What are influencer incubator programs?

Influencer marketing is serious business. And by that we mean literal business. There are companies in China that make influencers. You don't become an influencer overnight, but if you have the right ingredients, you will rise to the top. Just as top models were once scouted on the street, influencer scouts scour social media for someone with grandiose potential. Influencer incubator company Ruhnn (China) scouts some 800 budding influencers every month.

Earlier we told you about micro-influencers, but here macro (1M+ followers) is the ultimate goal. The largest influencer under the wing of Ruhnn, turned over some $145 billion in a year through its online shop. Serious business, like we said. Will they conquer the world of influencer marketing? In this blog, we'll fill you in on the ins and outs of incubator programs for influencer marketing. 

How does an influencer incubator program work?

Guidance. Compare an influencer incubator program to the business model of a record company. A record company guides the artists-to-be in making recordings. Furthermore, the record company provides the right marketing, finances and production resources. However, incubator programs are not about recordings, but about social media content.

Tests. Once you are scouted, you undergo series of different tests. Do you know what good marketing is? Do you have a nose for trending products? How do you pose best with these? How do you ensure high engagement with your audience? Of the 800 influencers scouted, only 10 actually get a contract. Cut-throat competition. It should be clear that China is a few steps ahead with influencer marketing. 

A webshop. Often, such companies provide an attractive webshop for the influencer. In this way, consumers can directly purchase the products that the influencer is promoting. At the same time, the range of products can be perfectly tailored to the target group. 

Mutual benefits. With an incubator program, the company may have tight control, but they invest in you, put you in touch with mentors and provide a good network. Previous initiatives to "make" YouTube stars didn't stand a chance because the benefits for the influencer were too limited. Companies like Ruhnn facilitate everything, even the initial traffic is purchased for you. Whether this can be converted into followers then remains to be seen. Many advantages for the budding influencer. The company receives a modest (approx. 10%) of the turnover for this. Both parties therefore benefit if the influencer does well in the market. 

Will incubator programs spread to the west?

They just might. The model of incubator programs in China is clear. By now it is a multi-million dollar - or yuan actually - industry. Many influencers in the West are also building a strong brand along the lines of Kylie Jenner and her beauty business. The Swedish @kenzas is an example of this with its own hair products, but also HSTL.made from England that designs and sells its own crossfit clothing in a webshop. 

The difference is that there is no big company behind it that scouts the influencers, trains them and helps them grow. Companies like Ruhnn we have not seen here yet, but there are brands that really work together with influencers and help them grow and create content, such as the innovative Sephora with its annual 'Sephora Squad'.

Is there a need for incubator programs?

Social platforms in China are already further along in terms of e-commerce integrations compared to the functionalities of, for example, Instagram. Conversely, Chinese companies have also started to work hard on their own websites through 'retailtainment' integrations. E-commerce websites have been transformed into social media platforms. 

As in the example of Sephora, it can also be more modest and inclusive. A model more brands could aspire to. The example of Ruhnn illustrates that there is big business to be had from incubator influencers. Add a clever webshop and who knows, you might be playing with the biggest international companies. So there are still many opportunities for Western companies in this area!

Curious about incubator programs or other opportunities within influencer marketing? Get in touch with us!

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John Meulemans

Strategy Director & Partner Endeavour

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