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Confessions of a wannabe social media 'influencer': The time I tried to sell noodles

Is the "nanoinfluencer" life as easy as you think? CNA Lifestyle's May Seah set out to do a terribly non-scientific experiment and... the results will surprise you. Or at least entertain.

Confessions of a wannabe social media 'influencer': The time I tried to sell noodles

"Hi, I'm May Seah of CNA Lifestyle and Hot Nuds is totally delish and totally not real." (Photo: Kelvin Chia)

It all started when I was offered, out of the blue, a gig as a "model' for a brand of mala chips.

The purveyors of the spicy snacks said that based on my personal Instagram posts, I embodied the brand’s personality, and they invited me to give them a quote.

After I was done giggling to myself (why, yes, I am spicy, feisty and... crispy, thank you for noticing), I began to wonder: What would it actually be like to be an “influencer”?

It’s kind of a dirty word you can’t escape from these days, as brands have increasingly shifted their marketing strategies – and advertising budgets – to the online and social media space.

Even though brand spokespeople I’ve chatted with have said that it is nearly impossible to measure the direct impact an influencer-driven campaign can have on sales and revenue, this approach is still seen as an opportunity to raise brand awareness.

After all, the whole point is to make it look as if someone you trust is recommending a product to you.

But as the posts of influencers with huge followings become increasingly commodified, some brands are turning to microinfluencers or even nanoinfluencers – those with significantly smaller followings but are seen as more authentic because of it.

“Why don’t you start your own campaign and see what happens?” said my editor, who was equally bemused by my sudden mala chips-worthiness. 

“See if a picture of you in a bikini is more effective in getting likes, or a picture of you with a dog.” He sniggered. “If you lose followers, that would be even funnier.”

And so, in the interest of Research (yes, with a capital "R"), I decided to become a pretend nanoinfluencer for a week, so that I could bring you readers a first-hand account of what it might be like to pose / post as a side gig. I mean, obviously, it isn’t as easy as it looks, and a significant amount of thought, planning and strategy has to go into it, right?

Before I could start, I needed a product. It had to be something on-trend, frivolous and tempting. Something that people didn’t know they needed until I told them they needed it.

I decided that I would hawk “super spicy” instant ramen, because, well, everyone likes instant noodles, and a new flavour always piques curiosity. (Also, Asians never fear a good ring of fire.)

My art director magicked a product up for me, and I proceeded to ruthlessly annoy my Instagram friends.  

I knew I needed to start my campaign with a bang, so I decided to make my first post as direct as possible. I shot a couple of photos of myself cosying up to a bowl of spicy noodles – ostensibly the new "HotNuds", actually generic supermarket brand noodles – and asked my friends to help pick the one in which I looked the most irritating.

I also created a troll site so that I could see how many people had been “influenced” enough to click on my “link in bio”.

On the first day, I got 35 clicks. And a bunch of texts from friends who were up in arms about being deceived. Yay!

“Wah lau, all I wanted was noodles,” complained my friend Samantha. “I clicked ‘cos I like instant mee,” my friend Jonathan huffed.

As an “influencer”, this taught me a valuable lesson: That if you have a good product, it will always find its target audience.

For my second post, I wanted to level up. Because ASMR videos are all the rage, I decided to attempt an amateur spicy-noodle-slurping ASMR post. You know, to leverage my product’s unique selling point.

It didn’t do as well as the first post, which got 110 likes – largely because that was the first post and therefore fresh news, I suspect – but it did get a good 63 likes, and earned a “Wah, damn shiok” comment from online personality Jade Seah.

The real victory came in a private group chat, when one friend asked, “What brand of noodles are you really eating?” and another responded, “She makes you want to try them, right? They look awesome.”

“Influencing” people who already knew they were being trolled? Well done, HotNuds!

For my next post, I decided to see if the ever-popular, typical-influencer flatlay shot would work for me. I even added in some delightfully mainstream fairy lights.

Alas, the flatlay post got a dismal 42 likes. Meh. To be fair, I realised belatedly, instant noodles aren’t the best models for flatlays, largely due to the fact that they are not croissants and glasses of orange juice. The lesson here – there’s always a lesson – was that you can’t rep an amazing product if you don’t know its best angles.

By now, I was beginning to feel as if I never wanted to see another instant noodle ever again – at least, for the next three days – and because I had eaten way too much noodles at this point to be seen in a bikini, I went with the cute-dog-post strategy next.

Proving that doggos will forever rule the interwebs, this post got 70 likes. Note to self: Put a cute dog in every single post from now on. It’s virtually foolproof. (My canine collaborator received 50 per cent of the profits from the zero sales that I made. No dogs were harmed for the sake of the ‘Gram.)

At this point, 63 people had been enticed into clicking on my “link in bio”. I knew I could do better. But it was Day Five and I had run out of energy and, to be honest, enthusiasm for the project. Even my work-sanctioned frivolity has its limits.

Sixty-three people clicked. Yes, I’m no Xiaxue. But if half of them were to make a hypothetical purchase, would that still make it a nano success? Even if it involved superfluous fairy lights?

If brands continue to ride the nanoinfluencer bandwagon, the logical conclusion is apparent. In the near future, I reckon, we might all be selling products to our friends and families and earning small commissions out of it. After all, we already recommend things to one another by word of mouth. Isn’t it a small step to accept payment for our recommendations, especially if we already believe in them?

It’s a slightly scary thought – especially considering that the really surprising news, if you ask me, is that in spite of having become an “influencer” in the least subtle way possible, I actually did not lose a single follower.

And, in an ironic twist, another local chips brand slid into my DMs to ask if they could send me some chips.

If that's not a sign that I should up my ambitions to Potato-Based-Snack Food Ambassador, I don't know what is.

Source: CNA/my