Influencers are now the norm at social events. Attend any party or launch, and you’ll probably see them fully occupied with taking selfies. But these are not just your average oversharers. These are people who make posting about their lives a lucrative business.
You see them seated in the front row at fashion shows, attending events and oftentimes, treated on par with celebrities. They’re being paid for it too, which in Malaysia, can range from RM3,000 to RM5,000 for a single social media post.
An influencer is defined as an individual who has the power to affect purchasing decisions because of his/her authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his/her audience. Or it could be an individual who has a niche following whom they actively engage with.
In the past, we tended to look at celebrities for style inspiration; these days it is the “everyday” person on social media that gets the attention.
“People have always turned to celebrities for inspiration and celebrity endorsements have always been used for marketing,” says Hubert Burda Media Malaysia’s Rubin Khoo, who helms Augustman and Prestige.
“The development of social media has given ordinary individuals the opportunity to establish themselves as a ‘brand’ whereas in the past, fame would only come to you once you have a film, album or won something,” Khoo explains.
Fashion bloggers were the first to pave the way for influencers. When Instagram became popular, companies looked at how many followers, likes or engagements an influencer could generate.
While some celebrities can be influencers, not all influencers are celebrities. Or at least, they don’t start out that way. Most fashion influencers begin simply as style enthusiasts.
Italian fashion icon Chiara Ferragni, for example, first came to light as a blogger in 2009. She now has 17.2 million followers on Instagram. She went on to become a designer and entrepreneur.
The rise of influencers is in tandem with the prominence of social media. You could even say that the two – the influencer and the platforms they use to gain followers – feed off each other.
“Brands started engaging influencers about a decade ago. It, however, only became a huge thing in Malaysia when Instagram reached peak popularity about four years ago,” says PR practitioner Choon Choon.
Choon, who has close to 20 years experience in the industry, says that big-time Malaysian fashion influencers’ reach can be seen from the engagements on their posts. Their contents are often seen as more personal, raw and organic.
Nadzirah Hashim from Wavemakers, a marketing agency that provides training, consultation and execution for digital and offline strategies, explains that Malaysian bloggers were the first influencers.
She says, back then, people like Vivy Yusof (who launched her blog in 2009) were already considered influencers. It was just a different platform being used at the beginning.
“They would use blogs to publish their product reviews or showcase their personal style. Influencers and brands began working together in the mid-2000s.”
According to Nadzirah, with the launch of social media platforms like Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), Twitter (2006) and Instagram (2010), traditional bloggers evolved.
“The influencer ecosystem really took off when social media became a staple for everyday news in Malaysia. I think we have been quite fast when it comes to embracing social media influencers,” says Choon.
“Social media was once an escape from reality but now, it has become the reality itself. People who follow these influencers have a certain affinity with their lifestyles or believes,” he adds.
Khoo believes fashion influencers have changed the industry. He says that social media typically has a 24-hour cycle, which is what brands want – a fast engagement.
“A lot of marketing is now based on an immediate response. In the past, perhaps the focus was more on brand building and educating consumers on why you should pay ‘x’ amount of money for a certain product,” he explains.
“The role influencers play in fashion has grown steadily. Perhaps from 2015 onwards, I started to see a rapid rise in their prominence. I think a lot of it is based on a global direction.”
A marketing manager of a luxury fashion brand, who prefers not to be named, says it is often the targeted relevance of fashion influencers that companies are looking for.
She explains that influencers are often split between gender, age group and lifestyle relevance. Engaging them allows for brands to speak and convey their campaigns to local customers.
For instance, all the top Malaysian fashion influencers have their own specific group of followers. Each has a unique reach and appeal that attract people of a certain interest.
“When it comes to fashion, there is still a slight pull for influencers of a certain race to have their own race to follow them – especially if their fashion sense is more on the modest side,” says Nadzirah.
“However, we don’t necessarily see the influencers intentionally operating along racial lines – they are merely being themselves and sharing content they believe resonates with their audience.”
Like in the West, the Malaysian fashion scene is increasingly being defined by a new generation of icons. These prominent faces of the industry have thus changed the way fashion is consumed.