Not all influencers are household names with huge audiences. Many of them are everyday people who make niche content for small followings. But what these smaller-scale influencers lack in reach, they make up for in cost-effectiveness and audience engagement.
What Are Nano-Influencers?
Take Laur DeMartino, a full-time college student and part-time content creator, as an example. With just under 6,000 Instagram followers, DeMartino is what is known as a nano-influencer. When she posts social media content that’s sponsored by brands like Lululemon and SeatGeek, she charges anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars per deal, based on the number of deliverables, she told Insider.
While DeMartino’s follower count may be smaller than that of a celebrity, she has a whopping 38 percent engagement rate (engagement rate is a metric found by dividing the number of likes by the number of followers).
Contrast that with supermodel Kendall Jenner, who, with nearly 200 million Instagram followers, charges brands hundreds of thousands of dollars per sponsored post, and has an engagement rate of less than three percent.
That’s why marketers who want the most bang for their buck often choose to partner with nano-influencers on their campaigns.
What Are Nano-Influencers?
Nano-influencers generally have between 1,000 and 10,000 social media followers. That puts them a rung below micro-influencers, whom some 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. It’s 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.
Why Do Brands Work With Nano-Influencers?
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 a celebrity like 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.
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 438,000 creators — with an average Instagram following of around 7,000 — are signed up on the Heartbeat platform. And around 160 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 in 2020. “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.”
Relatively Low Cost
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, because you can get a high volume of them, Lasquite added.
If you’re Pepsi, paying Kendall Jenner 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.
Some nano-influencers create sponsored posts in exchange for free products from the brand. For example, Troy Burrows, a college basketball player and nano-influencer, shared a sponsored Instagram post for Allbirds in exchange for the shirt he posed in.
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 Kendall Jenner post, a brand could, in theory, mobilize thousands of 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.”
Quick Content Production
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 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.”
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. 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 nano-influencers 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.