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Rising Use Of Social Media Influencers In Marketing: Matters Arising

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Gloria Oloruntobi (Maraji).
Gloria Oloruntobi (Maraji).

By Jeremiah Agada

Introduction

small: we’re social

Recent scroll through an Instagram page propped up a video posted by a fast-rising social media influencer based in Delta State, called Homeoflafta. The video in question was a Television Commercial (TVC) for a table water brand, Frost Water. From conceptualisation down to execution, graphics, sounds, etc, the TVC is ‘‘creatively’ amateurish which suggests that the brand might have probably paid a few thousand naira to get it done with little or no consideration to building its brand equity beyond social media buzz.

Like other influencers, Gloria Oloruntobi, another social media influencer simply known as Maraji, has also done some level of ‘creative advertising’ for different brands. One of the most notable is the one she did for the Dano Milk brand. Within hours too, over half a million views were recorded on the video.

Influencers like Charles Okocha-Igwe Tupac, Exploit Comedy, Brother Shaggy, MC Lively, Tunde Ednut, Uncle Joro among others are among influencers shaping the influencer marketing landscape in Nigeria. As it were, under normal circumstances, the activities of these influencers should fall under the many functions of Public Relations called Influencer marketing, also known as viral or seeding marketing which shows no signs of slowing down.

Charles Okocha (Igwe Tupac) and his hypeman.
Charles Okocha (Igwe Tupac) and his hypeman.

An article published on Brandish.com by Henry Omafodezi, a marketing Communication professional and the CEO of 7Gongs Brand and Media, captures the rising profile of influencer marketing this way: “The Next Web, a prominent tech blog in its article; 7 Influencer Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2018 states that “interest in influencer marketing as a concept grew 90 times from 2013 to 2016 and doubled in the first nine months of 2017. In another article, the same blog reports that, “the interest companies have in influencer marketing has increased by approximately 900% since 2013.” Mind bugling isn’t it?

“What started out as a pastime for a few internet enthusiasts (internet junkies) has spiralled into a huge multi-million dollar industry. Little did the early influencers know the full extent to which the online space would thrust them into the epicentre of today’s technology- driven marketing ecosystem. Undoubtedly, influencers have become a mainstay of modern-day marketing,” he wrote.

Why The Steady Rise?
This rise has everything to do with the way the media is now consumed. Bolaji Okusaga, a strategy and brand enthusiast with wide experience in the Mass-Media, Marketing, Public Relations and Banking, in his ‘Precise Projections for the PR Industry” explains: “Nigeria is a country of 193 million people with a median age of 17.2 years, added to this is low life expectancy and a high population growth rate which means the median age can only go southwards rather than northwards. The implication of this is that the way the generations before the Millennials – those born after 1980’s – consume media is certain to become extinct as platform agnostic media and social media have already gone mainstream with traditional media becoming mere news re-base platforms as Facebook live, Youtube, Instagram, online TV’s, online radios and other digital platforms take-over.”

The Mediafacts for 2017 released by MediaReach OMD also indicates a steady rise in the number of internet user as well as the number of mobile phone users in Nigeria. The number of internet users have grown to an unprecedented 91.6 million users while the number of mobile phones have also increased to 216 million, all in 2017 according to the report.

This proves to be a fertile ground for influencers who have been part of the marketing and branding game for decades. In the past, the powerful influencers almost always attained celebrity status in some form — sport stars, models, or well-known actors – however, all that has changed in the age of social media. Anyone that can command a sizeable following has automatically become one. In fact, celebrities may not have as much draw as small time influencers who consciously build a large following with high engagement ratio in different niches including politics, finance, sports, and entertainment among others. Interestingly, most of these influencers are in their early twenties and with basic understanding of the issues but they engage their followers a whole lot nonetheless.

As the country is witnessing the rise of social media accounts, both male, and female, with thousands of followers, more and more brands and businesses have started deciding to include influencer marketing into their strategy to promote their products or services.

Joro Olumofin.
Joro Olumofin.

The reason for the rising popularity and sophistication of influencer and viral marketing is not farfetched. This is in part due to the fact that the society now live in a world where TV ads are fast becoming background noise, and consumers are becoming immune to traditional digital advertising. The growing consumer trend of avoiding advertising in its more “traditional” forms is also responsible. Ad blocking, for example, continues to be on the rise in the digital space, which means that marketers have had to find new ways to reach and influence consumers without relying on display, search and social ads as much.

A look at the rampant rise of ad blockers will suffice. According to the PageFair 2017 Adblock Report, last year alone, usage surged by 30% globally. Only 6% of display ads are ever clicked on. Further proliferation of mobile phones, video content and social media, are turning influencers into constant companions of the target audience. To get their attention, many brands are increasingly turning to people they listen to – the influencers.

Beyond this fairly pragmatic reason for turning to influencers, brands and businesses are also looking for ways to leverage the authenticity embedded in the connections that influencers or “seeds” have with their followers and friends in social media.

Should Agencies Be Concerned?
A poll conducted by Tomoson in the U.S market for instance found that 59% of marketers are planning to increase their influencer marketing budgets year-over-year because, according to respondents, it is the most cost-effective and fastest-growing online customer acquisition channel, outpacing organic search, paid search and email marketing. Normally, this is not bad until you consider that the poll conducted among marketers revealed that most of them will rather contact these influencers themselves rather than go through any channel or on recommendation. This is outside the fact that there is no data to show how influences are engaged generally by the brand and those that are not.

Experts in both PR and creative advertising however say there is no cause for alarm, going as far as saying it is a non-issue. The opinion of the duo of Seyi Owolawi and Jones Bassey, both professionals in the creative industry working for top-notch agencies summarises this view. Owolawi more emphatically said: “There will definitely be more and more ways to reach the audience. Look at it this way, despite the use of celebrities in all its communications by one of Nigeria’s telecommunications brand, is it perceived as the best networks out there?

“Creative outfits will always be needed to shape the tonality and long term brand narrative for products. Influencers do an amazing short-burst job but does this contribute to the long-term attribute of the brand? If the right creative partner is not involved, No!”
He continuous, “so, agencies are continuously learning how to partner better with the right influencers to help create the best of tonal content for brands.”

From the PR side of business, Samuel Obasi, The General Manager of TekSight Edge also said this is not a challenge considering the fact that Influencer Marketing is a subset of Public Relations. In fact, he noted that Public Relations agencies are responsible for the bludgeoning prominence of influencers in marketing.

Charles Edosomwan, Chief Executive Oficer of Teksight said there is no basis for that assumption that the rising use of social media influencers poses a risk to the industry especially if PR is considered to do more with perception reality. Social Influencers, he noted, are categorized under the media and the media does not make PR. Rather, it’s is a means to get to the consumer, and a part of PR.

He says, “Influencer marketing is a fantastic way of marketing. It is a lazy and easier way of marketing. From the perspective of those who overtly use them, they do not want to build a brand, they want to latch on something cheap. Why? Most persons are not using influencer marketing because they feel they cannot get a good brand value for it. They can get easy vanity metrics from it,“when Lasisi (an influencer) posted this video, I got one million views.” What does the million views do for you?

“Influencer marketing is definitely cheaper. I can pay someone to post something and telling someone to post something is media not PR. What PR is supposed to guarantee is, based on your personality, based on your product, we will design this range of activities that will make people take home a strong perception of your brand. PR is more of perception reality,” he said.

Nevertheless, should agencies be concerned? This may not seem likely especially, considering that 2018 has been an exceptional year for them so far. Brands and agencies have been busy this year and this is reflective in the Nigeria PR Report released in September by the Ayeni Adekunle-led BlackHouse Media recently.

Findings from the report which mirrors other sectors of the industry are encouraging by the sheer progress made so far. According to it, in 2015, a range of N51 million to N200 million was recorded as annual revenue for over 60% of survey agency respondents, and it was indicated that firms within the low-income revenue band moved up to mid-income revenue band.

In 2016, the survey noted that a larger percentage of agencies in the country (33.87%) earned less than N5 million in 2015 while a quarter of respondents in 2016 (25.4%) made N150 million. The survey this year however shows an almost even distribution across revenue bandwidths stated. There are however more agencies (27% of respondents stated), earning over N150m annually.

Respondents in 2016 stated that the annual PR spend for their agencies was between N6 million and N10 million, other agency respondents with the lowest percentage (20%) had budgets between N51 million to N100 million. Respondents this year however range their PR spend between N11m and over N150m. This shows that agencies now command more budgets and are doing more work. It also shows that the “small-timers” as stated in the previous reports have been opened up to bigger budgets.

Experiential marketing, creative advertising, Out-Of-Home, Digital marketing and the Media Independence sectors also reflect this growth, though there is absence of data in proving this. This can be attributed to the peculiarity of the 2018 for the industry. Asides from being a year Nigeria rebounded from a crippling recession, it is also the year of the World Cup. This fortune is expected to continue until the first quarter of 2019 as this year precedes the general elections. An increase in political spending may mean more money for agencies in the industry.

Are There Adequate Regulations?

Dr. Josef Bel-Molokwu, former Registrar, APCON.
Dr. Josef Bel-Molokwu, former Registrar, APCON.

Before campaigns are rolled out to the consumer, a regulatory body like the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, APCON, vets messages-TVCs, jingles, ads, etc. This is to protect the consumers and prevent false and misleading communication to them. Many brands however observe that they could ‘save’ time and perhaps money once they use social influencers. The fact is that many messages that get to the consumer through influencers on social media do not go through any form of vetting from APCON neither is there any regulation on the internet to checkmate what gets posted online.

This has been a source of concern for a while now. The quest for regulating the internet space did not begin today. Talks of regulating the Internet is, however, not new in Nigeria. It dates back to the early years of Former President Goodluck Jonathan. Back then, social media was still quite new, and its evolution as an important social influencer only became known during the Arab Spring between 2010 and 2011.

The government has attempted to pass several laws since then to regulate the Internet. In 2015, the Senate introduced the “Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith” also known as the “Social Media Law”. The articles of the law spelt out jail terms and huge fines for individuals who shared “abusive contents” about politicians and other public figures. The law even went beyond social media and granted security authorities the power to spy on text messages and other media. However, the law was withdrawn in 2016 after a lot of public outcries.

When contacted regarding the poor and almost absent vetting of messages on social media platforms, Dr. Josef Bel-Molokwu, the former Registrar of APCON responded: “In the first place, I think it is wrong to say there is no law empowering APCON to regulate digital marketing communication, including social media advertising activities (which is your focus). While there may be a need for activity-specific regulations for issues like Influencing, there is really no need for a new law to address this.

“This is because the APCON legislations are clear in giving APCON full powers to deal with *any* issue in advertising. The laws give APCON the power to regulate advertising “in all its aspects and ramifications”, and its governing council the power to make rules and regulations to address any issue in advertising in Nigeria.

He however adds: “What I think is necessary is for APCON to work out a framework for the regulation of web-based advertising activities like the use of Influencers, the output of User Generated Content Creators and what I call Disguised Advertising.

“I recognise that keeping an eye on social media activities is a humongous task, even considering just its sheer volume, flexibility and liberty. But it just has to be done. It is also important for the Federal Government to reconstitute the APCON Council urgently. APCON has had no Council for years now, a most unwholesome situation,” he concludes.

Reduction In Spend?
Up until a few years ago, agencies were the ‘go-tos’ for brand managers seeking to use influential personalities, celebrities and social media superstars as advocates. It is glaring from indications that this may no longer be so. In fact, some savvy influencers are now directly pitching to clients and bypassing the agency middleman, and some marketers also go directly to these influencers! Could it be that brands no longer need agencies as much as they need social media influencers, who can ‘trend’ their hashtag quicker and generate a gazillion impressions in a matter of days for less than N50,000?

In a recent interview granted by YNaija and aired on Channels Television, Gloria (Maraji) said she collects around N500 000.00 to one Million naira on the average to post one video for any brand. This development has reduce spend that goes into below-the-line media and the above-the-line (traditional media).

Many MSMEs, SMEs and big businesses are beginning to patronise social influencers directly to run campaigns without recourse to agencies because it is cheaper to do so, easier to get metrics and perhaps faster. If unchecked and regulated, the continual rise, relevance and now, dominance of influencers in marketing may lead to a reduction in spend for the ATL as well as the BTL.

Moruff Adenekan, a Marketing Communications, Strategic Public Relations and Reputation Management professional in an article published on the 2018 Nigeria PR Report notes more of these challenges and how brands are not helping matters: “Brand Managers’ preference for dealing with influencers directly instead of going through the agencies may be due to a number of reasons: Agencies’ poor influence and following on social, creativity and high audience engagement levels of some influencers’ platforms, Marketers’ desire for vanity metrics and output over outcomes, Low cost of recruiting influencers versus agencies and Agencies’ inability to create well-thought out, effective digital strategies.

“Even though one can argue that influencer marketing in Nigeria is still practised in a somewhat unsophisticated way, not like the subtle art of consumer behaviour change, advocacy and strategic marketing that it is meant to be. However, there’s no doubt that the ‘sector’ is growing fast – both in terms.

“Agency naysayers can argue that what many Nigerian (Twitter) influencers do is nothing more than forcing hashtags to trend and overt brand name spamming on the timeline. Purists may deride them for their suspicious follower counts and guerrilla growth tactics: those Tweetdeck multi-account tricks, buying followers, bots and so on. But to deny the influence (pun intended) of ‘social media influencers’ in the client’s boardroom and on client’s marketing budgets would be foolishness.

“It is difficult to ignore the ingenuity and creativity that these young men and women have deployed in order to get to this point where some individuals now gross millions monthly — more than some agencies do, while incurring only a fraction of agency overheads. Influencers now command the respect of multi billion naira brands, while being armed with nothing but a smartphone, internet data, a laptop and loads of free time.”

Moving Forward
An African proverb at this point will suffice. It says, “Since the bird has learnt to fly without perching, the hunter must learn to shoot without missing.” This can also be reversed to, “Since the hunter has learnt to shoot without missing, birds must learn to fly without perching.” Agencies must make conscious effort to develop their offerings and tailor them along digital lines.

In Okusaga’s article, this point is buttressed for PR professionals thus, “There is an imperative for PR professionals to be sophisticated in harnessing technology to build value for clients. Yet, as the old adage goes ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’. As the communications landscape is transformed by technology, the mastery of traditional principles of communication and relationship management become ever more important.”

Bolaji Okusaga, Managing Director, Precise Communications.
Bolaji Okusaga, Managing Director, Precise Communications.

“Now, more than ever before, (PR) professionals are under pressure to be more thoughtful, more creative and focused on delivering value for their clients. What makes a PR person different from the regular ‘tweet’ is their ability to bring to bear the traditional principles of PR in a technologically sophisticated communications terrain.”

Marketers should understand that as influencer marketing campaigns have many benefits in terms of increasing brand awareness and driving conversions, they can also go awry if an influencer falls out of favour with his or her audience or unexpectedly turns on a brand. Then, of course, there are the people who try to game influencer marketing budgets by creating fake social media accounts, paying for thousands of followers and selling their “influence.”

Moruff noted that it is important that brand marketers on the client side are enlightened enough to recognize what truly matters in influencer marketing and to ask themselves if all their influencers really deliver value in terms of sales growth, marketing ROI, consumer behavioural change, brand recall and TOMA — the real outcomes that matter, and not just vanity metrics of Likes and Impressions.

“Because, what’s the point of your hashtag (which tells no story) getting 1 million impressions after being seen by 100,000 Twitter accounts, out of which only 2,000 are in the actual target group, another 2,000 are random users from India, USA and Kenya, while 96,000 are inactive bots bought from buyrealfollowrs. com?” he queried.

He further queried, “And how do you want me, the target of your marketing campaign to believe that Twitter user @Ade_texter10, who posted over 20 tweets about Coca Cola being “the greatest thing ever” just yesterday, now today, all of a sudden swears that Pepsi is “the ‘bestest’ drink ever made”? Like really, who’s fooling who?”

Seyi Owolawi, quoted earlier observes agencies can decide to tour what he calls the “DROGA5” way. This, he explains to be buying into the agencies that manage online and offline celebrities and influencers. This way, he opines, agencies can always give their clients the best deals and opinion on social media influencer/celebrity use.

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