Fancy becoming a social media influencer, making money and scoring freebies by posting snaps on Instagram to your thousands of followers?
It’s a daydream for many young Kiwis, and Wellington-based company StarNow is now offering the closest thing there may be to a formal way to break into the business.
StarNow runs an online platform that helps thousands of people around the world get gigs in and around the fringes of showbiz each month.
It has now created a dedicated category within its website for social influencers, where businesses can advertise for help promoting their brands.
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Soon it will also let influencers create dedicated profiles in StarNow to help them get discovered, as it does for the likes of models, actors, film extras, photographers, musicians and dancers.
Chief customer officer Stephanie Charles says a strong presence on Instagram or YouTube is often the first step towards making it as an influencer.
10,000 genuine followers is something of a magic number when it comes to getting attention from brands, she says.
“Once you have 10,000 followers on Instagram you are probably taking it a little bit more seriously and you might be more likely to follow a brief and to post when you say you will post – all the things that a brand wants.”
On the other hand, if people approached a cosmetics company with, say, 5000 followers, they might be more likely to be offered a discount promo code, she says.
Britain is StarNow’s biggest market overall, followed by Australia, and the social influencing jobs it has been able to offer reflect this.
British model Louise Chambers has just racked up 10,000 followers on Instagram and landed work through StarNow as a paid influencer for a hair products company, that she is not yet allowed to name.
Building an online following took a while, she says. “You need to be able to post at least once a day” and engagement rates are important.
Chambers said she screamed when she got a phone call saying she had landed the hair product role. “I was just so excited and so happy.”
She has one word of advice for people who want to make it in the business, which is ”positivity”.
“Stick with it, and hopefully you’ll get results.”
Friends and family were supportive, but some people had queried whether it was a career, Chambers says.
“Which is true, it is not a steady income and it is early days. At the moment I am only doing it in conjunction with other work, but it’s heading towards a full-time job.”
Statistics mean relatively few big dreams can come true, but Charles argues success is “subjective”.
Brands are also seeking “micro-influencers” who might have fewer than 10,000 followers, and some influencers are happy to be in the business just for freebies, she says.
An Auckland spa sought a mother and child to have a luxury spa experience “and all they wanted was for them to post they had had a wonderful time on their social platforms”, she says.
“For many people their idea of success is to take the tiniest step and to maybe be given some product and do a post and begin this journey.”
Toni Cox, founder of Wellington cosmetics retailer Beauty Bliss, says it spends most of its marketing budget on Google Adwords, but uses micro-infuencers to help grow awareness for its inhouse brand, Carousel.
“We have only paid a couple of times. Last time we sent stock out to about 25 people.
“We wanted really people that were going to take awesome photos which we could reshare, so we didn’t look so much at their numbers and what immediate return we got.”
Beauty Bliss had bought radio advertising but it was just not a good enough return, she says.
Most influencers are young females promoting the likes of make-up and clothes, but there are some men promoting fitness products, Charles says.
It may be easier for men to make it in the business, because although there is less work, there is also much less competition, she says.
StarNow chief executive Cameron Mehlhopt cautions influencers should post about topics and products they are actually interested in.
“If you are trying to talk about something you are not passionate or don’t know much about, people will understand you are not being authentic.
“There is often a lot of engagement when people are starting out, so it involves interacting with other people in the area of interest. You have to put in the work.”
Charles warns Instagram’s algorithm will “punish” people who are not interacting with their followers. “We provide the trampoline but you have still got to jump.”
She believes opportunities for influencers will grow exponentially.
“All the stats say marketing spend in this area is going through the roof, with about 65 per cent year-on-year growth.
“Farmers and The Warehouse are already looking for ‘real people’ to represent their brands. The Warehouse looks for toy testers – kids to make videos – so if influencing is not ‘here already’ it soon will be.”
Companies are putting aside a part of their budget to do influencing in fields as diverse as technology, parenting and finance, she says.
“It is very obvious in the health and beauty space, but every brand should be doing this.”
Charles describes “influencing” as the “Wild West” of marketing because there are few rules.
But the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) advised in February that social media posts by influencers must be identified as advertisements, if brands had control over the messaging or the content.
That remains the case if the influencer is not being paid and is only receiving free products.
“Failure of an influencer to disclose this advertiser-controlled content may leave a brand at risk of a complaint to the ASA,” it said.
That suggests that it is primarily the brand’s responsibility to make sure the right disclosure is made, but influencers also had an obligation to abide by the code, the watchdog said.
Expectations may be more of a grey area if brands are lighter on the reins and don’t control the messaging.
The ASA said simply receiving a freebie did not make a post an advert, as long as the brand did not control what was said about it.
“Sometimes the engagement is authentic in nature and the influencer may post genuine opinion that has not been controlled by the advertiser.”
That could occur, for example, when an influencer was given a free product or service to review, but their posts were not written by brands which also did not require any right of approval over what was said about them.
“In such cases, the influencer content is not likely to be considered an advertisement,” the ASA said.
Marketing Association chief executive Tony Mitchell agrees social influencing is still gaining momentum as an advertising technique.
That had been helped by the fact that it was now easier for marketers to count the ”click throughs” and “swipe ups” on influencers’ posts and see how many translated into purchases.
But he also saw a lot of caution from businesses about “going too far”.
Small businesses were more likely to re-post social media posts from their community, rather than looking for influencers, he said.
“If you associate your brand with the wrong person, or they run into some sort of trouble, it can be quite detrimental.”
The ASA’s guidance had provided more clarity on what was expected, he said.
The key for businesses was to make sure their values were aligned with those shown by the influencers who they decided to work with, he said.
“That hasn’t always happened. But brands are investing more time in working out which influencers they should align with.
“My advice would be really think about what your business stands for and make sure you find an influencer – if you are going to go down that path – that aligns with those values and has a track record with those values.
“A little bit of time at the start may mean you don’t get caught out later on.”
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