreneur & investor

Masoom Minawala first dabbled in content creation more than a decade ago, more as a hobby and passion. But today, she is a global influencer, entrepreneur and investor with over 58,000 subscribers on YouTube and 1.3 million followers on Instagram.

“It was a new industry then and before that people were not making money out of it. I started and stayed consistent and true to it ever since. There has been a lot of learning, adoption and adaptation on the way,” Minawala says. The content creation space has entirely evolved from blogs and websites to 15-20-second videos, which have become a norm on the Internet. Minawala is now a full-fledged startup entrepreneur, and her collaborations are based on trust. “While partnering, I feel like a natural fit and build lasting relationships with consumers and clients,” she says.

Her partnerships include Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Samsung as the face of brand campaigns. She also served as a digital brand ambassador of Estee Lauder, besides investments in brands like The Betel Leaf & Co, One Impression, Blissclub, Kuku FM, All Things Baby and FrontRow, to name a few.

While the number of brands she associates with each year varies due to factors like industry budgets, brand marketing strategies and special occasions, when it comes to collaborations, Minawala has explored a variety of avenues in the past 12 years.

“There have been partnerships that have ranged from receiving gifts and sourcing products to engaging in paid partnerships, long-term commitments and exclusive deals. As an influencer, substantial revenue growth is entirely achievable, with a potential annual increase of 25-30% or even more. But the influencer landscape has evolved beyond traditional collaborations. While partnerships with brands for sponsored content remain a cornerstone, influencers are increasingly exploring innovative monetisation strategies. Earnings aren’t limited to collaborations, influencers can now explore commission-based arrangements, co-ownership with brands, and even investment opportunities,” she explains.

The new guidelines play a huge role in protecting consumers and preventing misleading content, says Minawala. “These guidelines are in perfect alignment with our unwavering commitment to delivering the utmost value to our community. The guidelines ensure both influencers and brands are working towards the same goal—to provide transparent, trustworthy, and authentic experiences to the community,” she adds.

Source: https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/rise-and-rise-of-influencers/3260470/