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Who are the influencers?

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By Romsanne R. Ortiguero, Special Features Writer

FILTERED SELFIES ‘liked’ a thousand times online. Tutorial videos watched a million times. An opinion written in less than a 280-character limit that goes viral. Behind these posts that proliferate across social media platforms everyday are content creators that continue to attract a growing number of audiences online.

Just like television personalities, these creators on social media, commonly referred to as “influencers,” have reached a certain celebrity status, and are able to amass hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of engaged followers. Given such massive following online, these influencers have been tapped in the recent years for brand marketing, and to some extent, selling of ideas as well.

But what paved the way for these online celebrities to thrive online, and what makes people drawn to them?

According to Dr. Cheryll Ruth R. Soriano, associate professor and chair of De La Salle University’s Department of Communication, the practice of tapping influencers is already an old concept.

“We don’t necessarily call them influencers in the past but you already have prominent people, for example, celebrities, who are able to exert their influence in a lot of different realms whether in sports or in show business among others,” Ms. Soriano told BusinessWorld in an interview.

Ms. Soriano said that the traditional notion of an influencer is connected to the persons’ affiliation within bigger institutions like celebrities or actors whose influence is connected to big media institutions where they are working with.

Sharing the same sentiment, Manny S. Fernando, Managing Director and Chief Experience Officer of advertising and digital marketing agency McCann Worldgroup Philippines, explained to BusinessWorld, “When you talk about influencer marketing, it’s nothing new. Ever since different media channels emerged, the point of influencer marketing has always been there. I guess in that early part, we call it endorsements. As far back as when you had TV and radio stations, the discipline of influencer marketing has always been there.”

“When you talk about influencer marketing, it’s the ability to influence so when you say the ability to influence, it can affect change in terms of opinion, in terms of changing behaviors, so it creates a relevance and importance for marketing.”

While the concept of influencer is already a thing of the past, what made the difference according to the both of them is the emergence of internet and social media.

Mr. Fernando said that the advent of internet enabled a lot of people to create their own content. And as long as people create content, it could be an avenue for brands to be endorsed and promoted.

For her part, Ms. Soriano said that what created the shift is really the term ‘microinfluencers’ or in academic literature, ‘microcelebrities’ — the ones who sprouted in relation to social media.”

“Social media has made it possible for people to create their own self representation, to carve out their own spaces where people can really develop their identities or at least the identities that they wanted to project, and this started the concept of microcelebrities—people who started drawing fans, attention, and support to the point not exactly equal but comparable to your old celebrities or to your old influencers in the traditional sense.”

VALUE, RELATABILITY, AUTHENTICITY
While everyone can easily create content, and with billions of content being published on a daily basis, how were influencers able to stand out and attract a large number of followers?

“I think anyone can create content but not anyone can be an influencer,” Ms. Soriano said, and added that influencers are able to sustain significantly large influence by managing the identity and persona she aforementioned.

This identity or persona — for example, an influencer who consistently posts about fashion, is able to cater to a particular niche audience — helps sustain an influence because they have the capacity to appear to be an expert or kind of retain a certain kind of expertise in relation to a particular realm.

Moreover, Ms. Soriano said people get enamored with influencers because they create value through these ‘expertise.’

“That’s one import thing. You cannot retain influence if you’re not creating value… You kind of consistently create value that people will follow,” she said, adding that one way influencers to these is by sharing tips on a particular kind of topic or expertise.

Ms. Soriano also said that the creation of personal intimacies — where influencers create a notion of intimacy with their audience and their followers — enables them to sustain the audience they have.

“That’s curated. They post things that make them appear relatable but also make them appear close to their audience. It’s a different thing compared to celebrities who may seem unreachable; whereas for these ones, they have this sense of relatability plus intimacy as if you’re just friends. It really creates that affect.”

“They will post snippets in what they do in ordinary days; they will post everyday something that a normal person would do; then they would say, ‘Hi’ to you — that’s also a strategy of curating an intimacy with their followers. You can really see influencers where you can notice that people feel that they can access them.”

For Mr. Fernando, influencers are able to differentiate themselves because of authenticity and believability. He underscored the importance of truth, just as what they are doing in McCann, as an advertising agency who creates value for brands.

“The meaning of the brand is more important than ever because a lot of content are out there, so how do you differentiate yourself? It’s authenticity. Especially here in the Philippines, we’re highly social, we’re one of the highest consumers and we’re the highest producers also of content so it’s important to really to remain authentic,” he said.

He said that inauthentic content has negative repercussions.

“When you look at what’s happening right now, for example, fake news: it can create awareness but if they feel it’s not authentic, you’ll end up being criticized for making that. At the end of the day, even if it can create awareness, did it do what it is supposed to do, or did it (cause) damage? We have a study in McCann where we realized that in the Philippines, if a person is happy about what they saw in a content, eight out of 10 times, they’re going to share it; but at the same time, at the same level, if people basically don’t like it, eight out of 10 times, they will share their disappointment with the brand.”

“Reputation, at the end of the day, actually matters. At the end of the day, that’s brand equity. Did people love you more or did people hate you more?”

INFLUENCERS IN POLITICS
According to Ms. Soriano, politics also started to realize the value of ordinary people or influencers in magnetizing people’s support.

“Politicians have always tapped celebrities in the forefront of their campaigns to endorse them anyway. The use of celebrities for politics for example is problematic because it diverts the attention from the important issues. .. When that happens in the context of social media influencers, when their influence are used to be able to divert attention on maybe what’s important, when an influence is used to distort things, maybe that becomes problematic,” she said.

“It (influence) can really be used for everything. It can be used to promote war it can be used to promote anything.”