How to NOT do Influencer Marketing in India

If you’re a small business owner from India, you need to protect your precious marketing monies from being wasted on inflating vanity metrics.


Earlier this year, I attended a social media marketing workshop in Mumbai, India. The workshop had about 30 attendees, almost all of whom were either small business owners or employed in social media jobs at small businesses. Needless to say, there was considerable interest in the session on influencer marketing. By the end of the workshop, it was evident that just about every business owner/marketer in the room had heard of the occult powers of influencer marketing and was determined to appropriate a part of their scarce marketing coins to run a few of these campaigns.

While there’s nothing wrong with influencer marketing in theory, a lot does go wrong in practice. It took me a couple of campaigns to realize how these campaigns can drain precious marketing budgets with very little to show for real results.

But first, why influencer marketing?

If you’re a small business contemplating experimenting with influencer marketing, here’s a question you need to ask yourself before taking the dive. What are the results that you seek attain?

Here are some common objectives for influencer marketing campaigns and how they are measured:

  1. Increase brand awareness — measured by reach and impressions
  2. Increase brand engagement — measured by likes, comments and shares
  3. Increase website visits — measured by website sessions
  4. Increase positive brand sentiment — measured by the number of positive conversations about your brand
  5. Increase social media follower count
  6. Increase leads
  7. Increase sales

But here’s where things tend to get murky.

Influencer marketing can seem deceptively result-driven if the success of these campaigns are measured by vanity metrics only.

Why? Vanity metrics can (such as reach, impressions, engagement and followers) can be purchased by an influencer or an agency for a fraction of the cost that you spend to run the campaign.

A google search for ‘buy Instagram comment likes’ produces over 1,02,00,00,000 search results with websites selling ‘marketing results’, so to speak, at atrociously low rates (under $2). Therefore, an influencer can pocket a neat margin even if they choose to buy these metrics.

What do you get in return?

Murky influencer campaigns often look great because they do produce results, albeit bought. Here’s what you end up getting:

1. Lots of likes on your influencer’s post, but all by random accounts and bots

Here’s a screenshot of a list of accounts that have liked a post by an Indian micro-influencer for a post for a popular sporting goods brand. While the post had 1600 comments, none of them seem like they were made by accounts of real, Indian consumers. All of them are either fake accounts, profiles from another country (irrelevant audience) or worse still, bots.

Influencers can buy likes for as low as $2.

1. Lots of engagement, but little that seems genuine:

Here are some screenshots of comments on a post by another Instagram micro-influencer, for a popular Indian FMCG brand.

This is what fake engagement looks like.

While the post has a good number of comments on them, all from accounts that seem Indian, just about every comment was along the lines of ‘I love insert brand name’, which makes me wonder if these comments were planted to feign positive engagement.

Similarly, website visits can also be bought by simply paying people to click links. Taking a look at the bounce rate and the average number of pages per session will tell you how many genuine users landed on your website.

Quantity over Quality

The sad part of this whole business is that small business owners who are new to influencer marketing are completely sold by inflated vanity metrics. Marketing managers who are responsible for growing reach and engagement metrics have no incentive to dig deeper to understand whether their results are genuine or not. Small business owners, however, are left with deceivingly great awareness, reach and engagement numbers, no or low sales and depleted marketing budgets.

Is there a way to do this right?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to figuring out whether an influencer marketing campaign will produce real results or not. However, here are some handy pointers to help you evaluate a campaign plan and gauge success:

1. Choose relevant influencers. The right influencer is not necessarily the one with the highest follower count or the best engagement rate. They’re the ones who have actually used your product or service and won’t endorse you unless they genuinely think highly of your product or service (and therefore have high credibility). The right influencer also has a following of an audience that’s relevant to your business.

2. Stop relying on just vanity metrics to judge campaign performance. If awareness and engagement are your marketing goals, don’t forget to look at the relevance of audience you have reached and quality of engagement that your campaign produces.

3. Understand that influencer marketing campaigns are successful after sustained efforts in the long run. This is done by building a community of customers who genuinely vouch for your product and will talk about it in their circle of influence. This takes time. Don’t let any agency fool you into thinking that a one-time campaign can produce the same results for your business.

In conclusion

Small business owners in India can fall prey to very persuasive sales pitches from influencer marketing agencies and end up burning their pockets with no tangible results . While influencer marketing can be very effective when done correctly, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of and steering clear of a murky one.