In an age where aspirational advertising has largely given way to authenticity, businesses have turned to micro-influencers — many of whom traffic in relatable personas and genuine connections with their social media followers — for help.
What Is a Micro-Influencer?
A micro-influencer has a social media presence larger than a normal person’s but smaller than a celebrity’s, landing between 1,000 and 100,000 followers. (Some say anything less than 10,000 followers makes someone a nano-influencer.) Micro-influencers promote products that align with their interests or expertise to their followers — think a food blogger promoting a meal prep service or a travel writer sharing their favorite suitcase brands.
Brands enlist the help of micro-influencers, who have built trust with their followers, to provide an authentic endorsement of their products at a much lower price tag than celebrity influencers.
“In a world where people are tired of advertising and celebrity endorsements, I think micro-influencers are really able to cut through the noise with the authenticity brands need,” Emma Ferrara, director of sales and business development at Viral Nation, told Built In.
“People are tired of advertising and celebrity endorsements.”
In conversations about influencer marketing, the word “authenticity” comes up a lot. And, in the world of micro-influencers, authenticity is currency — social media users develop it by building rapport with their audiences, and brands try to harness it.
For example, Victoria’s Secret partnered with Viral Nation to conduct a Pink marketing campaign led by micro-influencers. After analyzing women’s social media presences with proprietary software, Viral Nation selected 175 college-age women to serve as brand ambassadors and paid them to post pictures featuring Pink merchandise. In addition to having 5,000 Instagram followers, each ambassador was chosen based on several factors:
- Aesthetics: What does this person’s Instagram profile look like, and what vibe does that create?
- Diversity: What types of people follow this person? How will that follower make-up help Pink run a successful campaign?
- Psychographics: Which accounts do those followers follow, and what does that indicate about them?
This micro-influencer experiment has led Victoria’s Secret to create a Pink campus reps program, reaching younger women on college campuses across the country. Connecting brands with the right ambassadors is a big part of what influencer marketing agencies like Viral Nation offer. This way, clients have access to rosters of social media personas in different verticals.
Benefits of Working With Micro-Influencers
If brands were paying only for reach, they probably wouldn’t work with micro-influencers. But micro-influencers have one metric on lock, Ferrara said, and that’s engagement — the number of shares, likes and comments a piece of online content earns. Micro-influencers may have more frequent and genuine interactions with their audiences because those followers are largely friends or acquaintances. Or maybe they all share a niche interest.
“People today really want a recommendation they can trust, and they want an unbiased opinion.”
What matters, Ferrara said, is that micro-influencers and their audiences have been influencing each other long before a brand enters the equation. Maybe someone shared that they visited a new breakfast cafe or bought the latest iPhone. Those plugs feel authentic because they are authentic — at least by anyone’s best measure. Micro-influencers share their favorite products, looks, places or services of their own volition. So, when a paid partnership shows up, that brand benefits from the influencer’s perceived trustworthiness.
And micro-influencer campaigns have the engagement rates to prove it — 150 percent the rates of celebrity campaigns, Ferrara said.
When a celebrity shares a product, followers probably view the post as an advertisement. But when a micro-influencer shares, followers ideally view the post as a real endorsement and are more likely to ask questions or send the post to friends.
“People today really want a recommendation they can trust, and they want an unbiased opinion,” Ferrara said. “I think that’s part of the allure.”
Another advantage of working with micro-influencers is their affordability. Unlike more mainstream influencers and celebrities, micro-influencers don’t have hundreds of thousands of followers. As a result, they’re more likely to charge less for their services.
Marketers should still keep in mind that rates depend on several factors. The type of content could influence pricing. After all, there’s a big difference between sharing a short written message versus creating a longer video about a product. And if a company partners with an influencer on a seasonal basis, they might raise their rates to match the seasonal demand of the products and brands they’re advertising.
However, the more focused approach of micro-influencers makes any costs seem trivial. Although celebrities might be able to reach far more followers, many of these followers may not be interested in a particular product or topic. Micro-influencers give brands access to more targeted audiences who share common interests or passions, enabling marketing teams to get more bang for their buck.
A micro-influencer’s connection with their audience is valuable to brands, but so is the content they create.
The explosive success of platforms like TikTok has shown brands that low-fi, goofy, user-generated content has just as much — and probably more — impact on viewers than polished content styled and shot by professionals.
Viral Nation encourages brands to make the most of micro-influencers’ posts by taking those images and using them for paid ads, on websites and even in stores.
“It gives your brand a sense of — what’s the word here — ‘relatability,’ right?” Ferrara said. “It shows people that your brand isn’t just this vague, ominous thing. It’s humans. And humans are on the receiving end of [marketing content], so it feels like you’re speaking to yourself.”
Some clients that switched from branded content to influencer-generated content for paid ad campaigns saw a 100 percent increase in click-through rate, Ferrara added.
Fashion and beauty companies have created a stomping ground on Instagram, but brands in other verticals leverage micro-influencer marketing as well.
For a food brand partnering with an ASMR micro-influencer, the connection is subtle yet powerful: Viewers watch ASMR content to feel happy and relaxed. If a particular food product shows up in that content, viewers might associate that product with pleasant feelings and buy the product to reproduce those feelings.
Tech is also no exception. Chinese tech giant Tencent worked with Viral Nation to partner with 300 online gamers for its launch of the game PUBG Mobile. Rather than pay them money, Tencent incentivized its ambassadors to post feature reviews or screengrabs with in-game tokens and rewards. Each micro-influencer could then convince their fellow gamers and followers to purchase the game.
It’s not obvious how each strategy leads to profits, and that’s the key to this approach. Micro-influencers still have to maintain a persona and earn the trust of their followers, but now corporate partners are also reaping the rewards of their work behind the scenes.
Few marketing strategies can match the impact of micro-influencer marketing, and nobody knows this better than Hailey Dezort, Marketing Manager at Kaye Publicity. Before Dezort joined the boutique marketing agency to help promote books and authors, she was already running a personal Instagram account dedicated almost entirely to books.
“For a very long time, I just didn’t have a lot of friends who were avid readers,” she said. “I was on Instagram and discovered this little corner of the internet. It was a totally different community where we just discussed books that we were really passionate about.”
Dezort builds Kaye Publicity’s infrastructure of influence by doing what she’d like publicity firms to do for her: She sends them a bunch of books. If they read them and post about them, great. If they don’t, no problem. Real influence, when it happens, comes from a genuine love of the product.
To make this approach work, Dezort spends time studying the online presence of bloggers, Instagrammers and TikTok users to discern their tastes. Do they tend to enjoy romance, young adult fiction, memoirs or translations? Who follows them, and what do those people enjoy? Match the right person with the right book, and their enthusiasm ends up speaking for itself.
On “BookTok,” for example, creators throw themselves into summarizing and commenting on young adult novels, Dezort said.
“They’ll get really funny with it. They’ll talk about their favorite characters that they [want to see get together]. And you’re like: ‘Oh, who are those characters? What book is that from?’ And then you end up down a Google rabbit hole, which is the whole point, right?”
Other times, Dezort’s firm has sent books to influencers with an offer to meet the author if they enjoy the story. Sometimes, it goes over so well that the recipient starts a reading group with some followers to finish the book and chat with the writer together. As they post about the book club’s progress, more people often ask to join.
“Right there, something is working,” Dezort said. “And it didn’t take an unreal, inauthentic campaign.”
How to Find Micro-Influencers
For brands eager to embrace micro-influencer marketing, it’s important not to jump into a partnership with just anyone. Marketers may want to consider strategies for finding micro-influencers who fit a company’s markets, values and campaign needs.
Conduct Hashtag Searches
Hashtag searches on social media platforms like Instagram allow marketers to scan platforms for people posting content related to their specific niches. For example, marketers at a shoe company may look up hashtags like #shoesaddict and #shoeslover on Instagram and locate users who regularly post content under these hashtags.
While carrying out a hashtag search, smaller businesses may want to target local micro-influencers as well. Going back to the shoe example, the marketing team could narrow their search with the hashtag #shoesloverchicago.
Perform Wider Searches With Search Engines
Marketing teams can also use search engines to cast a wider net. When typing a description into a search engine, it helps to be as descriptive as possible. A Boston sushi restaurant, for instance, may look up “east coast sushi blogs” to find a nearby micro-influencer.
Besides individual blogs, marketers may want to pay attention to posts on online forums like Reddit or Yelp, social media group pages and other sources that appear in the search engine results page.
Tap Into Your Follower Base
Brands may not have to look far to find a micro-influencer — since some micro-influencers may already be following them. Companies can review their followers and keep an eye out for names that include a topic or trend. In the case of a restaurant, a follower with the name “chicagofoodblogger” hints at a potential micro-influencer account. Of course, marketers will want to review promising accounts to verify the content and determine if a micro-influencer would be a good fit for their company or campaign.
Explore Influencer Marketing Platforms
To speed up the recruitment process, brands can use influencer marketing platforms. These companies make it easy for brands to find the right sort of influencer for their campaigns.
Partner With an Influencer Marketing Agency
Marketers who don’t have the time or resources to conduct their own searches can let influencer marketing agencies do the brunt of the work for them. Some agencies even offer to assist brands with campaign development, planning out certain content and tracking marketing results.
Best Practices for Using Micro-Influencers
Marketers can get the most out of a micro-influencer partnership by following these best practices for working with micro-influencers.
Define Your Marketing Strategy and Campaign Goals
Marketers can ensure a smooth experience for themselves and micro-influencers by developing clear goals. Do marketers want to increase brand awareness, sales numbers or web traffic? Do they prefer video content, short written posts or a mix of both? Addressing questions like these can inform how marketers craft an influencer campaign and help them be more upfront with micro-influencers about what they want out of the partnership.
Vet a Micro-Influencer’s Feed
Before fully committing to a micro-influencer, be sure to evaluate their profile. Marketers can check if a micro-influencer’s posts have received plenty of comments from followers, if they post content related to their brand’s products and if this influencer seems like someone who would purchase their company’s products. Verifying these details not only helps marketers find a successful micro-influencer, but also ensures they partner with an influencer who could realistically be seen as an authentic customer.
Get to Know a Micro-Influencer
While it doesn’t have to be a formal interview, marketers may want to at least meet with a micro-influencer before enlisting their services. This provides an opportunity for the team to determine how good of a fit an influencer is for their brand and campaign. If a micro-influencer has a personal connection with a company or product, marketers can also discuss with the influencer if they’d be interested in a long-term partnership like an ambassador program.
Align on Brand Standards
Establishing brand standards for micro-influencer campaigns goes beyond just the look and feel of the content. The type of content posted and the tone used in visual and written messages are still crucial marketing elements. But marketing teams may also want to lay out some guidelines for how micro-influencers present themselves in branded content and how they engage with their followers when posting about the company.
Make Room for Micro-Influencer Input
At the same time, setting too many boundaries can be restrictive for micro-influencers. Marketers can solicit feedback and suggestions from micro-influencers to inform their campaigns and how they tailor content to an influencer’s followers. This way, a micro-influencer can produce content that meets the needs of a brand while maintaining the authenticity that earned the trust of their followers in the first place.
Analyze and Refine Micro-Influencer Campaigns
Marketing teams need to compile and analyze data from micro-influencer campaigns to maximize their results. Which posts received the most likes, shares and comments? Do a micro-influencer’s posts perform better when they share a certain type of content or cover a specific topic? Sifting through the data to uncover these trends enables marketers and micro-influencers to pivot when needed and fine-tune their marketing campaign strategy.
What Is Social Media Influence?
Transactional micro-influencer marketing campaigns — in which brands compensate influencers for access to their audiences — offer all the benefits mentioned above. But, according to The Influencer Code author Amanda Russell, those campaigns can miss the point.
“Excitement about a brand can’t be a mandate. It cannot be like, ‘We’re going to pay you to do this as a one-off,’” she said. “That’s just advertising. I think companies are getting social media advertising confused with true influencer marketing.”
“Companies are getting social media advertising confused with true influencer marketing.”
In fact, according to Russell, who created the influencer marketing curricula at the University of California–Los Angeles and the University of Texas–Austin, influencer marketing was a concept long before social media even existed. Back then, it was simply known as word-of-mouth marketing.
That conflation of social media advertising and micro-influencer marketing has led to other misunderstandings, Russell said. To lead more effective marketing campaigns, brands should enlist the services of micro-influencers.
Brands Gain More From Higher-Quality Connections
Any influencer marketing campaign should start with setting goals that tie back to money and market share. However, it can be easy to get caught up in tracking vanity metrics that put too much emphasis on growth factors unrelated to a company’s success. Rather than rely on quantity-based variables, companies should improve the quality of their marketing by homing in on target audiences.
Micro-influencers excel in building high-quality relationships, becoming the go-to people for product info and recommendations. Partnering with micro-influencers isn’t about casting a wide net. Instead, a micro-influencer offers a smaller network of connections that are grounded in trust and are more likely to yield consistent long-term sales for brands as a result.
Micro-Influencer Marketing Happens Off Social Media Too
A brand’s target audience may turn to traditional online influencers for advice, but, especially in B2B markets, the odds are far better that they turn to micro-influencers in the form of coworkers, industry thinkers and business leaders.
In those cases, social media may not even come into play.
Referrals, for example, are micro-influencer marketing — people rely on trusted vendors, clients or coworkers to recommend helpful solutions. If B2B companies can identify those micro-influencers and get the right product in front of them at the right time, it’s influencer marketing done right.
Russell talked about a case study she’d read from Tractor Supply Co., a retail chain for farmers. At first glance, agriculture seems like a bad vertical for successful micro-influencer marketing. But Tractor Supply went for it anyway, starting by researching its target customers.
It found that the chicken farmers who bought feed at Tractor Supply also enjoyed a radio show called “Backyard Poultry With The Chicken Whisperer,” hosted by Andy Schneider, also known as the Chicken Whisperer.
“Twenty thousand people tune in daily Monday through Friday to a guy talking about chicken farming,” Russell stressed.
So, Tractor Supply partnered with Schneider to do in-store chicken-care workshops.
“Every time he does one, he packs the house and sells, on average, 100 chickens. And not just the chickens, he sells all the feed and supplies and paraphernalia that go with them,” Russell said. “So now, my question to any brand — whether it’s B2B or B2C — is: Who is your chicken whisperer?”
Micro-Influencers’ Trustworthiness Matters More Than Popularity
Influence, Russell said, is an outcome, not a job title for marketers or social media personas.
In other words, a high follower count doesn’t equate to influence, which ties back to the differences between celebrity influencers and micro-influencers. But neither does a meticulously crafted profile or high engagement from followers.
“Social media is a communication tool to amplify and distribute a message. Whether or not you have influence over that audience is an entirely different thing,” Russell said.
Influence is the power to change people’s behaviors, which could come from relevant expertise, community repute or personal relationships. Micro-influencers may have one or all of these variables at their command, but none of it should matter to businesses if a micro-influencer can’t convince followers to actually buy a product or service.
10 Examples of Brands Successfully Using Micro-Influencers
With an understanding of influencer marketing and how to work with micro-influencers, companies can boost their brand awareness and digital presence. Below are 10 businesses that have done just that through micro-influencer partnerships.
Carmaker Subaru is known for the active and outdoorsy lifestyle associated with its vehicles, and the brand leaned into this connection in its Meet An Owner campaign. The company teamed up with 20 influencers, each of whom posted several pieces of content on Instagram. Audiences caught a glimpse of how Subaru vehicles supported the lifestyles of each influencer, allowing Subaru to raise its brand recognition among younger users on Instagram.
Adidas is joining the NIL movement by creating an NIL network for college athletes. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the program allows student-athletes of any gender to become affiliate brand ambassadors for the company. The NIL network first became available to student-athletes at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, with the goal of growing to encompass over 50,000 college athletes. The program also cements Adidas’ commitment to its Impossible Is Nothing campaign, promoting a more inclusive landscape in college sports.
Target has made its brand more approachable by welcoming media created by micro-influencers and everyday customers. Hashtags like #TargetStyle give Target the chance to feature customer-generated content on its website, adding a degree of authenticity to the brand. In addition, Target draws in micro-influencers with its Partner Program, which rewards influencers with an 8 percent commission when they post about Target products.
Staying true to its philosophy of treating regular people like influencers, Glossier has risen to the top of the beauty industry with a strong brand ambassador program. In the past, the company developed an individual landing page for each ambassador, allowing followers to easily access products and read more about an influencer’s insights and tips. To continue to expand its affiliate program, Glossier offers a 10 percent sales commission, first looks at product launches and other ambassador-specific perks.
HelloFresh has broken into new markets by employing micro-influencers to spread the word about its services. For example, the company deployed a ReFresh campaign in the UK, working with 15 influencers to promote the benefits and joys of cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients. Those interested in partnering with HelloFresh can now apply through the company’s site and start off earning a $10 commission.
6. Amazon Audible
To generate more excitement around its Audible service, Amazon took an unusual approach by partnering with photographer Jesse Driftwood. Driftwood opened up to his followers about how he uses Audible to listen to books on business management and productivity. This personal post about continuous learning struck a chord with Driftwood’s followers, rewarding Amazon for steering clear of the typical sales pitch.
Sperry has an established network of brand ambassadors through its affiliate program, which offers a 3 percent commission, 30-day return window and other benefits. This program has worked wonders for Sperry, as seen in its 2016 wet weather boot campaign. To make customers aware of its new wet weather offerings, the company teamed up with fashion influencers. These influencers shared content during the rainy season, showing off their Sperry Saltwater boots and tagging each post with the hashtag #ootd (outfit of the day).
8. La Croix
La Croix has capitalized on the buzz around healthier alternatives to sodas and has carried this momentum to platforms like Instagram. The company has partnered with Whole30 and shared social media images of fans under the hashtag #Whole30approved. Fans can also share photos of themselves with La Croix through the hashtags #LaCroixlove and #LiveLaCroix. The company has made such a major splash on social media through micro-influencers that a micro-influencer guide has been modeled on the company’s approach.
Canon has cultivated a wide network of brand ambassadors, and it’s targeting the next generation of photographers with its college ambassador program. As members of the program, students produce Canon-focused promotional content geared specifically for TikTok. Student ambassadors earn compensation and free Canon products while Canon builds rapport with a younger demographic, making this a win-win situation for both parties.
10. Quest Nutrition
Quest Nutrition harnesses the energy of its most passionate customers and channels it through its Quest Squad group. This community is made up of Quest Nutrition “super fans” who participate in ‘missions’ by sharing Quest Nutrition-related content on their social media. In exchange for supporting the company’s digital presence, Quest Squad members can enjoy free products, company swag and experiences.