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TikTok ban kills love between brands and micro influencers, but 'picture abhi baaki hai'

Micro influencers are cheap compared to celebrities and an attractive prospect for brands to reach target consumers

twitter-logoAjita Shashidhar | September 24, 2020 | Updated 07:40 IST
TikTok ban kills love between brands and micro influencers, but 'picture abhi baaki hai'
High engagement rate is the new holy grail in digital marketing


  • TikTok emerged as a strong favourite during lockdown as bulk of its content creators were from the hinterland
  • TikTok influencers helped brands reach out to smaller and niche markets at a fraction of the cost
  • Money spent on TikTok not be beyond 10 per cent of brands' overall digital spends
  • A micro influencer with over 5,000 followers makes around Rs 200 - Rs 700 per post and is obviously far more cheaper than a celebrity

Marico India, during the peak of lockdown got a bunch of influencers from across the country to do a series of videos on their favourite champi moves. Titled Parachute (Marico's hair oil brand) Champis, the brand did over 15,000 plus user generated videos on TikTok which fetched 10 million views within the first few weeks. According to George Koshy, Chief Marketing Officer, Parachute India, the idea was to encourage consumers to destress themselves with a head massage during tough times.

With consumers taking to digital platforms in a big way during the lockdown, brands started to create content on these platforms. TikTok emerged as a strong favourite as bulk of its content creators were from the hinterland and it therefore became a great medium for all those who wanted to reach out to tier 3-4 consumers.

"For many brands with a focus on regional markets, using TikTok influencers helped them reach out to smaller and niche markets at a fraction of the cost of using mass media channels. For the many creators, this was an easy way of earning money from brands, while doing things they  were passionate about," says Lloyd Mathias, Angel Investor, Business & Marketing Strategist.

Also read: Don't want to use TikTok? Here are other similar apps

Mathias says that it was a win-win for brands and TikTok influencers. Many of these young influencers, mostly in their teens, had a big following and great engagement rates given their local influence and popularity. "Higher engagement rates mean their content was being noticed and this always helps in a crowded attention deficit environment. Typically, these micro influencers had a loyal following that aligned closely with their interests and were able to create more personalised content that connected with fans," Mathias further explains.

Just when brands were beginning to get serious about this mass social media video platform, it was banned. However, Shudeep Majumdar, CEO and Co-Founder of influencer marketing company, Zefmo Media, says that the demise of TikTok in India will not create a substantial dent on the digital marketing spends of brands.

"The quantum of money spent on TikTok will not be beyond 10 per cent of their overall digital spends," he says. There is news of the TikTok influencers moving to platforms such as YouTube, Instagram or ShareChat, but that's not going to be easy either.  "TikTok was a studio which allowed you to do many things together. Through its templates it helped one to shoot, edit, add music and also distribute. It gave an option to publish on other platforms too. None of the other platforms offer that level of ease in terms of creating content," points out Communication Consultant, Anup Sharma. Though YouTube is the most popular destination for user-generated content, one needs to have a decent level of subject expertise, a content strategy as well as a script to create a YouTube video, while TikTok has always been impulse driven.

Also, the level of corporate governance is much higher on platforms such as YouTube. One can flag content which is derogatory, harmful or abusive in nature on YouTube, which none of the Chinese apps offer. It's definitely not going to be easy for micro-influencers who created content on TikTok.

The larger trend, however, is that of brands increasingly using micro influencers to reach out to their consumers during the Coronavirus lockdown. Mumbai-based fashion blogger, Srishti Chhabria (Co-Founder, The Cister Co), says that her blog in the month of April, got over 2.4 million impressions in a week and that lead to a host of FMCG, beauty and lifestyle brands approaching her to endorse their products. From hand sanitisers to air-conditioners, Chhabria has been endorsing products which have nothing to do with fashion.

Coronavirus lockdown has brought about a huge change in the way consumers think and behave. There is a fair bit of fear and pessimism in their minds and there is a tendency to believe a person who/she can relate to, rather than a celebrity who is larger than life.

"Everyone is looking for reassurance, and its no more about a celebrity giving a message about a brand. The messaging has to come from people who are relevant to the consumer, the people they trust are probably part of their own community. That's where the micro influencers play a role," explains M.A Parthasarathy, CEO, Mindshare.

Also read: TikTok to exit Hong Kong market soon over China's new security law

The media company has recently created an influencer marketing platform. "It brings lot of science to it, lot of accountability. You don't pay for a post, but you pay for a reach or an engagement. It has the ability to tap into niche influencers, localised, specialised and micro-level influencers," he adds.

High engagement rate is the new holy grail in digital marketing, says Mathias. "This is because micro-influencers are able to interact with their audience more frequently via likes and follows and respond to questions/comments in a quicker manner. Higher engagement rates mean they are actively being an advocate for the brand, not simply posting something and letting it disappear into their feeds. Unlike most major celebrities, with micro-influencers, a brand is able to tap into very specific, niche markets. Typically, these micro influencers have a loyal following that align closely with their interests and are able to create more personalised content that connects with fans."

While it's quite likely that COVID has made consumers to look out for assurances from their community, filmmaker, Karan Johar's video on his grey look, followed by the video of him giving himself a makeover using Godrej Consumer's hair colour brand, became a rage on the Internet. The video organically reached over seven million people within a few days of it being posted on social media platforms. This makes one wonder if brands are using micro influencers, especially during the current crisis, only because they are cheaper than using a celebrity.

A micro influencer with over 5,000 followers makes around Rs 200 - Rs 700 per post and is obviously far more cheaper than a celebrity such as Johar who would be prohibitively expensive.  "Yes, conversations have become far more real and relatable, however, in an ideal scenario what we suggest is a celebrity influencer to be present, whose messaging should be amplified by a group or an army of micro influencers provided the company has the budget to do so," says Majumdar of Zefmo Media.

While brands are indeed considering engaging with micro influencers and are increasingly reaching out to them to promote their brands, most of them are offering barter deals.

Fashion, lifestyle and food blogger (www.chiclifebyte), Shilpa Arora, says that she has been approached by several food brands to promote their products, but most of them were barter deals.  "Enquiries have gone up, but revenue has decreased as businesses are not doing well," says Arora.

"Despite viewership going up, the lockdown has led to dip in revenues," agrees Chhabria of The Cister Co. However, both the bloggers see immense growth opportunities for micro-influencers once brands loosen their purse strings.

"There will hardly be any BTL activities or live events going forward, therefore, the money brands had allocated for outdoor can now be focused on digital and influencer marketing," says Arora.

Also read: Now banned TikTok gave Rs 30 crore to PM CARES Fund

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