Digital Reporter

You follow them. They are the flawless men and women on social media, donning chic outfits and no‑makeup makeup, gazing at a cotton candy sky in a far‑away Tuscan resort. They execute pro‑quality photos with their VSCO fairy dust.

You love them. You, along with a thousand others, profess this on Instagram photos.

And boy has every double tap led to the birth of a new money‑making avenue.

Enter the so‑called “influencers”: ordinary people who have gained internet fame for sharing their life and who have cultivated a steady online following in channels such as, but not limited to, Instagram, Facebook, and their own web sites.

Influencers have the voice of an ordinary person and the reach of a celebrity. If you think that fetching thousands of likes is easy money—a product of a mere click on a camera plus a sneaky caption—you’re wrong. The London Evening Standard called the story a “wizardry” in its article about Steve Bartlett, CEO of an “influencer marketing agency” that turned over around £6 million last year and claims that they can make anything trend in 26 minutes.

For brands, this is a new sphere of commerce, and a more economical one at that. In a bid to establish credibility and intimate promotions on social media sites, companies have began to tap influencers to feed a brand’s message to their audience.

“Social media influencers are effective primarily as a reach channel,” Adi Timbol‑Hernandez, President of non‑stock, non‑profit organization called the Philippine Association of National Advertisers (PANA), told SparkUp in an email. “It allows brands to tap into an already established community of people with similar interests by using the voice of just one effective amplifier.”

Naturally, like every new thing, influencers have drawn some controversy. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has instructed influencers to clearly disclose advertisements in a bid to crack down on “stealth marketing campaigns.” No rule is in place here in the Philippines, where there is no regulating body the equivalent of the FTC.

Art Erka Capili Inciong

With our without critics, influencers are here to stay. After all, they have a market, and one that finds them extremely valuable.

“We [at McDonald’s] have used social media influencers over the years—from popular showbiz celebrities with broad reach and appeal to targeted influencers of a specific interest set to fashion and food bloggers,” Ms. Timbol‑Hernandez, who aside from being PANA chief also does PR and communications for the local office for the world’s largest fastfood chain.

According to Ms. Hernandez, the use of social media influencers enables companies to “reach an established audience” and “present the products and services from a different point of view.” Influencers also serve as consultants, who give clients an idea about what they should offer to consumers as some influencers “have a deeper understanding of what clicks in the market.”

Compared to traditional means of advertising like television, radio, and print, influencer marketing, she said, is “more personal and authentic if done right.”

“They add more human voice to a brand,” she said. “Also, because they are on social media, influencers are able to invite more participation and direct engagement among the audience versus above the line media channels.”

The only downside she sees is the inability to control these influencers from doing something that “does not fit your brand or may seem not authentic.”

Ms. Hernandez added that using social media influencers also allows companies to reach the young generation—Gen Y and Gen Z alike—who often watch videos on YouTube than on television, get their news from Twitter than from broadsheets, and listen to online streaming services rather than the radio. “There is also something about generational influence,” she said. “Social media influencers, by the age of the medium, allows brands to tap into the younger generation—a generation that does not consume media through the traditional channels.”

Asked if there is a need for regulation similar to what the US’s FTC has put in place, Ms. Timbol‑Hernandez took a step back. “It should be called out if influencers are being paid to promote something,” she said. “Bigger picture though, I think netizens are very discerning. They can actually see when something isn’t authentic, so best bet is to really collaborate with influencers who aren’t just getting paid, but actually genuinely love your brand.”

“It is through self‑regulation that a balance is struck with protecting consumers while allowing brands to remain creative and innovative in their communications,” she added. Ms. Hernandez then pointed her finger at the Ad Standards Council, another non‑profit that promotes responsible advertising, which she says may act as a regulating body for influencers in the Philippines.