The Emergence of Digital Citizens as Influencers

by Aashna Iyer, Ideosphere

Social media is a horrible place. There’s either someone ranting, someone’s rubbish poetry ridiculous FOMO-inducing photography, or unnecessary branded content. And to top it all off, there are trolls. More and more of them, hidden under every group notification, every icon, ready to jump in as soon as the comments section loads… What a terrible place to be in.

Remember when we sympathised with celebrities? For having their lives on show at all times, never having the luxury of having a “low day”, and going wherever they go with an ever-increasing army of trolls, we pitied them. Somewhere along the line, however, the sympathy has turned to empathy. In a social media world, where are you or I better off than a Deepika or Ranbir? Worse off, rather, because I don’t see a Ranveer or Alia around any of us, and we still have our trolls, without any of the cool branded stuff.

Jokes apart, the worlds of the celebrity and the common netizen have begun resembling each other a lot more lately. Not only are we capable of achieving a “shop window” that can mimic theirs, we can build rabid fans that are no less than celeb fandom. A regular social media update takes more strategy & copy edits for a digital citizen today, than updating a celebrity’s profile would take for their managers.

The only thing different, is that their celeb status makes them a part of this elite club: The Influencers.

The concept of the “Influencer” is not new.

Influencer marketing is a form of marketing in which focus is placed on influential people rather than the target market as a whole. It identifies the individuals that have influence over potential customers, and orients marketing activities around these influencers.

But, when was the last time you saw a branded content update made by some ‘famous person’ you follow? Unless they’re bloggers who now seem to function almost like content platforms themselves, the chances are that you don’t remember.

Mostly, this is because, as marketers, we are getting smarter. We know about that troll army, remember? So we don’t want to take a risk of having someone market our product, but have it laughed down because it’s a branded push. So what we do is, we find the ‘famous person’ who fits our brand’s TG, personality, message, and all those other technicalities, and we send them stuff. We just keep sending them stuff we know they’ll like because they ARE our target audience. We speak to their managers once in a while, send them a few dozen emails, and one day, there will be an Instagram story, with a brand mention. And then, you rinse & repeat. Remember when I said we’re getting smarter? That’s because we have mastered this routine to an art, and do this with multiple people, for multiple brands, I don’t know how many times a month.

Has anyone ever wondered why this not-so-buff, basically funny person is getting all that merchandise that you secretly want? Simple.

He’s a normal, human, achievable person. He has the same problems you do, in fact, he’s probably updating his Insta-story about Mumbai rains right next to you in the traffic. He looks like you, or some friend, he eats like you, drinks like you, the only difference is that he’s achieved some fame. Best part is, these influencers are self-made, most of the time (yes, even that guy who’s famous because he dated someone famous for a while). You look at them, and you think “Hey, I’m kind of musical, maybe I can do this too.”

And that’s what brands want. They want to be a part of a life you aspire to live: “If my socks are funky, maybe I’ll also get an Amazon Prime Special to my name.”

And I think this is where the shift for most marketers will continue to happen. Just getting a few people to create a 30 second video about #FestiveCampaignWithBrandMention will soon be less impressive than getting your audience to buy into the brand’s belief system because you found the right guy to illustrate it for you.

Which brings me to my next question. What is your second reviewing authority, typically, when you aim to buy something? A friend, a relative, a partner, a colleague, your pet dog… It’s always someone you know. And the problem is, from influencer to aam aadmi, the same message may not resonate as loudly.

Coming back to my first statement about FOMO, the entire concept of FOMO exists because you feel envy about someone you know. And there’s not much as strong as envy (unless it’s a desire for revenge, but we don’t like negativity here). This means that it would probably be not a terrible idea for me to explore reaching out to the BFFs, BFs, mommies, daddies, bhai-behens and Sharmajis of the world. If I really want to sell a holiday package for senior citizens, and I give a free trip to Sharmaji’s beta for his folks, I’m sure a lot more kids would start sending their parents on vacation.

In all seriousness, the matter is simple. In certain ecosystems, the influencer is the person who shares your life & concerns. Colleges, Universities, Clubs, families, residential complexes, corporates, all of these ecosystems can be influenced by their own kind, rather than a celebrity of any stature. The reason is that most of the time, for these entities, bench-marking happens against a peer set. Which means that if one is benefiting from a branded initiative, it’s a good hook to use to convince another.

This is something that is a lot more prevalent in the B2B communication space, if you think about it. From all my experience in speaking B2B, the influencer is usually someone with something to offer: Insight, mentorship, access, investment, etc. These are individuals who are held in high regard because of who they are, not how many followers they have (I mean, nobody’s asking you NOT to tweet about my awesome initiative to your 10K followers, but still). There is a lot we have to learn from the B2B space, especially in terms of creating the right messages and sending them through the right channels.

The bottom line of this little ramble through the concept of influence is this. It’s time we start re-looking at what we consider as influencer marketing. With social media power in every hand today, a simple post is good enough to create a ripple effect, and the most branded content piece can fail against a personal negative experience. In a converging world, maybe it’s time to diversify.

(Hi, all brand managers who want to send me free stuff, I’m a shameless amplifier of content, please to feel free to leverage my influence.)

Aashna Iyer