Influencers – the social media promoters with enormous followings – have become an integral part of our marketing ecosystem in the last few years. The Association of National Advertisers, for example, report that 75% of advertisers use influencer marketing and 43% plan to increase their use of such promotional strategies in the next year. A closer look at who’s making a splash online, though, suggests that it might be time to pull back from the big names. The new standard in marketing today is the micro-influencer.
Micro-influencers typically have between 10,000 and 500,000 followers online, and what makes them so effective is their deep knowledge of their particular marketing niche. They aren’t speaking to an enormous audience with competing desires, but a highly focused group of consumers who’ve placed their trust in them. And, as Gen Z consumers grow in spending power, micro-influencers are poised to become even more powerful.
If you ask people why they trust micro-influencers, one of the top reasons is they trust any endorsement that comes from such bloggers and social stars to be honest; these users are savvy about the difference between an ad and an authentic endorsement. Users recognize that huge influencers and celebrities are paid to support products and may not really believe in the goods they represent, and they refuse to be fooled by covert branding.
One major challenge that brands face when trying to reach consumers today is the wide variety of platforms actively in use. As such, just as Facebook seemed to become the gold standard for social marketing, users seemed to migrate to Instagram. And then, once Instagram’s platform started to catch up and start providing the tools necessary for marketing, Gen Z threw their loyalty behind Snapchat.
In order to gain greater traction with consumers, companies need to diversify in multiple ways. This includes embracing a broader set of social media platforms, trusting micro-influencers that specialize in specific social media ecosystems, and, most importantly, diversifying the faces that represent your brand in terms of race, gender, and sexuality. Micro-influencers make this easier to do and help brands reach small groups on specific platforms more effectively, despite their formally smaller reach.
Anyone who has ever used social media knows that bots, hackers, and fake accounts are everywhere – and the bigger the account, the more fakes are probably involved. That’s why, when you see that an influencer has a million or more followers, you can guarantee that a large number of them are fake or inactive. The influencer may even have used some type of “gain followers” company to acquire those big numbers. Just because there are a million people following an account doesn’t mean that account is actually reaching all those people.
By focusing on micro-influencers, brands avoid the bots and see much greater active engagement. A study of account engagement has shown that accounts with 1,000 followers get “likes” 8% of the time, while influencer accounts that top 10 million are only “liked” 1.6% of the time. Though that might technically put the big accounts ahead of the small ones in the number of engaged users, micro-influencers also cost brands about 10x less than big accounts, meaning brands can get more reach by backing a few micro-influencers, rather than spending on a big name.
Ultimately, the rise of the micro-influencer is a direct result of aging digital natives. Though we’ve struggled to educate young people about online safety over the years, most have found their own way and learned to suss out the fakes. They aren’t about to be fooled by standard pay-to-play methods. Though brands obviously pay micro-influencers as well, the audience trusts them to be more discerning in selecting brands and products to support. And the audience offers up this trust because there are fewer of them and they feel a greater sense of intimacy with their micro-influencer of choice. Their accounts may even have grown up together, as it were.
It can take time for investments in micro-influencers to pay off, so be patient with these accounts. Unlike big names that already have a following, many of these micro-accounts are on the cusp of an explosion; a single mention in an article or high-profile shout-out could cause their follower numbers to double over a few days. Or they could experience normal, incremental growth over months. The key is not to write them off too quickly. You have to be as loyal to your micro-influencers as their followers are and allow your brand to become part of their promotional network.
There will always be a place for the big influencers, especially for big, mainstream brands, but for indie makers and startups, micro-influencers are the way to go. They know their audience and they won’t take your brand on unless they think it will be a mutually beneficial relationship. This co-vetting acts as a kind of insurance and a promise that your brand will be treated well and placed in the best light, rather than getting lost in the crowd.