What on earth is a Micro-influencer?

Defining micro-influencers and how to identify, engage, and work with them.

In short, influencer marketing has matured. Customers aren’t fooled by the same transparent marketing tactics, and major social media celebrities aren’t drawing in the same level of engagement as they once did. So, what’s next?

Introducing the Micro-influencer

Micro-influencers are small but mighty. Where micro-influencers lack in follower count and subscribers, they make up for in engagement and connection. Micro-influencers are niche experts or community leaders within their respective platforms. Not to mention, due to their increased level of engagement and broader reach, Micro-influencers are solving even more unique problems in ways traditional marketing never could.

So what is a Micro-influencer?

Unlike its counterpart, the social media celebrity; Micro-influencers inspire audiences to take action rather than notice. Despite having fewer views/post, Micro-influencers use their established knowledge or trust to engage with consumers in ways a brand or a celebrity never could. They are committed to their own specialties and are often driven by engagement, product appreciation, or community. Beyond that, Micro-influencers challenge the dynamics of influencer marketing — forcing companies to think about what they value more: views or sales.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for the big kahunas.

In defense of the celebrity influencer, there’s a time and a place for both of these influencer groups. Major celebrity endorsements are great ways to increase brand awareness on a large scale — but it comes at a cost. The average post for a celebrity endorsement or sponsored content can range anywhere between $100,000 — $350,000 per post. Although this is affordable for many large corporations, it might break the bank for companies who are still looking to grow or who are just starting out. So does that mean that influencer marketing is just for those with big budgets? Incorrect.

Although major celebrity influencers do help multiple corporations reach their marketing goals, they provide little engagement or immediate return. Celebrity posts are great for reaching hordes of people with a single piece of content, but not as good at converting audiences into consumers. Micro-influencers, however, know their market, and they know them well.

Think about it this way: Micro-influencers are the friends you grew up with, traditional Influencers are the hotties from senior year you never spoke to.

Although you may have noticed the seniors — heck, you may have even changed a bit of your style based on their habits… you probably didn’t connect with them the same way you did with your best friends. You might not have even exchanged a sentence with them — and may never will. Your friends, however, represent a much deeper connection — one that spans far beyond how cool you think they are or how much ‘obvious’ influence they’ve had on yourself. Friends are there for you, and more importantly, friendship is built on trust.

That example may seem simple, but it’s not always easy to identify micro-influencers. So, before we get into how you can find them, let’s make sure we understand who they are.

Most commonly, Micro-influencers are defined by people who have 1,000–10,000 followers on any given platform. However, influence is not bound by follower count. Micro-influencers go beyond follower count and can be better described as thought leaders or skilled in a respective field; platform; or industry. Micro-influencers can exist within any age group, proximity, or platform and have the power to influence someone’s buying decision through shared experiences. More importantly, Micro-influencers are everyday people — just like the consumers that trust them.

Let’s go one level deeper.

Micro-influence isn’t always social media related

Since the introduction of social media platforms, people often refer to followers and online personas to indicate how ‘influential’ someone is. The issue with this mentality is that it ignored the in-person influence someone has on those around them. Think about Uber’s original launch referral program.

Although Uber did invest heavily in marketing advertisements and growth campaigns, their most successful campaign was their referral program. Most users would sign-up to Uber through a promo code found in one of Uber’s campaigns, but it didn’t end there. Once signed up, Uber would prompt new users to invite their friends and gain even more free rides. It was a win-win. New users would use Uber and suggest it to friends, while their friends benefited from getting free credits of their own. These credits were incentive enough to get new users not only on the platform but engaged on it.

Let’s take a step back. Why did this work so well?

It’s simple science. Not only did friends influence other friends to join because it benefited them both, but Uber capitalized on real relationships to generate virtual sign-ups. Don’t believe me? If you received an invitation to join a random new application from a stranger or sales rep, would you? What if that invitation came directly from a friend, would your reaction be any different? All data points to yes.

Whether you define micro-influence as the hidden force behind referral programs, highly targeted niche posts, or even casual word of mouth promotion — there’s no denying the power that engagement and connection have on one’s behavior.

The science of Micro-influence explained

Believe it or not, sometimes bigger doesn’t mean better. In fact, the more followers one has, the more chance the reaction to sponsored content will be overtly negative. Not to mention, the more followers an influencer has, the more likely that content will be skimmed over or forgotten. Micro-influencers on the other hand, don’t react exactly the same. Unlike their popular counterparts, fewer followers actually translate into higher engagement per post and stickier content. Not to mention, the fewer followers one has the more connected their fans or network feels to them.

Let’s talk music for a second

Remember when everyone used to rave about, ‘knowing a band before they were famous’? Micro-influencers are kind of like up and coming bands. While you, yourself may never have been a music junkie, odds are you’ve felt really close to something you latched onto before your friends did. Maybe you suggested it to a couple friends. Maybe you even posted about it on your MySpace at the time — it’s all the same. However, the difference here is, once the band you loved became ‘famous’ their content changed, your feelings changed, their new fans came pouring in. Suddenly, the tight connection you felt to their music fell apart, and the people who rave about their new single don’t understand them the way you used to. What happened here?

Micro-influencers are in the sweet spot where audiences feel extremely connected to their content and trust their opinion. Consumers view them as peers rather than idols, and this creates a very different relationship when it comes to interacting with them and using them in your campaigns.

So, if Micro-influencers are not only more in tune with audiences, but are also more trusted by them… why aren’t more people using them, why aren’t they everywhere? The thing is, they are — it's just not always easy to identify them. Not sure where you can find them for yourself, here’s a characterized checklist to start:

They’re authentic

Customers trust peers more than brands. For example, customer referral codes and promo codes are shared on average 10x more than digital ads. Not to mention, peer engagement is a form of word of mouth — which tends to be 80% more effective than any means of traditional advertisement.

They’re engaged

Micro-influencers make people feel special. You know your product and you know why you love it — if it aligns with a micro-influencer, odds are their pitch will be as authentic as yours. Find people who are engaged in the communities that matter most to you, and work with them to align their goals with yours. Brands often think that marketing somehow translates into maximizing views and then converting them. Micro-influencers challenge that mentality, by increasing views of your product but only to the consumers that it aligns best with.

They’re cost effective

Believe it or not, you don’t need $100,000 + to work with influencers. Instead of spending $100,000 on a single post, why not spend a tenth of that on rewarding your best customers for referring new people or getting more posts with lesser known, more niche micro-influencers. Yes, a single post may not have the same yield of views a celebrity post will but — 10 posts might. So, when drafting up your influencer marketing plan figure out what matters most to you right now: views or ROI.

They’re everywhere

The best part about micro-influencers is that they’re everyday people. If you could assign tags to yourself, what would they be? Are you an expert Apple user, a music junkie, a festival connoisseur? Better yet, are you the go-to person for medical advice; podcast suggestions; or even travel tips. These are all important ways to identify your own micro-influence. Simple right? Luckily for you, it’s just as simple to do the same when looking for micro-influencers outside of your own network.

Not sure where to start? Look to your own customers for support.

Your best customers are your best influencers

Find ways to engage them, connect with them, and build relationships with them. Not only do your customers know your product well, but if they love it — they’ll recommend it to their friends and their peers. When thinking about influencer marketing, customers are often forgotten. But think about how many times you’ve influenced your friends to try out a product, not because you were incentivized but just because you had an amazing experience. Why did this work? Was it because you forced them, or was it because you were genuine?

Micro-influencers not only let you create; distribute; and connect with your customers at scale… but they surpass ad blockers and leave a lasting impression on your audience. Micro-influencers are conversationalists, while celebrity influencers are billboards. While there’s a place for both in marketing, think about the one that matters most to you — and take a moment to discover the power of your customers and those who matter most to them.

Emily Lonetto

Emily Lonetto

Growth & Marketing @ GrowSumo