Social media has long been our daily lives’ essentials. The information flows so fast then we are always getting to know something new. Online marketing using social media thus becomes a trend in which we the original audience are able to take part in it. Marketing companies now work with individual users on social media, exchanging with them the samples of products or free trials of food to buy their influence online. Influencers can be anyone of us, as long as he or she is producing content that is read by the public, which is what how such marketing strategies work.
Online marketing examples
Gingfood, a website linking social media users and restaurants, is a good example illustrating this trend of online marketing. Any typical user of Facebook or Instagram can register in the website to start looking for restaurant that he or she is interested in. As a middle person, Gingfood contact the restaurant once the registered members have requested a meal. Once the request is deemed as successful, the member can go and enjoy food in that restaurant. With the receipt kept and a proof of posting related content on social media, a certain amount of money will be refunded to the member. In other words, users of the website can get food for free or discounted, usually based on the influence they have i.e followers they have on such social media, once they have produced content to let more people learn about the restaurant.
There is also another example called AlphaConcepts that is an application used by one of our interviewees. Similar with Gingfood, it is a platform where influencers can look for restaurants that they are interested in and have a try. What is different is that influencers shall redeem the receipt right after they finish the meal. So the influence no need to pay in advance, while they can send the proof of social media post in which they comment and share the restaurants to their friends to the website.
Besides restaurants, other brands also adopt such strategy to promote their products. For example, an application called Spread-it that are cooperating with various brands. Both working class or students or welcome to become one of their members, who will be invited to try out sample or attending events with posting on social media as influencers. Members accumulate the number of joining such events will eventually increase their exposures to the brand PR, thus receiving more other invitations to promote different products. Ideally this is how such strategy works, bringing a win-win situation to both the website users, or we call the influencers and the businesses.
Behind this trend, what is actually going on? Are there hidden rules in this strategy? Is that being an influencer is so easy and profitable? How can we the public understand and distinguish such information? The following stories may help you figure these out.
Connie Leung is an experienced user registered in Gingfood that has shared with us her experience involving in this marketing trend. She owns a over a thousand followers as a student, in which is a larger number considering she does not use any business tool to promote her account. Such website allows her to try various restaurants that she may not know before and to subsidise her meal once she posts related content on Instagram.
Connie suggests this is the main reason when more and more website like Gingfood is emerging to the market. The influence of social media, where you see what your friends are doing, is indeed a good marketing tool for businesses to spread their brand. “The posts we have to make is not that restricted by the web or the restaurants. In most cases, my friend and I can comment on the food freely to let people know how it really is.”
“The procedures of course is not always that perfect. Sometimes I submit receipt claiming I’m was eating alone but actually my friend has the meal with me.” added, “the restaurants usually only subsidise the influencer, but they rarely really check on how many people are using that in the meal.” This does reflect some uncontrollable factors the website or the restaurants are not expecting such grey area that they may spend extra money in buying their influence.
Another influencer, Sze Yee Lui, with a personal account owning nearly 2000 followers expressed her concerns with such trend. “Although managers search for people who have greater influence on social media, the stand is in face getting low these days. In other words, she doubted whether those with like a 100 followers on social media but being selected to help promoting the products can really help. She revealed to us that the this kind of advertisement is sometimes misleading people’s views, as some of them are not verified. She told us, “I remember once the PR wanted me to post on anti-freckle product that I have not even seen or used.”
With her experience with Spreadit, she agrees that such marketing is effective while low-cost. “Social media is the most active platform for young people. But actual income is hard to get, unless you have a really high popularity, influencers will only get scattered income or products sample in most cases.” She also added “It is obvious that you are commercializing your own social life, where you are supposed to interact and share your life with friends freely.” Sze Yee reflected that she does not want her behaviour to be limited and tagged as such by external commercial factors to be an influencer.
Other influencers who are working-class already, such as Kayan Cheung and Anastasia Lai, who both work in the banking industry, think such marketing strategy is new and special to them. They learn about it from social media and decide to give it a try. Kayan agrees that it is beneficial to both influencers and the restaurants, while it can be troublesome sometimes to wait for a long time to claim the money and she is not devoting much time to social media with her work. Anastasia also thinks the operation of such website ought to be improved such as introducing mobile application to the public to make it more reachable.
Fete Up is a small restaurant located in Sheung Wan, aiming to promote the style of healthy eating while breaking the stereotype that it must be dull. All of their meals are a combination of different nutrient elements, reasonably priced.
The co-founder of Fete Up, Wei Kwan Chan thought this promotion method with Gingfood is worth to try after being approached by them. He said “We decided to join is not only because of the attraction of ‘zero advertising fee’ but also more importantly, ‘mysterious customer’ can give us objective feedback.” Chan said.
After Chan’s restaurant join Gingfood, some customers have mentioned to him that they come after seeing their friends’ post on Instagram. He thinks those posts indeed help them attract customers.
“We actually gain profits from Gingfood.” Chan explained. “Unlike most of the marketing companies, which we have to pay them to contact bloggers to come to our store, while we still have to offer free food to the bloggers. However, for Gingfood, we pay them a certain amount of money like HKD$15000, when bloggers visit our store through their platform, the bloggers have to pay for the meal themselves, claiming money from Gingfood later. In this way, we are pre-paying the bloggers for their meal. Gingfood will make sure that we receive back at least HKD$15000 from this promotion. They suggest that bloggers will usually bring friends along with them, who will have to pay for their own meal, eventually boosting profit to the restaurant.”
On of the post-80s, Ng Yik Lung, founder of Gingfood, is a graduate from the statistics department of Chinese University of Hong Kong. He aims to using population data to spot target customer for the restaurants.
He has found Gingfood at a low cost since last May. The team first consisted of only five people, they used “zero-advertising fee” as a selling point to seek for partners, thus receiving commission fee from it. “Diners will bring friends to the restaurant, one-time consumption will bring consumption 80% higher than the usual income, almost every partner can receive profits.” said Bob. “Of course, we will sign contracts with our partners. If all the diners’ bills eventually fail to cover guaranteed cost, we will take the commission as subsidy.”
Till now, more than 60 restaurants and 3,000 diners are gathered in Gingfood. In the cyber society, each party becomes more divided, leading to the failure the survival and development of the mainstream niche. Bob spotted this new network trend and started the business with the idea of “amateur propaganda”. ” It is difficult for franchisees to look for celebrities to make a propaganda, while we offer 100 normal people to go to the restaurant. Although they may not have a huge number of followers, but all of them are their true friends, the interactions between them will bring success to the promotion.”
The current commission of Gingfood is enough for them to maintain a five-person team operation. Bob revealed that there are three investors who are interested in taking shares. His goal is to expand the number of diners to 50,000 this year and persuade 500 more restaurants to join. “The failure rate of our persuasion is almost the same as the advertising fee, which means zero.”
The term “influencer marketing” appears in recent years. Most brands and markets associate influencer marketing with Instagram, making it the most frequently-used platform in 2017. According to a survey conducted by Annalect and Twitter, 40% of respondents said they’ve purchased an item online after seeing it being used by a social media influencer they are following on social media.
There are multiple reasons behind the trend of online marketing. Firstly, businesses tend to consider the cost of publicity work. Micro-influencers’ time and money cost are lower than traditional methods of marketing. Secondly, the life of this group of micro-influencers is closer to the general public, in which a more down-to-earth image of the product can be created with their promotion. For example, Nike and Adidas always hire micro-influencers to promote because they are more likely to reach younger customers than KOLs do, which are expanding their exposures. Thirdly, the actual influence of micro-influencers is easily assessed such as the number of likes they get. Finally, micro-influencers with different ages and occupations are fresh to people, generating more opportunities.
Micro-influencers’ relevance and reliability bring reasons to why brands are tapping them to foster their products. As the market increasingly embraces this marketing strategy, the online market and the advertising industry are preferably changing to adapt the new trend.
Beyond the trend
Advertisers have started recognising online media as the major platform for promotion. “Digital media will surpass television as the major advertising platform by 2020.” said Kevin Huang, chief executive of Pixels, Hong Kong’s largest digital-advertising sales agency.
According to the data released by media-monitoring firm admanGo reported by SCMP, Hong Kong experienced the biggest decline in advertising spending from HK$45.9 billion in 2015 to HK$39.8 billion in 2016. Although television, newspapers and outdoor show the traditional media still remain the top media category for advertisement, there has been a huge discount. On the contrary, campaigns on digital media show an upward trend.
It is in doubt that the consequences can be merely positive, considering the quality of micro-influencers can vary as they are not professional marketing companies. There are stakes the companies need to bear, as well as for the influencers themselves. Sometimes there are tricks to gain more benefits, while they can get really criticised by the public or even kicked out of the game once they are busted. One thing for sure, it requires us more effort to seek the truth behind the flow of information online.