The growth of influencer marketing in Sri Lanka has been remarkable in recent years. With the rise of creators on social media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and TikTok, more brands are recognizing the power of collaborating with digital creators who have built loyal audiences by combining storytelling with passion and a pulse on trends, to be able to connect with their audiences in an authentic way.
One of the pioneers in the influencer marketing space in Sri Lanka is Fahmee Oowise, the Co-founder and Director of Dice Global. With his expertise and deep understanding of the digital landscape, Fahmee has been instrumental in helping brands identify and work with Sri Lanka’s top creators to produce some of the most exciting collaborations we have seen in the last five years.
For our first interview for Leader Insights, a series of interviews with media and marketing leaders, we spoke to Fahmee to find out the state of influencer marketing and the local creator economy in 2023.
Over the last five years, we have seen influencer marketing explode in Sri Lanka, and there are a few factors that continue to drive this growth. The first is adaptation; many more brands are now willing to invest in creators and influencers. Initially, our challenge was to persuade brands to hop on board and invest in creators. Moreover, the creative space wasn't as expansive as it is today. Today, creators cater to every niche and every possible cohort imaginable. Five to seven years ago, content creation wasn't considered a viable career option. But now, there are many people pursuing it.
Also, more brands are now spending more on digital marketing than previously, when we had to approach and convince them. Today, the inquiries and conversations we have are with people who are already convinced.
Another significant factor is the diversification and availability of more platforms. Previously, Instagram played a dominant role, but now we are seeing the rapid growth of platforms like TikTok. Creators have come to realize that organic reach for quality content is considerably high and has the potential to reach newer audience segments. However, these opportunities were not available five to seven years ago because content creation within the platforms wasn’t as easy as it is today, making it challenging to create the right content.
Transparency and authenticity are paramount when it comes to content—something that brands now greatly value—and these are both benefits that working with influencers can bring to a campaign. There has been a remarkable rise of micro-influencers and an increased demand for their authenticity, so much so that we have established an entire business unit dedicated to them.
Perhaps most importantly, a data-driven approach is becoming crucial for several brands. As a company, we have implemented various measures and partnered with AI-based platforms to obtain reliable data. Data-driven campaign management is gaining traction, whereas five years ago, it was virtually non-existent.
Before identifying and forming a collaboration or partnership with a creator, it is crucial to perform a qualitative and quantitative analysis of their profile. But not every brand goes through this process.
Now, let's imagine this hypothetical situation — I'm a brand manager, and I have certain preferences for five creators. Of course, I would want those particular five creators to work with me. But I need to identify which creator would work best for my brand or campaign.
Firstly, there is the qualitative aspect. This is where we dive into the authenticity of the creators by carefully examining whether they create good content and if they connect to the brand and campaign requirements.
Secondly, we have the data side of things. Because, let's be honest, having a strong following is usually seen as a positive attribute. But there are more ways to measure the success of a campaign. We should ask ourselves: Can these creators actually give a good ROI? Can they generate positive conversations? This is an important aspect to consider when selecting creators. But it's not just about reach, numbers, or likes; it's also about building a positive image around the brand.
It's also essential to ensure that the creators are targeting the right audience. This is where audience demographics come into play. Surprisingly, not many marketers delve into this kind of data analysis when selecting creators. To my knowledge, there is only one company in Sri Lanka that delves into this kind of analysis before choosing a creator, and that is Dice. When we select a creator for a campaign, we thoroughly examine the creator's profile, demographics, average reach, average engagement, and even identify fake followers, as well as the offline persona of the creator.
But here's something interesting to note: some creators may have many followers and engagements. However, when they feature a brand in their posts, the organic engagement drops. And sometimes, the fee we pay them might not be justifiable if the drop is significant. That's why it's crucial to consider the performance matrix of paid posts.
Unfortunately, not all marketers prioritize this kind of meticulous selection process. But if we want to see true success and authenticity in influencer marketing, taking these factors into account is the way to go.
So, when looking at evaluating the performance of a campaign, there are several aspects to consider. One is the conversion rate, which can be measured for both organic and paid media. It's crucial to understand how much can be converted in both scenarios. While some brands have started incorporating this strategy, it's not yet adopted by everyone.
Another numerical measure to consider is the CPA matrix, similar to what is used in Facebook advertising. This matrix provides insights into the cost per acquisition and can be a valuable metric to track.
On the qualitative side, we must evaluate the long-term impact of collaborating with a specific creator. It's important to ensure a mutually beneficial partnership where both the brand and the creator derive value. We should consider factors like audience demographics. For instance, if the creator's audience largely consists of 18- to 24-year-olds, emphasis should be placed on catering to that specific group. By aligning brand messaging and collaborations accordingly, we can maximize impact. Creators sometimes overlook these aspects, particularly the understanding of their audience and how it translates into partnerships.
Moreover, while considering metrics like likes, shares, and reach, the sentiment of comments should not be overlooked. They can provide insights into the overall perception of content on platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Creators and brands should pay attention to this feedback, as a positive sentiment can significantly impact a brand's image and serve as a selling point for the creator.
Buying fake followers. Like I said in the beginning, the number of followers is more of a vanity matrix. Brands, however, cannot make informed decisions if they do not have access to the right data that identifies fake followers.
There are AI-based platforms which help identify fake followers. Even if you do not have access to those platforms, some are very expensive. You can still do a manual search to find the profile of the creator, and then scroll through the followers. You can click on random profiles. You can tell if someone has fake followers.
AI can be used in many different ways by creators. It can do everything from basic chat to writing scripts. This end-to-end process can be managed by getting an AI platform for content creation. You don't have to even show your face. There are also tools that help you gain audience insights of creators, so that you can create better content so that they can adapt it to suit an audience who are more loyal or that is more engaged.
Monetization through AI is already happening. Imagine that you are a travel blogger, like the duo behind Travel with Wife, and you don't have a lot of time with your hectic travel schedules. You can use AI to cut a 20-minute travel video into 10 or 15 smaller pieces, even adding captions. If I do a travel video series in India and I'm interested in creating a merchandise line, I can create one by automating all the designs.
These are just the surface-level things. I'm certain that in the future, there will be more ways to help content creators make money and improve their craft.
YouTube was probably the first platform where many local content creators started, whether it be through cooking, education or humour. YouTube is still one of the main drivers of the local creator economy, because not all platforms pay you for your content in Sri Lanka.
YouTube has a lot to offer in terms of growth and potential, and is a great platform for video creators, especially now that YouTube Shorts are so popular. If you look at Sri Lankan creators who have been successful internationally, they have either created content specifically for YouTube or used YouTube as their primary platform. The YouTube channel Wild Cookbook is a good example, which currently has over five million subscribers.
There is still great potential for creators on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. TikTok is especially creator-friendly. However, YouTube is the platform to invest time and money in if you are looking to make a career as a content creator.
At present, we are trying to establish ourselves in different markets. We have been in this business for five years and feel confident about expanding into the rest of South Asia and other potential markets in the region.
We are launching a campaign called #DiscoverWithTikTok which was initiated by TikTok on November 25th. It’s a project that is going to open doors for many Sri Lankan creators. We will have creators from Bangladesh visiting and exploring Sri Lanka for 10 days and creating travel content. And then we will have creators from Sri Lanka visiting Bangladesh to do the same. This is a part of a larger campaign, which will eventually lead to local creators being able to collaborate with creators from other markets.
We strongly believe that we need to do better for the local creator economy, and we hope that this will be the beginning of a cross-border, collaborative ecosystem.
This interview has been edited for clarity.