Focus on growing authentic engagement, not just your follower count

In an age of modern day influencers, the online space has become an increasingly saturated marketplace for businesses and individuals.

Having been blessed with the opportunity to immerse myself in this industry: to both live it first hand, and to lead and develop a network of ambassadors from Singapore’s sporting eco-system, I take on your questions regarding influencers and Instagram Marketing in this post. 

May these shed light for media practitioners, provide useful insights to aspiring influencers, and infield knowledge for businesses who are less digitally-savvy to make more informed choices when planning for their next campaign with influencers.

Also read – Redefining Influence: Empowering lives through storytelling in sport 

 

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True influencership is the resonance of an online following who identifies with you, and with the expression of the things you love. Photo taken at influencers engagement session organised by Sports Hub.    Photo credit: Singapore Sports Hub

How can I become an influencer?

Influencership is never an end goal. It is simply a by-product, a spin-off.

True influencership is the resonance of an online following who identifies with you, and with the expression of the things you love.

It is not a short cut to fame or popularity, nor a means for you simply to get endorsements or sponsorships. If those come in due course, they are merely bonuses, not an entitlement.

Therefore not everyone who wants to become an influencer has the patience, persistence or the right heart to be one.

Be passionate

We are always at our most influential when we are expressing our true passions with the world. Be it sport, fitness, photography, food, dance, yoga, or modelling or whatever it is you love doing.

That kind of energy catches on quickly, because people can sense authenticity. Authenticity lives on inside each of us regardless if we have been wise or foolish before.

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Sport Singapore ambassadors Kerstin and Gary at a Facebook LIVE session during GetActive! Singapore 2017’s Closing Ceremony.       Photo credit: Nick Lye, SportSG

Why engagement rate over follower count? 

Because the biggest brands and smart businesses who are digitally-savvy won’t just look at your follower count, but also analyse the full demographics behind it.

And since most public instagram accounts carry with them some inactive accounts, dummy accounts, and bots, be it intentional or not. So your follower count is never a fully accurate measure of your true online influence prior to further analysis.

Active Interest

Here I define authentic engagement as having an active audience that takes an avid interest in you, the things you do, and in whatever ideas you are trying to pitch across or communicate. This denotes a deeper level of engagement.

From a business perspective this also has a higher likelihood to translate to actual conversion. The end goal for any business is always successful conversion and customer retention, what we call brand loyalty in marketing terms.

This takes time, discipline, and consistency to build; especially brand loyalty. It can never be attained simply by having a bigger budget, or pumping in more ad dollars for ad-hoc sponsored posts or other quick fixes. Whether you are a business or a personal brand.

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At ‘Splashtastic Saturday’, an Influencers engagement session, with yoga instructor Dawn Sim (far right), and her cousin Amelia.         Photo credit: Singapore Sports Hub

How is engagement measured?

Currently there are several formulas and metrics available, but one of the more commonly used ones is via percentages (see next article link below). Failing to include (real) engagement rate as a metric is why many businesses and digital campaigns involving influencers fail.

Also read – What is a good engagement rate on instagram?

Heavier weightage is generally given to comments than likes, reason being that it takes an extra step and more effort for someone to type out a comment in reply to your post, instead of just tapping on the like button.

Quality of engagement

The quality of comments is also studied manually to sift out real engagement from spam comments and spam likes.

However, it doesn’t really take a trained eye to tell them apart in any post. Informatively, the bulk of your real engagement usually comes from direct followers, and others through content discovery channels like your hashtags.

 

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Behind-the-scenes with former national footballer Isa Halim at the filming session for last year’s Singapore Football Week online commercial.         Photo credit: Sport Singapore

Have you ever bought followers?

Of course I have! I am called “Potato Paikia”, and which bad boy has not tried every taboo thing in the book at least once? LOL.

Jokes aside, I really did it once some time back – during the start of the project I mentioned we were developing. This was needed as a subset of several experiments that were done to fill the knowledge gaps we had. That’s also when I discovered how little we knew, versus what we were actually dealing with in the current market.

I couldn’t do this on the company’s official instagram page for obvious reasons.

But since I conduct regular clean-ups every few months, and have done multiple purges on my account by this point, accounts that were used for that purpose are purged, and this can be verified or analysed via my instagram demographics.

LimWeiWen
I personally find national fencer Lim Wei Wen quite a character, which is one way to guarantee high engagement.          Photo credit: Singapore Sports Hub

But follower numbers still matter don’t they?

Yes, but only to an extent. And definitely not as high up the priority list as the vast majority think it is. Several studies have shown that in today’s context many micro-influencers often bring higher engagement to the table than celebrity influencers, and are also much more cost-effective in helping businesses achieve their targets.

Also read – The rise of ‘micro-influencers’ on Instagram

This is because once you go beyond a certain critical mass of followers on instagram, your organic reach begins to drop, which indirectly leads to a lower engagement rate on average. In other words, your percentage of likes/comments does not increase proportionately with follower growth, because after a certain point, it actually dips.

Good engagement begets more engagement

In contrast, if your content and posts are of high engagement traction, these will be surfaced by instagram as good content, and therefore appear in more feeds over the first 24 hours of posting (i.e. impressions), making the likelihood of its discovery even higher which leads to further engagement.

Your posts will never reach all of your followers, just a small fraction, who are usually the ones who interact with you the most. And on instagram, organic reach for picture posts also perform better than video posts.

So content that are not consistent with this algorithm often stand out to marketers, as it means there is likely some form of doctoring, whether via legitimate or not so legitimate means, unless it had gone viral.

Whatever I just shared is based on algorithms built into instagram, which isn’t secret. It isn’t biblical truth, so it may evolve again in the future.

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Samantha Low, a Sport Singapore ambassador, presents on a LIVE show.           File photo: Nick Lye, SportSG

Dream big, but be realistic 

Unless you are a mega celebrity, your followers-to-following ratio is very unlikely to be astronomical if you are an influencer who primarily has a local following.

The growth of your local followers will plateau off at some point, particularly in a small country like Singapore. Not everybody will be interested in you or your content; and the opposite is also true – just because somebody doesn’t “follow” you on instagram, doesn’t mean they are not following you.

Also read – Influencers vs Ambassadors vs Advocates – stop the confusion! 

Many influencers and some celebrities start targeting overseas followers when that happens, so that their follower growth can continue. I don’t think that this is necessarily wrong, as many influencers do have legitimate work with overseas brands and audiences.

Demographics that reflect your work

It just needs to be consistent with your line of work. There is something definitely wrong if you promote local brands but hold an audience demographics with the majority following from an overseas country, or one that looks like a map of the United Nations without a focus.

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Celebrating the countdown to National Day 2016 with Wohoo.co influencers Ziyi Kuek and Flora Isabelle.         File photo: Sport Singapore

Are using influencers still an effective marketing strategy? I have my reservations, and have had bad experiences in the past. Isn’t it just fluff and fancy gimmicks to catch the public’s attention?

(Question asked in reference to a recent social campaign run by an optics brand)

It really depends on what your goals are. If influencer marketing is a route you choose to take, then it would be more effective if the influencers you hire are an accurate reflection of your brand and brand values.

Longer term influencers in the industry are often termed as brand ambassadors, and often perceived to be of a higher level of credibility because there is consistency and regular association built over time with a brand.

Also read – Influencers vs Ambassadors vs Advocates – stop the confusion! 

It also helps if they are major fans of your brand already, instead of random influencers from a totally unrelated vertical hired to do a one-off shoutout for you.

The key thing you should be looking out for here is a significant overlap between their follower demographics and your target market, or new markets you are trying to reach. Their engagement rates should also fall between the mid to high range.

(see preceding article on “what is a good engagement rate on instagram?)

LauraTan
National hockey player Laura Tan, seen here being interviewed by journalists at Sengkang Hockey Stadium for an online feature.          File photo: Sport Singapore

Understand your needs

Businesses need to have a thorough understanding of their own needs before looking to influencers or any other marketing tool for help. Even great influencers with high reach and good engagement, but have influence in an irrelavant demographic to your market, will not get you your desired outcome. A business cannot blame influencers if they didn’t do their own homework first.

And your marketing strategy should never hinge purely on influencers, nor should you hire influencers simply for a quick shoutout for your product because it is in trend. That never works.

Tell your unique story

In order for your brand to reach top-of-mind recall eventually, the use of effective storytelling with an emphasis on your brand values is always more critical than the mere amplification of any single message, though these should never be thought of as separate, or as a linear process.

Read – 3 simple steps to create a powerful brand strategy people love

Do read former Team Singapore rugby player Chua Yini’s article in this link above on brand storytelling which I personally find insightful for start-ups who are still defining their brand identity; a process I am familiar with having started a business before with my cousin some years back.

Adidas-Runners
The adidas runners initiative, or AR, is one example which I consider a successful use of both celebrity and micro-influencers, done on an international scale. Campaign mechanics also involve online-to-offline, and back to online engagement, thus closing the loop.         Photo credit: Aik Soon, adidasSG

How do I improve engagement?

Treat your followers as real people, not just another statistic

I am equally guilty of not being mindful enough of this at times, but we must never forget this and cheapen influencership.

When your account or business starts to gain traction online, you will understandably need to deal with a larger number of interactions. And on some days you may find yourself overwhelmed if you also have other work to deal with, and it is very tempting to just ignore people.

Don’t lose your loyal fans

While creating space for yourself and your personal life should be a top priority and is always a good thing, ignoring people for no rhyme or reason will lead to you losing real and good people over time.

So even if it takes you much longer to reply, do your best to give a simple one when your time frees up. That being said, you should not tolerate abuse or harassment, and such cases warrant blocking or reporting without you needing to feel guilty.

Authenticity in your endorsements

Instead of taking on just any product that is thrown your way, discern if it’s something you actually believe in and have tried.

If it’s just something meant to boost your own ego over competitors, your followers will be able to pick it up. And that post will sub-communicate: “I need this thing in order to get recognised. This post is about me, notice me.” It won’t tell your audience much about the actual product, or your partnership with that brand.

And bear in mind that while having a handful of endorsements may build perceived value through social proofing, having too many endorsements has the opposite effect and will make you look fake, inauthentic and cheap.

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Men’s national singles tennis player and Sport Singapore ambassador Shaheed Alam, managed by ONE Management, in last year’s filming for Singapore Tennis Festival, held in conjunction with the WTA Finals Singapore.       File photo: Sport Singapore

Stay away from scripted captions

If the brand hiring you insists on using their caption instead of giving you the freedom to express your own opinion, politely turn them down.

This may be seen by some as obvious, yet many influencers who are desperate for endorsements will agree to almost anything. While it may be short term disappointment by rejecting, you get to keep your integrity and build your credibility this way.

It also demonstrates that you are someone of high value, and that one lost opportunity is inconsequential to you. This actually frees up time and space and will attract more like-minded partnerships to you further down the road.

Myth Buster #1: All captions must be kept short

It is a myth that all instagram post captions need to be kept as short as possible. While having good visuals to capture attention is always highly recommended, try alternating your captions to build different emotions within your audience that relates to the mood that you or your brand is feeling at that point of posting.

That being said, do not post a lengthy phD thesis either, and do break up your lines for easier reading if it is on the longer than shorter side.

Myth Buster #2: Losing followers is always bad

Spam and irrelavant accounts exists in all public accounts like I said earlier, whether they are bought or passively following you. Which is why performing regular clean-ups is a very healthy practise, though most won’t do it because they are afraid that losing followers gives people a bad impression of themselves.

Obsession with follower count will lead you to pegging your own value or self-worth to your online follower count – which makes you unfree to act; or to tap into your maximum real influence. Having too big a percentage of spam accounts can seriously affect your organic reach, and therefore give you a much poorer engagement rate.

Tidying up your account also helps you to carve out a more targeted demographic. This will benefit both yourself and potential clients in the longer run; as you will clearly know what you want and what you can offer.

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Team Nila volunteers Jannah and Randall at a photo shoot last year. The latter is an avid citizen athlete who competes regularly in marathons.              File photo: Sport Singapore

Bring your brand personality to life

An equally important step to improving engagement is to bring your brand’s personality onto your page. Many think of this as simply taking nice or professional pictures and cool videos, or making them visually appealing by stringing them together in a row.

While this might work for some, it won’t work for most cases. The style on your page has to be a representation of you, not someone else. So instead of copying others, be unique. Learning best practices from others is different from copying their style.

Good engagers and communicators have the skill to effectively carry their tone of voice and stamp their personality onto their page consistently, to get their audience involved as part of the story telling process.

Know your audience

Spare some time to listen to those who engage with you the most, and take note of what they have to say to improve your content. Constructive feedback are not personal attacks, they are meant to mould you into becoming an even better version of yourself.

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Eleven Sports TV presenter Duncan Elias in last year’s myActiveSG Festive Challenge: Battle of the Sexes edition.                 File Photo: Sport Singapore

As always, I welcome interested parties, be it fellow content creators, businesses, schools or students with ideas, to connect with me through my LinkedIn or Instagram.

Depending on the nature of your collaboration request, I might surface this to our other Sport Singapore ambassadors if I deem that they are a better fit (just as I have in the past).

If you are more interested in direct content partnerships with Sport Singapore on Sport Singapore’s online platforms, we can also arrange for a chat to determine suitability when I am back from my sabbatical in June.

Do keep a lookout for season 2 of our Sport Singapore ambassadors in the coming months! There are quite a few new faces joining our team, so it is exciting times ahead!

Next edition of #AskPotatoPaikia will revert to podcast format, and you may leave your questions for me via instagram ( @john.yeong ) direct message.

I hope this has been an insightful read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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