At the same time, brands that manage to present themselves as purposeful, authentic and “real” are yielding record results.
Just look at Nike. When they released their “Believe in Something” ad campaign celebrating Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who took a knee during the US national anthem to protest racial injustice, many thought it a risky move.
What actually happened? A large segment of their audience loved it, and online sales jumped 31%.
This poses an interesting dilemma for brands.
How can you as a marketer form a deeper relationship with your audience, and provide them with the kind of authentic, meaningful content they crave (while still keeping an eye on marketing ROI)?
The answer might just lie in micro-influencers.
The latest studies speak for themselves: micro-influencers have been shown to generate up to 7x more engagement than macro-influencers, and generating 22.2x more conversions than other types of influencers.
It seems like in 2019, brands have to go small to go big.
Keep reading to find out who micro-influencers are, why you should make them a cornerstone of your social media efforts, what are some benefits and drawbacks of using them in your marketing, and as a cherry on top: case studies to inspire your marketing strategy.
Buckle up, because we’ll cover:
- Why the influencer marketing industry is here to stay
- Different types of influencers
- The pros and cons of macro-influencers
- The pros and cons of micro-influencers
- Why micro-influencers are the key to building an authentic brand
- Scrunchie is Back [case study]
- Sandcloud [case study]
- Kimpton Hotels [case study]
The current state of influencer marketing
It’s no secret that influencer marketing is all the rage these days.
The industry has pretty much been on a growth trajectory since social media began taking off in the early 2010s.
Today, the entire industry is said to be worth around $7 billion. And get this: it’s expected to double in the next two years, reaching $15 billion by 2022.
While the industry has fallen under some criticism in the past year, most notably due to influencers with inflated follower and engagement metrics, it doesn’t look like influencer marketing is going anywhere.
Why? It’s still able to yield incredible results. One study, for example, found that influencer marketing still generates up to 11x the ROI than traditional banner ads.
Types of influencers
So, what kind of influencers are there? And what is a micro-influencer?
While there is no official classification of influencers, the general consensus is to divide influencers according to the size of their following, roughly like this:
- Nano-influencers (1000+ followers)
- These are normal people with a few thousand followers, who have built small niche communities consisting of their friends and people with similar interests.
- Micro-influencers (10,000+ followers)
- Influencers with small but significant follower numbers, who have built engaged and passionate communities around niche topics.
- Macro-influencers (100,000+ followers)
- Professional influencers who have amassed large follower numbers and who regularly work with brands.
- Mega-influencers (1M+ followers)
- These influencers are the top-tier content creators and celebrities that usually come with a hefty price tag.
So who should brands choose to work with?
Let’s face it: not every one of us has the budget to pay a Kardashian, so that leaves the mega-tier out of question for most of us.
The most obvious choice would be to turn to macro-influencers. After all, they do come with coveted benefits:
Benefits of macro-influencers
1) They have a wide reach
As macro-influencers have sizeable audiences, you will reach a significant number if you choose to partner up with them. Their audiences will consist of a broad range of people united under their common interest in the influencer’s content.
This can be fantastic if your marketing goal is awareness, or if you want to leverage the popularity of the influencer for your own brand.
2) They’re professional
Macro-influencers are professional content creators and their content speaks for itself.
They’re used to working with brands, so you most likely know what you’re getting when working with them—appealing, high-quality content. They’re used to tracking metrics, and they know what resonates well with their audience. Sometimes you can even involve them in the process of designing a creative campaign or collaborative product.
3) You’ll spend less time identifying and managing them
As macro-influencers are established players within the social landscape of their niche, you’ll likely spend less time finding and selecting who to work with.
They’re likely working with a manager or talent network, so you’ll likely find the process of contacting them and setting up your campaign professional, streamlined and easy.
4) They have a strong brand
Macro-influencers have usually developed a strong brand that resonates well with their audience. Working with them can allow you to leverage a part of their brand appeal for your own brand.
Drawbacks of macro-influencers
Ah, it seems like macro-influencers have it all. The followers, the likes, the impressions… but when you dig deeper, working with them does come with some significant cons:
1) They have lower engagement rates
With macro-influencers, the numbers may look big in objective terms.
However, that may actually be a mere fraction of their entire followers.
According to one study, the average engagement rate of macro-influencers is only around 1.7%
Contrast this to micro-influencers, who have engagement rates between 2-3% (more on this later!).
The engagement of macro-influencers also consists more of likes than any other kind of engagement.
Why is this important? Liking a post can be done in two seconds, so it’s a lower-commitment engagement compared to comments and shares.
2) Their broader audience may be less passionate
When you work with macro-influencers you cast a wide net, but you can be less sure about what kind of fish you’ll catch.
As their content caters to a broader audience, their communities are likely less engaged and passionate.
In influencer marketing, the value a brand gets comes from tapping into the trust that exists between an influencer and their audience.
Since macro-influencers have broader audiences and they simply don’t have time to engage with them in the same way smaller influencers can, the relationship is less personal. A less personal relationship also often means less trust.
3) They’re perceived as less authentic
As macro-influencers frequently work with brands, their audience gets a fair share of branded content on a regular basis.
As with anything popular, dilution may happen over time.
A part of the audience may become desensitized to sponsored content, and recommendations coming from the influencer may start seeming less authentic.
This is a huge problem for marketers. If the authenticity and trust in the influencer aren’t there, you risk wasting your valuable marketing budget.
4) They come with a high cost and can take a long time to activate
Influencers of this caliber are usually represented by an agent or a talent network, so you’ll likely not deal with the influencer directly to start with.
As they’re in high demand, it may also take a long time for brands to establish a collaboration in their busy schedules.
In addition, these influencers usually also come with a hefty price tag.
So, this brings us to the question: why should marketers like you focus on smaller influencers?
Benefits of micro-influencers – and why you should make micro-influencers a key part of your marketing strategy
1) They have higher engagement rates
A recent study by Markerly showed that as follower numbers go up, the rate of likes tends to decrease. The same was true for comments.
Micro-influencer marketing is all about reaching an engaged audience that is big enough to still have an impact. Judging by the graph, the (ultimate) sweet spot seems to be somewhere between 1,000—-10,000 followers.
If this doesn’t immediately make you want to jump on the bandwagon, check out these stats:
- According to HelloSociety, micro-influencer campaigns have engagement rates up to 60% higher than macro-influencers.
- The same study also found their campaigns to be up to 6x more effective per engagement than campaigns of macro-influencers.
- One study found that 82% of surveyed consumers would consider buying a product if a micro-influencer recommended it.
2. They’re affordable
Even big non-celebrity influencers can be out of reach for many brands. Just take travel blogger Lauren Bullen (@gypsea_lust). She has stated that she won’t do a sponsored post for under $3,000. Good for Lauren, but as a marketer, I think: yikes.
Compare that to the average micro-influencer, who is likely happy to make a sponsored post simply for a complimentary product, or for a compensation of less than $500 for a post.
The cost-effectiveness of micro-influencers also means that brands can choose to work with several micro-influencers over time and reach more of an engaged audience in the long run.
3. They’re authentic
Let’s face it: it’s hard to relate to someone with a jet-set lifestyle and an army of followers greater than the population of Iceland.
Micro-influencers, on the other hand, are relatable. They’re still seen as regular people, as “one of us”.
Whereas big influencers produce polished content and may even have an entire team working behind the scenes, the content of micro-influencers seems more down-to-earth and real.
That’s why they tend to have more personal relationships with their audience and are seen as more authentic. They’re usually very invested in the community they’ve created, and spend more time interacting with their audience than bigger influencers. There is a deeper level of trust in these communities for brands to tap into.
Another plus of micro-influencers is that they are often motivated content creators who go above and beyond to impress their audience (and the brands they work with!).
4) They have niche audiences
The audiences of micro-influencers are often heavily engaged, close-knit tribes that focus on particular interests or topics.
Many micro-influencers tend to cater to more niche audiences, meaning that the community you reach is more targeted and likely to be more passionate about the topic. You’re also more likely to find niche influencers who are a perfect match with your brand’s values and positioning.
Let’s say you’re a brand producing low-carb sugar-free energy bars. You’re more likely to find an engaged audience using a nutritionist blogger who’s continuously sharing their tips and advice for ketogenic eating, rather than promoting your product with an attractive lifestyle influencer with 500,000 followers.
Drawbacks of micro-influencers
As with anything good in life, micro-influencers also have some drawbacks.
1) They have lower reach
Due to their lower numbers of followers, they have less reach and impressions.
2) They can be challenging to identify and manage
As there are many more micro-influencers out there, and they’re less established than macro-influencers, you’ll likely spend more time identifying and managing them.
3) They may need instruction
In some cases, micro-influencers with less experience may need some education and instruction, so collaborating with them may be more time-consuming.
4) It is not their full-time job
And, finally, being an influencer is not their full-time job. While they may be motivated, they may also be juggling other responsibilities in their lives, meaning potentially less time devoted to working with brands.
Macro vs. micro-influencers: who wins?
So, who wins the battle?
The answer depends on your marketing goals.
If the sole goal of your campaign is to raise awareness, macro-influencers might be your cup of tea. This is also the case if you’d like to tap into the brand image and credibility of a specific macro-influencer in your niche.
If you’re looking to leverage content from a skilled content creator and you like the style of a specific creator, macro-influencers are also a good bet.
However, if your goal is to get the most out of your marketing budget and drive engagement and conversions, you might just be better off going small.
Similarly, if you’re looking to build authenticity and to build a community around your brand, micro-influencers are the way to go.
Micro-influencer case studies
And finally, here are three case studies to inspire your future micro-influencer marketing strategies:
1) Scrunchie is Back
Scrunchie is Back is a French hair accessories brand, and pretty much the definition of a “digital native” company.
Founded in 2017, the brand relies on social media to direct traffic and drive conversions to its e-commerce website.
Despite a product that seems made for pretty product placement pictures social media, the brand initially struggled to pick up steam on social.
Sales were unremarkable. They didn’t have a community and struggled to gain visibility and credibility among their target group (young French women in their early 20s).
The brand used the influencer marketplace Hivency to find and team up with micro-influencers and ended up running 27 campaigns and 177 collaborations in six months, achieving visible results in just a few months.
The results? The micro-influencers reached 4M people in total, engagement rates increased up to 8.97% for the top-performing posts, and their Instagram content received 9.4k comments and 144k likes in total during the campaign period – a striking contrast to the average of 200 likes per post the brand was getting before.
Key lessons from their campaigns:
- Be mindful of who you partner with, make sure they fit your brand’s target demographic, positioning and image, and that their content is a seamless fit with yours.
- Use micro-influencers to generate consumer insights: track metrics to discover products that resonate with your target audience, and use this to inform your product development.
- Track campaign performance to find which influencers to make your brand ambassadors.
- Obtain usage rights to user-generated content and repurpose this in your own communication channels.
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Sandcloud is a California-based beach towel company driven by a mission of sustainability and protecting marine life, donating 10% of their proceeds to marine conservation.
Since its founding in 2014, the company has done $20 million in sales, largely thanks to its unique network of brand ambassadors on social media.
The company searches for micro-influencers at scale, contacting thousands of nano and micro-influencers per year. In addition to being a fit with the brand image, they look for influencers with an interest in anything related to their brand; from surfing to cleaning away ocean plastic.
They approach the influencers with a powerful offer: an opportunity to be a brand ambassador and support a cause they care about, coupled with a discount on the products.
What’s astonishing about their approach is that they never give away free products. What seems to work is giving people a chance to publicly support a popular cause they care about.
If you’re not convinced, consider this: they’ve built one of the largest online brand ambassador programs in the US, with over 200,000 people signed up as ambassadors. And get this: sales are expected to more than double in 2019.
Key lessons from their campaigns:
- Have a mission that resonates with your target audience to build a long-term, passionate community around your brand.
- Be clear and strong in communicating the values your brand stands for, and it will resonate with the right target group.
- Use micro-influencers at scale to build community and create visibility.
- You don’t always have to compensate influencers monetarily: the chance to be publicly associated with a popular, inspiring cause can serve as a big motivator.
- Incentivize your audience to become long-term brand ambassadors by offering discounts, points and exclusive offers.
3) Kimpton Hotels
Kimpton Hotels is a boutique hotel chain operating two sub-brands, Hotel Monaco and Hotel Palomar. The chain promotes its two Philadelphia hotels from a joint Instagram account (@kimptoninphl), focusing on micro-influencers.
Analyzing their Instagram, the brand does two things very well: they collaborate with local micro-influencers (which is somewhat unusual for a hotel brand) for promotions and content creation, and they use less-known collaboration styles, such as Instagram takeovers (which is when an influencer creates original content for the brand and posts the content as themselves on the brand profile), to promote their hotels.
These tactics give Kimpton Hotels a pool of great content to post, as well as the opportunity to connect with new audiences, increase engagement and ultimately, drive new bookings.
Take this Instagram takeover from micro-influencer Brendan Lowry (@brendanlowry) as an example.
Brendan posted the same image on his own and the Kimpton Instagram account, using appropriate tags, geotags and hashtags. This exposed Kimpton Hotels to Brendan’s 34.7k followers and brought traffic to the Kimpton’s account.
The results? Within a three-day period, Kimpton increased its followers by 13.3% and the takeover created 40% more likes per post. Even after the photo, the average likes per post went up by 65%.
Key lessons from their campaigns:
- Leverage micro-influencers to create content and cross-promote on each communication channel.
- Explore various ways of collaborating with influencers, such as with Stories or Feed takeovers.
- Encourage your audience to share their content with branded hashtags.
Hungry for more? Check out our interview about influencer marketing with Pamela Kauppinen, Senior Vice President of Strategy at HelloSociety here.
Need more tips? More in-depth guidance? Read our comprehensive guidebook to influencer marketing below 👇