4 Things I Learned After Getting Paid for Influencer Services in Malaysia

Since I started Ringgit Oh Ringgit, I’ve been lucky enough to be approached by brands that want to work with me. I’ve done sponsored content for at least 10 companies now, including some pretty big names in the financial space.

Like I mentioned in my What It’s Like to be a Personal Finance Blogger in Malaysia article, I didn’t set out wanting to be a ‘KOL’ (key opinion leader), or an influencer of any kind. In fact, hearing people calling me a KOL/influencer is still weird. It only sunk in after a friend sat me down and berated the shit out of me. Thanks friend for the tough love approach, I appreciate it, even if you did call me some unprintable words.

So with that in mind, I thought it would be fun to write about my experience so far, and a little bit about influencers in Malaysia. Here are some things I learned.

#1 – Influencers sell attention, a high-value commodity

I put this as number one in the list for a good reason. Getting attention in this day and age is hard. We are so desensitised to most types of advertisements that often, only concentrated efforts catch our attention. That means producing entertaining and/or educational content as part of a content marketing strategy.

It’s rare for companies to do good content marketing by themselves. Firstly, everyone knows the agenda – companies want to sell more of their product/services – so we secretly roll our eyes when they praise and call themselves ‘the best’. Secondly, companies suffer from something called the expert bias. They are so familiar with their products and services that they can’t see alternative viewpoints, let alone come up with out-of-the-box content ideas. That’s where influencers come in.

Isn’t it amazing that we live in a world that information is so abundant that influencers get to make money by selling attention? :/ I don’t know what to make of it. A part of me thinks its ridiculous. Another part is like, eh you don’t have to know how it works, you just need to know how to play the game and take advantage of the situation.

#2 – How I get approached and paid for influencer services in Malaysia

I’ve been approached from all of the below:

  • Direct from companies. Usually the Communications or Marketing department send me an email from my hire me page. If the company is small, sometimes even the founder/CEO reach out
  • From agencies representing companies. Representatives from creative agencies tend to FB message/DM/PM me on my social media profiles instead of emailing. I’m not saying this is the norm, just what I experienced so far.
  • From influencer platforms. Google ‘influencer platform Malaysia’ and you’ll see at least like 10 platforms connecting companies with influencers. I get invited to join these platforms sometimes.

If you are a new-ish influencer and would like to know how to get clients, this How to Get Clients: A Guide for Malaysian Freelancers article is a good place to start.

Again, I’ve been lucky enough to be approached by companies so far. What I haven’t done yet is approaching companies myself and pitching my services to them, otherwise known as cold-calling and cold-emailing. This is something I plan to do in 2019 to increase my earning potential.

I hope it won’t be too emotionally draining. Like dating, I’ll probably get rejected and ignored by most of the companies I approach, but at the end of the day I have to remember it’s a numbers game.

#3 – The hate on influencers in general are unjustified

“I don’t understand why [popular influencer] has millions of followers, she only posts pictures of herself! I could do that!”

“[popular influencer] only captions images with vague ‘inspirational’ quotes. I don’t get why he gets brand deals!”

Socmed is full of people who say things like the above. Who knows, you might say it too (I fully admit I did). Sometimes I see people bond over their mutual hatred for a particular influencer, which to be honest is kinda weird if you think about it.

Let me share something:

  • Popular influencers are far from stupid. They have mastered the art of digital marketing, a highly, highly valued skill in this day and age. Their content are visible because of their skills, not luck. Do you think it’s easy to make your content visible amidst millions of other content produced in the same hour? You think it just so happens that they post at 12pm on a Tuesday? No, they scheduled the post then because data analytics say that’s the highest number of online users at the time
  • Popular influencers are also business-savvy. You may see the finished product – the article, the pictures, the videos. What you don’t see is the contract negotiation, the administrative tasks, the meetings, the pitching sessions and cold calls and cold emails and everything else to make the partnership happen. All the rules to self-employment apply, especially number #2 in my 11 things I learned about self-employment in Malaysia post – You still have to do things you don’t necessarily like to do
  • Popular influencers are disciplined with content creation. Note that I didn’t say ‘content ideation’ – anyone can think of brilliant ideas, they’re like a dime a dozen. I said content creation. It takes a lot of work ethics and skills to consistently produce high-quality content.

Again, I admit I went through the phase where I was salty towards popular influencers. It’s not until I tried to grow an audience myself that I knew how hard it is to grow an audience and realised the difference between our digital marketing skill levels. Compared to them, I have a long, looong way to go.

Related: Case Study: My Blog’s Digital Marketing Strategy

#4 – Having said that, the influencer space has some pretty weird things going on..

For example, fake sponsored content is a thing?? Some people take the ‘fake it till you make it’ to a whole new level by misleading their followers. They faked brand deals to appear like they ‘made it’.

What a turn of events. Wasn’t it juuuust yesterday that people think partnering with brands is like selling out (if not done well)?

I’m admin in a Facebook community for Malaysian Bloggers and Social Media, and asked if the incident happens in Malaysia too. Apparently, it does. Apparently, someone labelled Instastories and Instagram posts with the #sponsored and ‘in sponsorship with’ tag after receiving… a discount. I know, I shook my head in disbelief too.

Another thing that happens in the influencer community is faking followers and engagement. I’m talking about:

  • Services where you pay money to gain followers (mostly bots/fake users)
  • Online communities where rising influencers form ‘pods’ so they can comment and like each others’ posts

(btw, you can totally use these tips to check if the influencer has fake followers)

But fake sponsored content and fake followers/engagement is not the worst. Some are downright unethical, like:

  • Hiding sponsorships and passing (positive) commentaries for products/services off as actual, genuine reviews. Some are obvious, but some are really subtle and done so professionally, you can’t tell at all
  • Getting paid to bash a company’s competitor (wtf!)

I mean, seriously, that’s just… ugh. Do you know of any more unethical practices? Share what you’ve seen in the comments section!

What do you think of influencers in Malaysia?

Specifically:

  • Who do you follow, and what made you decide to follow them? You can share lifestyle influencers (food, travel, beauty, fashion) or niche influencers (tech, personal finance, minimalism, etc), your call
  • Have you ever bought something because the influencers you follow recommended them?
  • What would you like to see in the local influencers scene in Malaysia?
  • And… would you like to become one? If yes, what niche or personal branding will you take on?

You don’t have to answer all 🙂 Whichever is fine. Can’t wait to hear your viewpoints 🙂

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