Building a personal brand online has never been more rewarding—or socially acceptable. In a virtual world where follower counts and engagement metrics are the ultimate clout, industry experts and our influencer friends give their best advice on how to thrive
“Regina George is flawless. She has two Fendi purses and a silver Lexus. I hear her hair’s insured for US$10,000. I hear she does car commercials... in Japan. Her favourite movie is Varsity Blues. One time, she met John Stamos on a plane and he told her she was pretty. One time, she punched me in the face. It was awesome.” — Mean Girls
Time was, before social media and our complicit acceptance of 21st-century jargon such as “content” and “engagement”, influence could be gauged on good old-fashioned herd hierarchy and gut feelings, like fear—think: Michael Corleone in The Godfather or Regina George in Mean Girls. These days, in an interactive digital world, a newfangled, ever-evolving concept of “influencer” has become a bona fide career path—a recent Harris Poll survey conducted on behalf of Lego Group found that American and British children aged 8 through 12 selected YouTube star as their dream job, way ahead of astronaut, musician, teacher and professional athlete. Now the strategic acquisition of influence can be both quantified and monetised, to the tune of US$8 billion last year alone.
Those kids, they’re onto something. Case studies abound. Beauty influencer Jeffree Star, who first found social-media fame on MySpace in the early 2000s, went from having only US$500 in his bank account six years ago to owning and operating a product empire that nets US$150 million annually. Filmmaker and high-school dropout Casey Neistat was a relative unknown, despite having had a show on HBO for one season in 2010, until he vlogged for 600 days in a row. When he finally took a break from posting videos daily in late 2016, experts estimated that, on views alone, not counting additional brand deals, Neistat was earning between US$200,000 to US$300,000 each month. The proliferation of streaming platforms has also been a boon to influential gamers—earlier this year, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins reportedly inked a deal worth between US$20 million and US$30 million to leave the streaming platform Twitch in favour of Mixer, which is owned by Microsoft.
The Power of Influence
“There is a stark dichotomy in the ambition of students who enrol in digital marketing [courses],” Victor Tang, VP of Marketing at Lumen5 and adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, tells Tatler. Students are acutely aware of their personal brands and the influence-contingent opportunities available to them. “The majority are traditionalists who are seeking typical employment post-graduation. However, for many younger undergraduate students, there is the allure of influencer or KOL fame. Why do a 9-to-5 job when you can travel and eat for free, simply by having a strong following online?
“Regardless, students are keen on developing their personal brands,” Tang says. “For the ones looking for a traditional career, they’re building their LinkedIn profiles, while the others are looking at building their Instagram and TikTok followings. Many younger students think that being an influencer is an easy and quick way to make money.”
It’s this promise of money and fame, along with the perception that influencers can bank millions doing whatever they please—endlessly travelling the world, playing their favourite video games, getting in twice-daily workouts at the gym, or even hiding out in the comfort of their own homes putting on make-up—that give this modern-day notion of influence its allure.
So you want to be an influencer? It’s never too late to start. The demographics of top key opinion leaders (KOLs) in Asia are a female-led majority (70 per cent) targeting audiences aged 18 to 35—but, according to Vin Ng, business development manager at Spread-It, an agency that engages more than 20,000 KOLs across Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand, micro-influencers geared toward different consumer niches, ages and interests can command twice-higher rates of engagement.
“Brands are now seeking more authentic KOLs and micro-influencers who can promote brands to their interest-based audiences,” Ng says. “The most engaging KOLs are those who target lifestyle categories—including beauty, fashion, food and beverages. With the Covid-19 crisis, we predict that brands will begin increasing their micro-influencer budgets—specifically on Instagram Stories. Due to the amount of daily information flow on social media, brands are looking for quicker, more authentic ways to promote [their messages]. And we’re always looking for male influencers and KOLs in the parenting space—a growing trend in the market.”
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