The world of influencer marketing has changed considerably over the past couple of years. While early examples were all about using influencers with the biggest audiences – it now seems to be a case of less is more. 

Many brands are using micro-influencers – people with a smaller number of followers on social media, but who create a much bigger impact. Yet with an endless pool of micro-influencers to choose from - and a much lengthier planning process - how can brands ensure they find the right fit? 

More to the point, will the micro-influencer bubble eventually burst?

Here’s a short recap on the benefits micro-influencers can bring, the challenges, as well as how to connect with the right ones for your brand.

What are the benefits of using micro-influencers?

Lower costs: Before we get into the potential results of micro-influencer campaigns, there’s no denying that one of the biggest benefits is that the approach is far less costly than using celebrities or well-known influencers. It is therefore a much more viable solution for smaller brands looking to expand their reach on social platforms, or simply those that are still unsure whether it is worth large-scale investment.

Without high costs, brands can use multiple micro-influencers for a single campaign, which could also increase the chances of success.

Better targeting: While some influencers might have a huge audience, the chances are that a large portion of that audience will be less engaged. People might typically follow an influencer because they’ve heard of them in the media or through others, but not really have a long-term or invested interest in their content.

In contrast, users are much more likely to follow a micro-influencer due to a real or more authentic appreciation of their channel – which in turn, means they’re going to be heavily invested or engaged in whatever they post in future.

Long-term results: With greater authority in a certain industry, micro-influencers are intrinsically more authentic. Their opinions tend to be more trusted and valued by their audiences, meaning they are also able to build loyal relationships with followers. Essentially, this means that brand relationships are more likely to yield longer-term results – as opposed to a flash in the pan effect generated by a larger influencer. 

What are the downsides? 

Requires more effort: One of the biggest downsides is the logistics involved. Often, multiple micro-influencers will be required to create a campaign of similar scale to that involving just one or two big influencers. 

As a result, these campaigns require heavy amounts of planning and co-ordination to ensure that everything runs smoothly. This means more resources and a longer timeline before the campaign comes to fruition.

Instagram-focused: While Instagram is not the only channel where influencers are used, it is by far the biggest. This means that brands who do not use Instagram – or who do not see much success from it – will be shut out or unable to reap the rewards of micro-influencers in the same way.

Similarly, with Instagram’s algorithm favouring popular posts, it can still be difficult to wade through the top level influencers to find those that are lesser-known.

Concerns the bubble will burst: Recently, there’s also been some suggestion that micro-influencer marketing is yet another bubble set to burst. This stems from the idea that anyone can become one if they want to – and the more people that get paid to promote products online, the less credible it will appear and so on. 

Essentially, this might mean the industry will turn on its head, and bigger influencers will once again prove to be the most valuable option.

How to find & reach micro-influencers

So, how can brands ensure that the micro-influencers they use retain credibility and reach a highly engaged audience?

First and foremost, it helps to use the social media channel in question to research and discover people who are already highly engaged with the brand or aligned with the industry in some way. 

This can be done by looking through the people who follow your brand. Even better, reaching out to an existing follower if they clearly use or have posted content relating to the brand or product in the past. 

Another way is to search for niche influencers based on hashtags or popular social media trends. For example, the popularity of posts using the hashtag #f52grams has recently exploded. It was first started by the food network, Food 52, as a way of collating their own content on social media. However, it has since been adopted by budding foodies on Instagram hoping to get noticed by Food 52 and other food-related brands. 

Searching this hashtag could be an effective way of uncovering budding influencers.

Of course, manual search is not the only option. There are a number of third-party tools out there which allow you to search for and connect with influencers. This might simply be a listening tool that automically searches through profiles on social platforms, or a third party influencer marketing platform that allow you to measure and scale up campaigns (e.g. Upfluence, Blogfoster, Buzzsumo, Traackr, Onalytica etc.).

The latter approach is often part of the practice referred to as 'IRM' or influencer relationship management, and essentially, it is a strategy (inspired by CRM) that is designed to target relevant influencers.

Alongside this, there are is also the option of using a third party agency that will search for and manage the entirety of your influencer marketing campaign. These are particularly growing in popularity, mainly due to the fact the they can offer influencers themselves a more long-term partnership, moving away from the one-off paid sponsorship deals we've seen in the past. These agencies tend to also specialise in user-generated content, which just goes to show how the lines between 'user' and 'influencer' can so easily blur.

What to look for in a micro-influencer

So, what about the size of micro influencers and their audiences?

Markerly suggests that a following of 10,000 to 100,000 generates the best results, however I think the ideal strategy is to use a variety of different sized influencers. 

One example is GoHawaii - a tourism board that regularly features influencer content on its Instagram channel. It has 202,000 followers itself, so is mid-range in terms of its own scale, but it does not stick to one kind of influencer. Instead, it collaborates with everyone from local artists - for instance a creator with an audience of 9,000 – to more established photographers, such as Pete Halvorsen, who has 195,000 followers.

For a brand like GoHawaii, working with a mixture of different sized influencers means that it can create a varied stream of fresh content, which also means users will want to keep coming back for more.

In the case of a new opening or product launches, another good strategy is to reach out to local micro-influencers or bloggers who have a connection with the location or area in question. One example of this being done is the Turkish restaurant chain, DonerG, who reached out to local food blogger Paul Castro to promote a new opening on his own channel. This enabled the brand to reach a super targeted audience, as well as capitalise on the influence of an already well-respected industry voice.

Lastly, it is important for brands to reach out to micro-influencers who share a similar tone and set of values. After all, just because someone is an advocate of a brand does not necessarily mean they will have the type of personality or style that consumers will relate and respond to.

UK supermarket Iceland is one example of a brand that changed its marketing strategy to become more relevant to its target audience, veering away from flashy celebrity-driven campaigns to micro-influencer fronted content. 

By working with creators who are a better contextual fit, the brand has become far more credible to its target demographic, helping to drive long-term loyalty and action from social media users – not just passive awareness. 

Related reading:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 16 June, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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