If 2017 was all about influencers, 2018 is all about microinfluencers. Like any media before it, the realm of influence quickly became saturated by brands hawking their wares in beautiful images created by people who have large audiences.
The ability of people to influence is different than other forms of media. If you run an ad on nytimes.com The New York Times is not endorsing your product. When you pay an influencer to appear with your product, you are moving toward the side of celebrity endorsement. That influencer is telling their followers that they like your product, and want their followers to like it too.
Influence represents a major shift in media budgets. Where ad dollars used to flow to media outlets with large readerships, now those dollars are spread out to individuals, who could be seen as personal media outlets.
The problem is that using major influencers is becoming less effective, and there are a few primary reasons for this. First, consumers are getting wise to influencer marketing. Second, changes to platforms like Instagram are making it harder to have an impact. Luckily, the solution lies in looking at the long tail: microinfluencers.
When people follow influencers, it is generally not because they are sponsored by a certain brand. On the contrary, influencers are seen as individuals with a beautiful artistic ability and envious lifestyle that people want to follow to get their daily peeks.
When a brand sponsors an influencer, they are essentially outsourcing content creation and hoping that the affinity between a product and the audience is strong enough to raise awareness.
The problem is that consumers are not following those influencers for that reason. No matter how relevant an audience might be for a brand, it is still intrusive and very often misses the mark. In that regard, the product placement becomes as annoying (if not more so) than an obnoxious pop-in on a traditional media site.
For major influencers who are solicited on a daily basis to sponsor products, the result is a profile that loses all of its authenticity. Engagement rates plummet.
Change is Good?
Instagram (the primary social network for influencers) has caught on to this and has started restricting content. First, influencers have to label their content as sponsored or risk getting their accounts suspended. When they do, the reach gets throttled. Second, the larger the audience, the smaller the engagement rate. Instagram has to walk a fine line between making sure you see content you care about (friends and family) while still exposing the major players to a reasonably sized slice of their audiences. As more of your friends jump on Instagram, something has to give. In this case, Instagram dilutes big influencers to make room.
Instagram is following the path blazed by Facebook: get brands to spend tons of money on content to gain followers, then slowly cut off the ability to talk to those followers until the only way to do so is to pay every time you post something. Facebook is already there, Instagram will be in about 18 months.
Cue the Micro-influencers
The new buzzword is micro-influencers. Micro-influencers refer to the people who have small and targeted networks which have not been saturate by excessive product endorsement. Because their audiences are smaller, they enjoy authentic relationships with their communities and higher engagement rates.
Micro-influencers generally have less than 50K fans. Their audiences tend to be focused on a specific geographic area like a city or country. They are not earning enough money from influencer marketing to make a living so they probably also have a profession or projects which might make for hyper-relevant conditions for a brand.
All of this sounds great, and the reality is that it’s much better to have your product discovered in authentic places that people trust than just having it splashed across a Kardarshian. But as you can imagine, in order to attain the desired reach for a campaign, working with micro-influencers presents a host of new challenges for brands.
The Challenges of Micro-Influencer Marketing
It’s easy to work with a few big influencers in terms of content creation and validation. Each post will go far towards attaining your goals so there is less overall coordination (old-fashioned work!) to be done. When you spread out your efforts over many micro-influencers, you have to ensure guidelines are being respected, make sure everyone follows the timelines, posts when you want them to, and aggregate much more data into your reporting. Plus, you have to actually find them!
That is the trickiest part about micro-influencers, knowing who they are. Many large brands go directly to influencer agencies who have databases of influencers of different sizes. Because so many micro-influencers are localized in other countries, it is impossible for one person to know who the best person to reach out to is. Plus, most influencers (micro or major) don’t leave sponsored posts up on their profiles, so it’s also difficult to know if they have already worked with a competitor.
All of this means that it takes more time and more effort for the same result as with traditional influencer marketing in late 2016 through 2017.
It’s a Temporary Fix
The trend of micro-influencers is definitely something that you should jump onto right now, but it won’t last forever. As hungry brands burn across the Instagram landscape, Instagram will slowly wall off access to audiences and offer the key in exchange for cash. This will happen with influencers just as much as it will with brands.
Who knows what it will all look like in 2019, popular people being paid by brands to set up WhatsApp marketing groups? For now the road to brand success passes through the micro-influencers, so buckle up.