The future of influencer marketing in the region is promising and UM Philippines’ Jesca Bantayan says trust and authenticity will continue to be the most important currency that influencers have.

Asia is a superpower when it comes to digital consumption and the high usage of social media offers influencer marketing a fertile ground to flourish in APAC markets.

In Southeast Asia alone, the number of new internet users has continued to climb, hitting 400 million in 2020 – up from 360 million in 2019 – according to Google. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to further increase the number of users, given the shift to hybrid working arrangements and the prevalence of online education.

The rising popularity of influencers in APAC is not only due to rapid digital adoption but because nearly every one of these users is a social media user. In fact, APAC accounts for nearly 53% of global social media users. Facebook alone has about 426 million daily active users in APAC, not counting users of other growing social media sites including TikTok, Kumu (Philippines), Zalo (Vietnam), WeChat and Twitter.

The opportunity is ripe to reach the entire region via social media. The demand for disruptive, entertaining and informative content is incredibly high. Influencers flock to social media, producing their own content, with or without the backing of brands. Content ranges from unsponsored posts and day-in-the-life formats, to content in collaboration with brands that want to tap influencers’ followers.

Despite the massive reach of social media in APAC, the fragmentation of social media platforms and the fast-rising number of influencers in the region create a challenge for building real connections with audiences. The number of followers that an influencer has is just one element of a successful campaign. More important is the level of engagement with their followers, the relevance of their content and the makeup of their audiences.

Hyperlocal influence and hyper-targeted audiences have created a new currency in influencer marketing: authenticity and trust. This is the realm of the micro and nano influencers.

Micro and nano influencers, although fewer in number, have been the driving force behind authentic content. Their content is often seen as more authentic and less slickly produced, appealing to like-minded people who share the same interests. Connections are very much propelled by the relevance and approachability of these influencers. Across Southeast Asia, they are carving out their own spaces in categories such as beauty, fitness, food, fashion, gaming and lifestyle. They are building trust as they create relevant content and engage frequently within their communities.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism was an early user of micro influencers. In 2016, it gathered 18 Southeast Asian influencers to showcase Indonesia’s beauty and invite travellers to visit the country. Their experiences were not staged and therefore widely considered as genuine and authentic, leading to largely positive feedback.

This is now a trend that has matured and become mainstream as we see brands across a spectrum of categories make use of an army of influencers, both macro and micro, to fortify their marketing campaigns.

Trust and authenticity will continue to be the most important currency that influencers have. The closer influencers stay to how they live their normal lives, the higher the believability and trust that audiences will have in them, for both macro and micro influencers.

The ability for influencers to become known, and ultimately earn, will not come from brands alone. Even without a brand behind an influencer, the ability to incentivise an influencer exists.

Pia Wurtzbach, Miss Universe 2015, purchased a Mini Cooper using Lyka GEMS. Lyka is a social media platform where subscribers can post content and be incentivised by viewers, who receive GEMS, or gift cards in electronic mode, which can be spent on merchants that have a partnership with Lyka. Wurtzbach paid for her car with Lyka GEMS earned from the content that she posted on Lyka.

With the scale of social media users in APAC, it will not be surprising if more platforms like this, with the ability to incentivise influencers, emerge, giving everyone the power to earn from content.

There is also a future in communities. With the proliferation of social communities, such as the home improvement and decorating group Home Buddies in the Philippines, influence has been democratised, becoming accessible to everyone. Pockets of highly engaged audiences are activated and influencers borne out of these niche communities will gradually increase their circle of influence.

The future of influencer marketing in the region is promising. With accelerated digital adoption, the splintering of the internet and fragmentation of social media in APAC, influencers will continue to entrench themselves in local culture, in turn playing an even more significant role in marketing.