Ad Age Oped authored by CLEVER Founder & Chief Innovation Officer, Kristy Sammis

Influencer marketing is booming, and while there’s still much debate over industry standards and best practices, one thing is clear: micro-influencers are the “it girl” of 2017.

Even in last week’s Ad Age thought piece, “In Defense of the Celebrity Influencer,” author Seth Kean identifies micro-influencers as “advertisers’ new social media darlings.”

There’s a reason for this. Micro-influencers are small but mighty, and solve a host of sticky advertising challenges in ways no other tactic can.

What’s A Micro-Influencer? 

First, let’s be clear about what micro-influencers are and aren’t. Micro-influencers are people with social media accounts who can inspire their audiences to take action. They’re not household names like celebrity influencers, and they’re not “internet famous” like certain YouTube and Instagram stars.

Beyond that, the spectrum of “micro-influencer” is broad and impossible to define by follower counts (for example: “a micro-influencer must have more than 10,000 followers but not more than 100,000”) because a) those thresholds are completely subjective; and b) follower counts only part of what makes someone influential (there’s also the sad reality that people still buy followers to seem more popular than they actually are).

Instead, micro-influencers should be identified and engaged based on advertisers’ needs. Start by asking: What is it you want your influencers to do? What strategic role in your campaign will influencers play? Set your goals, then go find who you need.

Yes, engaging influencers is strategic. We’re well past the days of “Let’s have some bloggers write reviews” or hoping that a handful of celebrity influencers will have any lasting impact on a campaign. Micro-influencers are a powerful force, solve several advertising problems, and drive sales.

Why Micro-Influencers Change Everything

Authenticity, Still
You get it: Influencer marketing is meaningful, because consumers trust their peers more than brands. Coupons posted by individuals are shared 10x more than coupons posted by brands, for example.

But what you may not know: the smaller the influencer, the more trustworthy their audience finds them. We’ve observed consistently over the last near-decade that polished, professional celebrities — even those who are only famous online — are less trusted by their audiences.

The more prominent an influencer is, the more skeptical their followers tend to be of sponsored content. It’s also easier for followers to tune it out.

The Best Engagement

Study after study finds that as follower counts go down, engagement goes up.

Intuitively, we know this is because lesser-known influencers’ audiences feel more connected to whom they’re following; the relationship micro-influencers share with their audience is more personal than that of prominent influencers.

Consider which feels more special: being one of 23 commenters or one of 23,000?

What’s even more remarkable is how people engage with micro-influencers versus bigger influencers. Our research consistently shows that as an influencer grows in prominence, so does the percentage of negative engagement. Audiences of “celebrity influencers” are more likely to react negatively to sponsored posts than audiences of micro-influencers.

Cost-Effective Content

High-tier influencers are expensive. YouTubers with a million followers can command $50K, $75K, even $100K for a single sponsored video! And for what results?

A professional YouTube video may generate lots of views, but still suffer from low and/or negative engagement.

Meanwhile, for a $100K spend, advertisers could engage hundreds of micro-influencers to create and distribute (share) content. Rather than one glossy video that performs much like brand-generated content, a micro-influencer program would deliver several authentic videos, reach broader audiences, generate more collective views, produce higher engagement, and create more positive brand sentiment.

Mass Distribution: The New Programmatic

Many tools and specialized agencies focus on helping brands engage micro-influencers to develop creative, authentic, engageable content at scale. Why commission one video when you can have 50 brand advocates create video for the same cost?

Or, say, 500 Instagrammers?

What about 5,000 Instagrammers?

It’s possible to engage thousands of influencers quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively to either create content at scale, or to distribute content at scale. A handful of agencies specialize in micro-influencer activations that allow brands to “turn on” influencer sharing similar to setting up a Facebook ad.

Imagine if, rather than a display ad announcing the launch of a new product, your brand had 5,000 actual human beings, identified using audience insights, sharing information about your product with their friends, family, and extended audiences?

The latter is far more powerful, trackable, and impervious to ad-blockers.

That’s the new power of micro-influencers.

The Big Micro Picture

The influencer marketing industry has matured. Influencers aren’t just a tactic, but a strategic solution. A full-scale influencer program can now include:

– Brand content (like a Super Bowl ad spot) at the top, introducing messaging

– 20 to 200+ influencers creating original content, based on brand messaging, in their own ways via their preferred channels (video, Instagram, blogs, etc.)

– Thousands of vetted, targeted content sharers distributing the above content

A brand would enjoy mass content creation and distribution guaranteed to meet reach, engagement, and even conversion KPIs. And in an industry landscape where demonstrating value is more important than it’s ever been, a brand would be hard-pressed to gain the same quality of results from use of a celebrity influencer.



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