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India's Top Digital Stars: The making of the list

Social media has made stars out of many digital content creators who are followed by millions and sought after for brand collaborations. Becoming an influencer is now trendy, appealing and rewarding. Here's how our first India's Top 100 Digital Stars list was created

Published: Jul 18, 2022 01:28:26 PM IST
Updated: Jul 22, 2022 04:04:42 PM IST

(Clockwise from top left) Shlok Srivastava, Malhar Kalambe, Neha Nagar and Komal Pandey
Image: Amit Verma (Clockwise from top left) Shlok Srivastava, Malhar Kalambe, Neha Nagar and Komal Pandey Image: Amit Verma

Social media influences everything we do: Wake up and check the news on Twitter; take a break from work—scroll through Instagram; look for jobs—open LinkedIn; want to cook dinner—watch recipe videos on YouTube. According to Statista, Indians spend an average of 2 hours and 36 minutes a day on social media platforms. And content creators are building on this. Every day, millions of content pieces are made by thousands of creators, while new platforms and formats are being rapidly introduced.
Traditional advertising is passé; this is the era of ‘paid partnerships’ and ‘collabs’, where digital stars regularly create content for brands. From fashion creator Masoom Minawala attending Cannes 2022 for L’Oreal, to chef Shivesh Bhatia working with Borosil India, ‘influencer marketing’ is a force to reckon with. The ₹900-crore industry is pegged to grow at a CAGR of 25 percent and become a ₹2,200 crore industry by 2025, as per e4m INCA’s Influencer Marketing Report 2021. This growth is bound to help brands, creators and consumers.  

Becoming an influencer might be the trendiest career right now, but it is also extremely fickle; creativity, consistency and hard work are key to success. There are many stories of creators who started with photos of their own outfits, and editing their own videos, and getting over a million followers across platforms.

Forbes India and INCA, GroupM’s brand-safe influencer and content marketing solution, have identified the top 100 digital creators, across nine categories—comedy, beauty, fashion, business & finance, fitness, food, tech, travel and social work—who are born and grow on social media, make high-quality content and demonstrate high-performance standards across average views, engagement and reach.

Comedy creators top the list, followed very closely by beauty and fashion; together they dominate 40 percent of the list. Men and women contribute equally to the list, close to 50:50, and there are two transgender individuals. Although gaming creators account for a large chunk of India’s digital stars, given the high engagement percentage, for this list we have focussed on original content creators (gamers who livestream on YouTube are not included).

The INCA Change Makers is a list of socially responsible creators, which is part of our Responsible Investment Framework aimed at facilitating meaningful investments that enable clients to achieve their business, social and environmental goals by collaborating with creators who drive the cause of sustainability, climate change, human rights, LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality.

We have considered Instagram, YouTube and Facebook for this list, since they are the most popular platforms for influencer marketing campaigns. Creators don’t have to be present on all the platforms to find a place on the list; if they are on more than one platform, and the data is available in the INCA platform, then the metrics—followers, engagement, views, reach, impressions etc—have been consolidated across platforms, and used for the purpose of ranking in this list.

Nikhil Sharma is No 1 on the list, with  the highest INscore, because his content performance is the best (engagement, reach etc), compared to creators of similar type and with follower base range. In terms of engagement, Natasha Noel is on top, whereas Ashish Chanchlani has the highest followers. The average engagement rate of the 100 creators on the list is 5.89 percent and the average INCA Score is 8.39/10.  

(The writer is business head, INCA India)


To arrive at the list, we first identified the top 20 creators from all the 10 genres mentioned, keeping engagement rate and follower count in mind. From this pool of 200 creators, we shortlisted the top 100 basis multiple metrics: Reach, engagement, impressions, genuity, follower count and trending score. These numbers were fed into INCA’s proprietary algorithm INscore, which is a relative score between similar creators in the entire creator universe. INscore groups creators by channel, type and size, and then ranks their content by engagement rate. The best content gets 10 and the worst gets 1.

INCA also has a ‘genuity score’, which aims at limiting fraud, if not eliminating it. The platform has been trained to identify patterns of fake followers across a few social platforms and the same has been layered across a sample of followers for each creator. Creators with more than 80 percent genuity score are considered to be good creators. For this list, we have not included creators with genuity scores below 85 percent.

A high INscore creator doesn’t necessarily mean high reach or high followers. This works like a platform recommendation considering various data points across creator, content, audience, platforms and formats. In our list, we see Malhar Kalambe (77,000 followers) has an INscore of 8.9 but Trakin Tech (12 million followers) has an INscore of 8.18.

About INCA

INCA is GroupM’s brand-safe influencer and content marketing solution. Using proprietary technology, in-house experts, and a network of industry-leading partners, INCA provides influencer selection and content production services, as well content distribution at scale across social and publisher platforms. Our creator partnerships, campaign workflows, and active reporting tools assure full control and brand safety for advertisers and their agencies, while helping them optimize their campaigns towards measurable business outcomes. INCA is part of GroupM, the world’s largest media investment company, and has operational teams active in 30 markets around the world. Learn more at inca-global.com. 

(This story appears in the 29 July, 2022 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)