You’ve probably heard a LOT about influencer marketing recently, and possibly even a lot about micro-influencers too. Well, today, we’re here to help you understand and make the most of this subset of influencers, and learn how to utilize them for your next successful marketing campaign.
What is a micro-influencer?
Let’s start by defining them.
Before we dive into the nitty gritty specifics of working with micro-influencers, let’s take a whistle-stop tour of exactly what a micro-influencer is. Throughout the marketing world, there is still much debate on exactly what separates micro and macro influencers.
The first way of defining them is to look at the quality of their following, or rather, how they are viewed by their followers.
Dr. Jonah Berger, the author of Contagious, describes them as: Individuals who work in their category or are truly knowledgeable, passionate and authentic and are seen as a trusted source when it comes to recommendations for what to buy.
And this really is the beauty of micro-influencers. The good ones are not nearly as focused on audience growth. They, instead, really care about the information and content that they are surfacing to their audience. They take pride in being that hidden gem that their audience follows in that devoted, cult-like style. But, for every good micro-influencer, there are 50 bad ones, so targeting is critical.
When working with micro-influencers, it’s important to find the ones whose audiences truly trust them - which will be apparent by the amount of engagement they receive - plus enough followers to actually do some damage (in a good way).
Which brings me to the second metric that typically defines a micro-influencer; follower count. It’s the simplest definition of this group that most people can get on board with. And, while we can all agree that micro-influencers have a smaller number of followers, nobody can quite agree on exactly what that number should be.
Influencer accounts in the range of 3k - 20k followers fit the bill.
There are some companies out there that specialize in running micro-influencer campaigns at a really huge scale - but I’m not going to name names, so put down your pitchforks. If you analyze the influencers participating in those campaigns, they typically fall in the range of 100-1000 followers, which - for our client base - is a little too small to make the kind of impact larger brands want and need. Besides, my mother's account gets more engagement than most of the influencers participating in those campaigns. So, be wary if you’re having an agency pitching micro micro-influencer campaigns. You definitely want to check to make sure the ROI you get by using an influencer with a tiny audience will be worth your
At the 3k - 20k follower range, you will still see a broad enough reach while being able to cash in on higher engagement rates. But, how do they manage this?
Micro-influencers tend to have a higher engagement rate.
We know that as an influencer’s follower count goes up, their engagement rates go down. This is due to a number of factors :
1. The most important being the diversification of their followings. As influencers grow, many feel that they aren’t hitting wide enough audiences. For example, you might have an influencer who started her account about her dog, Bruce. As time goes on though, she realizes that she’d also like to talk about her cool outfits. And her cross-country road trip that she did with her boytoy. And, as she begins diversifying her content, the number of dog-fanatic followers that she has dwindles, and she winds up having a bunch of mini-audiences that simply add up to one huge follower count. With smaller influencers, we’ve seen that their audience is more targeted to their specific niche.
2. Another factor that comes into play is the method used to grow accounts. It’s difficult to get up to 100,000 followers, let alone 1 million. And, one thing we’ve seen with influencers who get impatient with their slow growth rate, they begin deploying strategies that cheat the system; like the “follow-unfollow” method. This is a great way to get your followers to explode. Essentially an influencer will follow thousands of accounts, the owners of those accounts notice their new follower, and wind up following the influencer back. Then a few days later, that influencer will go back in and unfollow those same accounts. This causes follower counts to start to grow in more of a stepped formation. When we run campaigns, we use our Fraud-Detection algorithm to identify these sorts of shenanigans (that translate into the shady-looking growth-jumps shown in the screenshotted chart below) and then we avoid those influencers when hiring on behalf of our clients.
Tactics like this grow audiences that might be less engaged, which is another reason why influencer engagement starts to drop off for a lot of larger accounts.
are micro-influencers the best option for your budget?
One of the more popular rationales behind going the micro-route is, of course, budget limitations. Many companies choose to work with smaller influencers because they cost a fraction of what you would have to pay an A-list celebrity.
This is both true and untrue. If you want it to work out better for you in terms of budget, you'll need to be ready to get your hands dirty.
We’ve been seeing micro-influencer rates skyrocketing over the last year. I’m not sure why the industry seems to be moving in this direction... perhaps the demand for micro-influencers has skyrocketed as well. (And I have my own conspiracy theories on that as well, but I'll save them for another day and another post.)
After working with thousands of micro-influencers over the years, I know quite a bit about the evolution of their rates, and based on what I've been seeing, ESPECIALLY over this recent holiday, I'd be wary about going full-steam-ahead with nothing but micro-influencers.
Here's a little math exercise to illustrate this point. While a person with 2,000 followers charging 200 bucks might seem cheap compared to the person with 300,000 followers charging 8,000 bucks... you'd actually need to hire 150 micro-influencers of that size to equal the impact of the larger influencer, which would put you at a cost of $30,000. That's pricey. Not to mention, you'll be running around like a headless chicken trying to manage the logistics of a campaign with 150 different people.
All that being said, not all micro-influencers have succumbed to inflation, and there will always be those hidden gems out there. It will simply boil down to effective targeting in the end if you want to make the micro-strategy work for you.
Are Micro-Influencers Right for Your Campaign?
One thing that micro-influencers do really well is helping brands achieve their action-based goals. Because of the impression of trust they give out, their followers are often more inclined to respond to the calls-to-action that they put out on their profiles.
Also, because they have such solid niche followings, their audience has a deep level of targeting, putting you in front of people who care (with the caveat that you're avoiding the cheaters).
One final reason to work with micro-influencers is UGC (user-generated content). As long as you find micro-influencers who are producing beautiful content, this, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful benefits of collaborating with micro-influencers.
Let’s say you have a budget of $50k to spend on a campaign. You could choose to work with 3 or 4 huge influencers who will knock it out of the park in terms of potential reach and post engagement. However, you will be left with just a handful of photos, blog posts, or videos. On the other hand, you could choose to work with 50 micro-influencers who will create a boatload of content. The engagement and potential reach might not be as high, but think of what you can do with all that content. You’ll have an endless supply of diverse and unique content for your own social feeds. You’ll have images for your website and banner ads. The possibilities are endless! We’ve had clients who took a large percentage of their photography budget and reallocated it to influencer marketing, because it kills two birds with one stone.
If it were me, I would split the budget up a little so that I could kill three birds with one stone. I'd hire a few large influencers to garner the engagement and eyeballs... and then I'd loop in a number of micro-influencers to boost the amount of content I can repurpose in all of the above ways.
Picking your Micro-Influencer
As I’ve mentioned already, choosing the right micro-influencers for your campaign is essential. With small reach comes great responsibility. You need to ensure that your chosen influencer is going to offer the best chance for your campaign’s success, as well as the highest possible ROI. So, here are five things you should keep in mind when selecting a micro-influencer:
1. What is their engagement rate like?
As we said before, the biggest plus to using a micro-influencer is their beefed-up engagement rates, so if their rates aren’t up to scratch, they’re not going to give much value to your brand. Aiming for influencers with at least 2-3% engagement should be your baseline. More is obviously better, but never never dip below 2% if you’re leveraging micro-influencers.
2. How influential are they in your brand’s niche?
Those with a more focused niche-following are likely to have closer relationships with their followers, and be a more trusted voice, so shoot for people like that. And, while I do feel a bit stupid mentioning this, you should also make sure that the chosen influencers are in your actual niche. You’d be surprised how many campaigns we see where influencers are influential in entirely other spaces from the space the brand is targeting. If you're selling strollers you probably want to avoid the bikini-clad biker babe whose feed consists of boob-selfies.
3. Have they collaborated with other brands before?
While this isn’t essential, it can be a great way to gauge their suitability and professionalism. We recommend checking their feeds to see what posts they have marked with #ad or #sponsored and then review the content they created for these other brands. Is it the type of content you’d want representing your brand?
4. How regularly are they posting?
Accounts that remain inactive for long periods have audiences that become increasingly disinterested over time. On the flip side, those that are posting so much that they are actually spamming their follower’s feeds are likely to be tuned out when their audiences are scrolling.
5. Do they match up well with your brand guidelines?
If they don’t match the overall voice and message of your brand, the partnership is a no-go. We’ve noticed that influencers aren’t overly keen about changing up their “voice” for the sake of a sponsored post. They need their posts to feel authentic to their audience. And if they sprinkle in swear words like a sailor, and you force them to post a very commercial-like script, chances are they’re going to get irritable. And rightfully so. It’s a good idea to scan their posts to make sure you’re ok with their voice. You want the post that they create for you to remain in the voice that resonates with their audience. They know best in this case.
How to find micro-influencers
Now you know what to look for, you’re probably wondering exactly where, and how, you’re going to find them. Depending on how much time and effort you want to put in, there are a variety of options.
choosing an agency
If you have the budget but not the time, using an agency could be the best option for you. There are a number of influencer agencies out there now that will help connect you to the appropriate influencers for your campaign. (Like us, wink wink.) I can’t speak for others, but we have patented technology that allows us to target influencers using 32 different filters. We use all of the basic signals like follower counts, engagement rates, location, etc. But we go quite a bit further and target using lifestyle-matching too, which basically ensures you’re working with people who are truly in front of the demographics you’re targeting. Additionally, if you find an agency with access to a huge pool of influencers, you’ll be in good shape. The campaigns we run usually wind up cheaper than if you were to run them in-house. And this all boils down to the size of our database. Due to the fact that the majority of influencers seem to have lost their minds when throwing out rates for sponsored content, by tapping into our large pool of influencers, we’re able to stretch your budget super far.
choosing an inlfuencer marketing platform
There are hundreds of platform options out there, The Shelf included. Platforms typically come with a database of some sort, from which you can source influencers, along with features that facilitate the campaign management and reporting process.
Of course, there are nuances between these hundreds of platforms. Some are just databases. Some just have reporting features. Some help with UGC discovery. Some are more turn-key than others.
When selecting your platform, it’s important to make sure of a few things:
- The database is large
- The database isn’t solely comprised of influencers who have joined their network. A lot of our clients who switch over to us have referred to these networks as “influencer farms” because of the way incentives are misaligned. You’ll find that the platforms that require influencers to actually sign-up and create a profile typically churn out lower-quality influencers who are in it just for the money. You need people who are legitimately passionate about their topics, and consider the money that they earn a fantastic bonus that comes along with doing what they love, rather than the ones who are in it for a quick buck.
- The platform should have good filtering that allows you to really narrow down by the interests of their audience, rather than superficial data only. Vanity metrics will only take you so far.
- You should make sure that contracts are looped into the campaign management process. Seriously, don't run campaigns without contracts.
- Reporting should be available for each type of platform.
- Reporting should happen automatically without requiring extra effort from you or the influencers.
- Make sure the setup process allows your campaigns freedom to be unique. Cookie-cutter setups produce lame results. The best campaigns are the ones where you can loop in a variety of themes, influencer types, deliverable requirements, and platforms. Every aspect of your campaign strategy should be optimized to get the best results.
If your budget won’t stretch to working with a dedicated agency, there’s no reason why you can’t do the research yourself. If you go this route, you'll probably want to find an intern that has a slightly masochistic personality, because this is a laborious and mind-numbing undertaking.
After you find said intern, they need to get started on a list. The first hurdle is to find people. They can begin by searching on various social media platforms for relevant hashtags. For example, if your brand is in the “fitness” niche then they need to search for keywords such as ‘fitspiration’, ‘fitmom’, etc. to find targeted influencers. You definitely don't want to go too generic with words like 'fitness' or 'exercise', because spammers usually blast those keywords, making them useless.
For every influencer discovered, they'll need to vet them to ensure the influencer is a good addition for your influencer list. Here is what they should do for this vetting process:
- review the profile to make sure the influencer is located in the right country (if you have shipment constraints)
- review the subject matter covered
- review the writing style and tone
- review the photo-quality
- calculate the influencer's average engagement based on their most recent posts
- record how many people the influencer is following over a few weeks period so that you can manually do some fraud detection
- check to see what other brands the influencer works with (to ensure those other brands targeting your demographic), thus ensuring the influencer has the ear of your very specific audience.
Next, they need to compile the data within a spreadsheet needed to perform outreach to these influencers by recording:
- their name
- their handle
- their email address
- their agent's name and contact details if the influencer uses an agent
- and potentially a post that you can reference in your outreach email.
You'd be surprised at how hidden this information can be.
It's all doable though, and if you're on a very tight budget, where you have more time than money, these are the steps I'd advise you to take.
Reaching out to your selected Micro-Influencers
Now that you’ve found a nice selection of micro-influencers to target, it's time to reach out to them about a possible collaboration. There are three main ways to connect with these influencers: email, direct message, and comments. Below we’ll share an example of each, and tips on how to craft your own micro-influencer outreach messages. It’s important to tailor each message to the individual influencer, and really show them what you can offer them, as well as what they offer you. Gary Vaynerchuk has some great advice on how to position these messages;
The key to any tactic – and this is THE tactic – is to provide more value to the other person, especially when they’re the one with the leverage. Formulate your proposition and prepare to do what is so crucially important in today’s digital world.
So, let’s look as some examples of how to reach out, connect, and collaborate with micro-influencers.
Since influencer marketing happens on social media, it makes sense to use this platform to connect with your micro-influencer- and the best way to do this? Direct messages (DMs). You can send DMs to Facebook pages, LinkedIn profiles, Instagram accounts, and some Twitter accounts – even if the influencer doesn’t yet follow you back. Just remember to keep them short, sweet, and to the point. Most DMs have a character limit you’ll need to stick to – so no waffling on.
Hello Alice! I saw your awesome collab with @brandname and was wondering if you’d be open to working with us here at @yourbrand for a similar project? Let me know! – Danielle
The above example shows a great way to approach an influencer, tell them exactly why you’re getting in touch, and show them that you have looked at their individual profile by mentioning a previous campaign they have run.
If the influencer has their email address posted on their profile, or you’ve found them through an agency or influencer platform, emailing can be a great way to get in touch. With email, there is no character limit, so you can afford to include a bit more information. But, open rates are much lower than with DMs, so you run the risk of being ignored all together. And nobody enjoys that.
Now that you have a little more room to play around with, you can add a little more detail – and flattery – to your message. Mentioning a post or campaign you’ve seen before adds the personal touch, and helps them know you’ve tailored the email to them.
Subject: We’d love to work with you!
I found your account while searching for awesome influencers on Instagram for an upcoming marketing campaign for my company – BrandName. I love the aesthetic of your feed, and you seem to have great engagement with your followers.
(Here, I would talk about a particular post or campaign you’d seen on their page and why it rocked)
I’m the Social Media Marketing Manager at BrandName and would love to talk to you about working together for our upcoming campaign? We plan on featuring all participating influencers on our own Instagram account so it can also be great exposure for you.
I hope this is something you’re interested in, but no worries if not! If you have a media kit or any information on your rates, then please send it over!
While some micro-influencers are more than happy to work for free products or discount codes, a subtle hint at payment shows that you are looking for a professional level collaboration. Also, honesty is definitely the best policy here. Mentioning how you know their account, and offering them an easy way for them to say no will help to create a more genuine relationship.
Another option for getting in touch is by leaving a comment on one of their posts. Do bear in mind that these comments will be public, so be sure you’re not sharing anything you don’t want everyone to see!
We love this shot – that donut looks so yummy! Would you be interested in a collab with us? Our donuts are yummy too! Let’s chat more if you are 😊
Again, personalisation is key. If your comment looks too generic, the influencer – and everyone else – will see it as spam. Find something in their post that matches up with your brand message and use that to create some common ground, this helps them understand how working with you would also work well for them.
Structuring Your Campaign
Hopefully, by now, you feel confident enough to find and reach out to the ideal micro-influencers for your campaign. Now, it’s time to get the ball rolling and those website clicks flowing. You need to be sure your campaign has structure, objectives, and goals to ensure measurable success. Winging it just won’t cut it here!
Set your goals and objectives
Every campaign is going to have different goals depending on the kind of business you run, and which social media platforms you’re going to be running it on. Although most people will automatically think of Instagram as being the home of influencer marketing, you can run these kinds of campaigns across any social network, from LinkedIn to YouTube. Before choosing your platform, you should be sure of what results you want to see from the campaign.
There are so many possibilities here, and to cover this topic extensively, I’ll need to do another post, but here are some ideas to kickstart this line of thinking:
- Brand awareness/ Increased social media following: Find out where your target audience is hanging out online and focus your campaign there. For teenagers and young adults this is likely to be Instagram, Youtube, or Snapchat; for a more mature crowd, you’re looking at Facebook or Twitter; and for professionals, try LinkedIn. Instagram in general is a great platform if you’re looking for really high engagement and eyeballs.
- Increased sales: If you’re looking to drive traffic to your website or online store, think carefully about which platform will work best for you. Instagram doesn’t allow the posting of links in photo captions, and only allows the “swipe up” feature in their Stories to business accounts with over 10k followers. The only option there for a link is if you can get the influencer to include the link in their bio. If you’re looking for people to follow your outbound link, you’d be better off working on platforms that make this process easier like Facebook, blogs, and YouTube. If you’re open to blog posts, that’s actually my top choice for clicks and conversions. The ramp up for the effectiveness of blog posts is a bit slower, but once the blog posts rank on Google, it will be a continuous stream of traffic for the rest of that blog post’s life (assuming you picked someone with enough traffic to get ranked on Google). One added benefit of blog posts is, with the right targeting, you can find someone with a high likelihood of Pinterest virality, meaning, when they post on their blog, a large portion of their audience pins their pictures. These pictures then get passed around Pinterest leading to another steady stream of clicks.
- Seasonal Campaigns: If you’re using micro-influencers to drive sales during a particular holiday or sales period, evergreen sites like YouTube and Pinterest may not be your best platforms. Focus more on the constantly updating sites of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter because the results will be quicker (albeit, more short-lived).
Coordinating the Campaign
Communication is the key to running a successful micro-influencer campaign. While it is not always the case, many smaller influencers will not have much experience working with brands, so being crystal clear with your expectations is essential. There are a few main points you want to be sure to cover when setting up your campaign:
- Your goals: We’ve found this to be a good idea, in many cases, the influencers will have suggestions for you based on what they’ve seen in past campaigns. And when an influencer is forthcoming with this info, we nearly always take their advice. They typically know best when it comes to achieving your goals based on their experience on past collaborations..
- Brand guidelines/ rules: Some brands need to be more neurotic about this than others. For example, if you are selling a line of matcha drinks, it’s not really the most legal to have your influencers say that the drink wired them all day or that their hangover was gone in 10 minutes. Because that’s making claims that the drink company can’t really back up. Make sure you spell out what is ok and what is not ok before they start creating content.
- Compensation: Definitely get this hammered out up front, and have the terms included in your collaboration contract. (Yes contracts seem like a pain… but they are important to make sure both you, and the influencer, are treated fairly, and ensuring that everyone gets what they deserve. This is another topic that warrants a post all of it’s own.)
- Legal compliance: Getting smacked by the FTC will not be fun, so make sure to have them disclose the collaboration in the correct way. You can read more about this on our two FTC posts here and here.
- Allowing for creative freedom: These micro-influencers know what they are doing. They know what their audience likes – that’s why you’ve chosen to work with them. So, while you need to feel comfortable that they will match your brand’s image, it’s usually best to give them creative freedom on how they present your product.
- Deploying your methods for tracking: If you don’t measure and analyse the results after your campaign is over – you might as well not have done it at all! This is the time to look back at the goals and objectives you set out right at the start, and see how the final results have measured up. It’s also a good chance to see which micro-influencers worked best for your brand, and drove the most sales, followers, or website clicks. You’ll need tracking pixels to understand blog impressions. You’ll want to figure out a way to wrap your links so that you can understand clicks. And then a campaign hashtag will do the trick for aggregating all of your social posts for a deeper analysis.
When NOT to use Micro-Influencers
Now I know we’ve been singing their praises (for the most part) all this time, but micro-influencers are not the be all and end all of influencer marketing, and just like every other marketing strategy, they’re not always the right choice for every business.
If you’re looking to really extend the reach of your brand on social media and get your name out there to as many people as possible, that just won’t happen with micro-influencers. Despite their excellent engagement rates, they just won’t have the kind of reach your business needs. This can, of course, be combated by working with micro-influencers at a super huge scale as we discussed before, but this solution actually leads us to our next problem…
If you’re only working with one or two huge influencers, the campaign, overall, is much easier to manage. You only need to liaise with those few people, plus negotiations are much smoother to handle. Working with micro-influencers means having to coordinate multiple influencers at a time, all of which may have differing levels of experience working with brands (many on the lower side of the experience-spectrum).
We’ve hinted at the dangers of working with smaller influencers throughout the article, and while these will only apply to a small minority of micro-influencers, they are well worth keeping in mind. One aspect of this we have yet to touch on is authenticity. This is something we’ve seen becoming more and more of a problem recently, as aspiring influencers are working hard to “beat” the algorithms of social networks in order to appear more popular and influential than they actually are.
One example of this is something called “comment pods” which are used by many Instagram accounts to boost their engagement rates. These are groups made up of around 10 influencers of various sizes who all comment on each other’s latest posts to help boost each other through Instagram’s algorithm. That’s just one example of many shady tactics that can really make it difficult to find the best people to work with, so spending a little extra time researching can help you figure out what’s really going on beneath the surface.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Micro-influencers have been around for a while now, and agencies are increasingly touting their merit. When your goals are clearly articulated, Micro-infuencers can help brands reach their target audience. Planning effective campaigns boils down to crafting stellar goal-driven strategies. Working with micro-influencers is just one of many strategies you can implement to reach your marketing goals. We can help you get your strategic ducks in a row!
You can learn more about what we do here.