Sarah O'Meara
Jun 15, 2015

Influencer network agencies boom in Asia

Spike in new firms connecting influencers and brands reveals varied commercial models and approaches to authenticity.

Agencies perform a range of services from connecting creators with brands to helping create content
Agencies perform a range of services from connecting creators with brands to helping create content

Across Asia, the number of pure-play influencer network agencies has begun to surge.

In the past year, many well-established Western names such as Maker Studios, StyleHaul, and adMingle, have announced plans to expand their reach into the market, while newer influencer network agencies such as Sociabuzz, VS Media and Influr have appeared on the scene.

According to Johan Wong, vice-president of marketing and creator partnerships for Hong Kong-based digital agency VS Media, influencer-based marketing campaigns are a natural fit for Asia.

“Companies in Asia are usually more impatient and focused on the short-term demanding immediate results,” explains Wong. “Rather than spending marketing effort targeting these digital influencers, marketers simply pay them to get the message across social networks.”

The range of brands using influencers in Asia includes Reebok, Toyota, Gillette, Garnier, L’Oréal, Hyundai, Microsoft and Lenovo. 

Influencer network agencies work as middlemen between creators and brands. They perform a range of services from connecting influencers with corporations, to facilitating bespoke content creation for clients. 

According to Philip Kitcher, VP of Asia-Pacific for fashion content marketing platform StyleHaul, Southeast Asia is a rapidly evolving market. There’s considerable brand interest within the fashion and beauty space in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. It’s also where creators are hungry to connect with and grow their communities.

“Japan and Korea are also maturing, which promises further on-the-ground expansion in the near future not just for StyleHaul but the industry as a whole,” Kitcher says.

US-based agency Maker Studios currently dominates the influencer industry with the largest content network on YouTube. But Gautam Talwar, VP of partnerships in Asia, reveals that the rapid growth of new players in the field is changing their approach. “We are beginning to work with smaller and local networks to create sub-networks under key verticals at Maker, ranging from gaming, fashion beauty to comedy and music.” 

Hong Kong-based social media creator Daniel Lau says that over the past year, countless agencies have tried to approach his team of #Exthetics urban explorers. “At the moment we enjoy the freedom, and manage the work we do with companies [such as Adidas and Red Bull] by ourselves,” says Lau. “But we are glad to accept products that benefit our work, as long as they don’t interfere.”

Online audiences across Asia have grown more sophisticated and mature. An example of this is #DoYourY, a recent campaign by Yahoo Southeast Asia, created by Singaporean social agency One9Ninety, which used people on the streets to create user-generated content.

“Each of these micro-influencers may not have direct influence on millions, but a few hundred of them is enough to have the influence that matters in today’s communication,” says Clara Chen, co-founder and CEO of Influr, a fledging Singapore-based user-generated content platform that launched last year. 

The commercial models for partnerships between influencers and network agencies vary enormously. Admingle, for example, operates a non-exclusive and no-obligation relationship with its influencers, working on a performance-based profit share. Sociabuzz offers companies a ‘self-service’ platform where they can create the campaign themselves and then take commission from influencers, plus a ‘managed service fee’ from advertisers if they use their firm’s support service.

But the key question for all agencies working with influencers is how they handle the issue of authenticity. The power of an influencer comes from their reputation. So a commercial partnership can reduce credibility and therefore influence. 

“Authenticity is a hot and critical issue in the industry,” says Tetsuya Honda of Blue Current. His firm’s philosophy is that “all paid-posts have to be disclosed”. 

Some companies choose to place the responsibility for ‘authenticity’ at the feet of the influencers. “Our creators build their fan-base on their authenticity, which means they tend to select brands to partner with that they relate to and resonate with their audience,” says Laura Gordon, head of Asia-Pacific sales for video network agency (launched last year), which connects creators and publishers across Asia and distributes content across YouTube, Baidu Video and Daily Motion. 

Likewise, Sociabuzz say that a sponsored post created via their firm’s platform ‘might look like any other regular post’ and they don’t force influencers to disclose the commercial relationship.

Other agencies advocate the importance of total transparency. Kitcher of StyleHaul says: “All influencers are required to disclose if a piece of content is sponsored, and we ensure that our creators practice this and work within the industry guidelines that have been set.” Similarly, adMingle requires that posts made on behalf of clients are clearly marked with #ad, identifying them as ‘paid for’ shares.

China, on the other hand, is a unique market where authenticity is not so controversial. “Chinese netizens are not as hung up on influencers ‘selling out’. They recognise that getting sponsored is part of the game,” says Sam Flemming from Shanghai-based social business CIC Data. 

Our View: Influencer platforms are a gamechanger for reaching niche demographics. 

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