Nano-Influencers: Marketing’s Not-So-Secret Weapon

Their social media followings are small but hyper-loyal, making them a favorite for marketers.
Hal Koss
November 16, 2020
Updated: November 18, 2020
Hal Koss
November 16, 2020
Updated: November 18, 2020

Dwayne Johnson makes a million dollars every time he publishes a sponsored post on Instagram for his 200 million followers to see.

Recently, he shared a photo of wireless earbuds, and it got 1.8 million likes. A massive number, no question, but it amounts to less than 1 percent of his follower count.

Compare that to Gabby Whiten, a nano-influencer and Ph.D. student at New York University who shared a sponsored photo of dish soap with her then-3,000 Instagram followers. Her post got more than 300 likes — around 10 percent engagement. Dish soap!

Whiten told HuffPost her pay rate around that time for creating one Instagram feed post, a handful of Instagram story frames and a blog post was $145 plus a $120 gift card.

Marketers enjoy working with nano-influencers for exactly this reason. What they lack in reach, they make up for with a highly engaged audience. And they don’t cost a million dollars.

What Are Nano-Influencers?

Nano-influencers are content creators and everyday people who have between 1,000 and 10,000 followers and sometimes advertise products on social media. They tend to be a trusted voice with highly engaged followers, which is why brands like working with them.


Who Are Nano-Influencers — and Why Do Marketers Love Them?

Follower-count-wise, nano-influencers are a rung below micro-influencers, whom marketers describe as people having anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 followers. Beyond that, there are macro-influencers (250,000 to one million followers) and mega-influencers or celebrities (more than one million followers).

Nano-influencers are our friends, neighbors and coworkers — the barber who’s into wristwatches, the cousin who shares baking recipes, the high school crush who now swears by CBD oil. You might even be a nano-influencer yourself. All it takes is having a thousand followers and a point of view people like — along with a willingness to post the occasional sponcon.

Brian Freeman, CEO of Heartbeat, an influencer-marketing platform, described nano-influencers as creators who are followed by their “circles of influence” — and not too many people beyond that.

“Take somebody who’s got 1,300 followers or 2,400 followers and they’re 25 [years old]. Well, who are those followers? Their friends from high school, their friends from college, their young professional community,” he told Built In.

Freeman doesn’t view this limited reach as a disadvantage, though. In fact, he sees the focus and intimacy that come with a small following as the secret sauce that makes nano-influencer marketing so effective.

“People have always leaned on the advice of their peers when making purchase decisions,” Freeman said. “If you’re hearing a recommendation from somebody you trust and somebody who doesn’t do endorsements lightly, then that’s going to significantly impact your perception of the brand being promoted ... and influence you toward a purchase.”

“People have always leaned on the advice of their peers when making purchase decisions.”

It’s not hard to see the logic: If Dwayne Johnson shares a photo of him wearing and recommending a pair of sneakers, I pay no mind, but if my buddy from college who posts cool menswear videos and has discerning taste does the same thing, I might be tempted to check out the shoes.

It’s the authenticity (or the appearance of it) that warms me up to a product recommendation. Brands tap into this consumer psychology when they launch nano-influencer campaigns.

“If a brand had the ability to spin up a thousand [nano-] influencers or one big influencer with a similar reach, dollars to donuts, they’re going to get more sales and better customer value out of spinning up those thousand nano-influencers,” Freeman said.


scale nano influencers
Images: Shutterstock / Built In

Nano-Influencers Drive Quality Engagement

Because nano-influencers are seen as more authentic and approachable than celebrities, their posts tend to generate engagement — in the form of comments, likes and click-throughs — at a much higher rate than posts made by someone with a follower count in the hundreds of thousands.

Freeman told me engagement rates with influencers typically follow a linear pattern: The smaller the following, the higher the engagement rate, the larger the following, the lower the engagement rate.

According to him, about 330,000 creators — with an average Instagram following between 3,000 and 5,000 and an average TikTok following of about 10,000 — are signed up on the Heartbeat platform. And around 125 brands use the platform to hire those influencers for social media campaigns.

“With a micro- or nano-influencer, [people are] commenting because they like the person, they like their personality, they like what they have to say.”

The average influencer on Heartbeat’s platform with 1,000 to 5,000 followers has an engagement rate anywhere from 5 to 10 percent, Freeman said. If they have between 5,000 and 10,000 followers, the engagement rate typically hovers between 3 and 5 percent.

Rachelle Lasquite, a creative strategist at The Shelf, an influencer-marketing agency, said a nano-influencer’s ability to generate engagement is not just limited to quantity — the quality of engagement tends to be higher as well.

“If you look at the comments [on posts made by larger influencers], most people are commenting to get followers themselves or to troll people,” Lasquite told Built In. “But with a micro- or nano-influencer, [people are] commenting because they like the person, they like their personality, they like what they have to say.”

ReadGood User-Generated Content Is Hard to Find


When to Go With Nanos

Brands often work with nano-influencers when they want to target specific niches and stretch their marketing dollars, or if they’re “looking to do more of an awareness play,” Lasquite said.

If a brand is new, or is launching a fresh product, and wants to get the word out, “working with nano-influencers is a great way to do it,” Lasquite added, “because you can get a high volume of them.”

If you’re Pepsi, paying Kendall Jenner (142 million Instagram followers) to post a smiling photo with your blue can makes sense. If you’re a new startup that sells vegan dog treats, though, you’d probably generate more high-impact awareness if you paid 50 wellness-forward dog lovers with 3,000 followers each to post about it. Plus, you couldn’t afford Kendall Jenner anyway.

Some nano-influencers create sponsored posts in exchange for free products from the brand. Others will charge anywhere between $25 and $50 on the low end to a several hundred dollars on the high end, depending on engagement metrics, brand category and deliverables. (Publishing one in-feed post and one story is a common arrangement).

For the price of one sponsored Dwayne Johnson post, a brand could, in theory, mobilize roughly 10,000 nano-influencers. And their posts could target highly specific demographics and reach very trusting consumers.

“Brands need a high volume of content, and nano-influencers’ price points allow them to get a lot of content created.”

Using nano-influencers is also a way for new brands to test the waters without breaking the bank, Freeman said.

If a brand is early in its lifecycle and unsure who its core audience is, it might experiment by dispatching nano-influencers to different demographic subsets and seeing where the most sales come from, allocating future investments to wherever it found success. It’s a low-risk strategy that helps brands pinpoint exactly who to target.

Nano-influencers can also be prolific content creators for brands in a hurry or on a budget.

“Brands need a high volume of [content], and nano-influencers’ price points allow them to get a lot of content created,” Freeman said. “They can then use it in ads at a pretty low price point.”

Tapping nano-influencers to create user-generated content is an increasingly popular option for brands that want to obtain high-quality creative assets cheaply and quickly.

Lasquite recently worked with a brand that, due to the pandemic, couldn’t pay for a full creative team or coordinate a full-scale production. So it turned to The Shelf for help finding nano-influencers with exceptional photography on their social profiles.

“With this client, their goal was really just to get content, just assets,” Lasquite said. “So that’s where nano-influencers play a really big role. [They] have really high-quality content, because they’re still  building up their followings. ... They’re putting in a lot of effort, and their photography is typically really great.”


women nano influencers
Image: Shutterstock / Built In

What About Brand Safety?

Brands often enter nano-influencer marketing with a little bit of trepidation. You know what you’re getting with a celebrity who has a reputation to maintain. But someone who only has a thousand followers? Trusting them to be your brand ambassador might feel risky.

When influencer marketing was just getting started a few years ago, content review was almost always a must, Freeman said. Lately, though, brands have started to relax. They trust that, after giving the nano-influencer an idea of what they’re looking for, something that’s high quality and on brand will be delivered. In fact, some brands realize that too much interference on their part will only diminish the authenticity of the post, which is the reason they’re using a nano-influencer in the first place.

Indeed, authenticity is something brands fiercely protect when they enlist the services of a nano-influencer. They are wary of working with nanos who are, as Lasquite put it, “grabbing any opportunity that they can.” Agencies and platforms tend to steer brands away from nano-influencers who are hawking products on every other post. The nano-influencers savvy brands want to work with will sprinkle sponsored content into social feeds that are mostly full of candid, personal, non-sponsored content, which makes the sponsored posts feel all the more special — and authentic.

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