Matthew Urwin | Oct 25, 2022

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.

Micro-Influencer Definition

A micro-influencer has between 1,000 and 100,000 social media followers and uses their social media presence to promote products relevant to their interests or expertise.

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.

Micro-Influencers: The Future of Influencing? | Video: Forbes


Benefits of Working With Micro-Influencers

Increased Engagement

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.”

Read This NextIs an Authentic Influencer an Oxymoron? Bekah Martinez Doesn’t Think So.


Relatable Content

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.

Related ReadingInfluencer Marketing Has a New Edge: College Athletes


Outside-the-Box Ideas

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.


Intimate Connections

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.”


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.

Related ReadingInfluencer Marketing Works a Bit Differently in Tech


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.


Alexandria Jacobson contributed reporting to this story.

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