Beyond beauty: How influencers are being utilised in politics

Influencers are being commissioned to spread political and social messaging, and to great impact.


In the run-up to the January 2020 presidential election in Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen did something unprecedented: she invited 20 highly engaged influencers to spend a night at the Presidential Office, shoot videos of their stay and share them via their social profiles. She also appeared in a series of light-hearted YouTube videos with popular influencers to demonstrate her Taiwanese-Hokkien skills, participate in mukbangs (food ASMR videos), and even discuss her travels.

Efforts such as these are a part of a new wave of influencer marketing as politicians and political parties seek to reach out and appeal to younger audiences. And they appear to be working. In April 2020, Tsai hit a milestone of one million followers on Twitter.

In Singapore, the Ministry of Finance (MOF), and the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources routinely use influencers to raise awareness for their budget process and climate change initiatives, respectively. Political candidates in the 2020 US election used influencers to win over younger voters.

A new social influencer paradigm

Beyond politics, industries that had previously glossed over the power of influencer marketing are now starting to show serious interest in the approach. A New York City hospital and the UK’s NHS used influencer strategies to support their ongoing Test and Trace Covid campaigns to get more young people tested. Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) enlisted the help of an influencer to spread information and advise people on how to stay safe during the pandemic.  

These are just a couple of the several new ways influencers are being used to drive outcomes—and they make sense. Stuck at home during the pandemic, more people have been spending more of their lives online, and on social media specifically. In fact, one research study from Sharablee found that engagement on sponsored posts during the lockdown period went up, with interactions reaching 57 million in July 2020—nearly five times the number in March 2020. And businesses of all types are adapting. According to a report by Takumi, 73 per cent of marketers surveyed allocated more resources to influencer marketing, with spend particularly increasing in areas of retail (79 per cent), legal (79 per cent), and manufacturing (75 per cent).

To be sure, even before the pandemic, influencer marketing was fast becoming an important part of the marketing mix, even for brands that had previously not considered it. Despite the many missteps from popular influencers, from bots to fake followers, consumers between the ages of 18 to 35 tend to seek out trusted influencers. A 2019 study from Edelman found that an overwhelming 63 per cent of consumers trust what influencers say about brands more than they trust the brand’s ads. Remarkably, when it comes to trusting influencers, the size of their following doesn’t always matter, with people more concerned about quality over quantity.

While all this is obviously good news for the influencer community, it does raise questions about best practices for what is still an emerging trend.

Best practices for success

Ikala found that using multiple micro-influencers works best for businesses and sectors that are only just embracing this form of marketing. Unlike well-known celebrity influencers, these micro-influencers—whether they’re customers, employees, or people within the community—are great storytellers, generate higher engagement rates, and are generally better at building trust.

For example, the Biden-Harris campaign used nurses, teachers, essential workers, truck drivers and dads to distribute some 15,000 Instagram Stories on social media, achieving an overall 305 per cent higher click-through rate and a 1,600 per cent higher engagement rate on Facebook than traditional celebrity influencers.

Finally, it’s important to remember that nothing kills a campaign like inauthentic and disingenuous content. We know that consumers seek out and follow influencers who are willing to be honest and give products negative reviews, making it important for brands to thoroughly research influencers before engaging them to ensure their audience and personal values match well with that of the product, service or cause being promoted. 

The appetite for helpful, real and raw content is huge and anything that appears staged or overly curated demonstrates faux sincerity. While this is a challenging shift for many long-time players, it’s encouraging news for new entrants.

Sega Cheng is CEO and co-founder of Ikala

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