As influencer marketing gains momentum, more companies are getting involved. Influencer marketing is forecasted to become a $5-10 billion industry (and the Instagram influencer market alone is projected to be over $1 billion in 2017), which means that brands are investing into influencer marketing en masse.
In the early days of influencer marketing, brands worked with the largest influencers to reach the largest audiences, but things are changing. The term “micro-influencers” is at the center of more and more conversations about influencer marketing, and it’s stirring up debate.
As buzz around micro-influencers grows, it’s important to know what micro-influencers are, why marketers use them, and when they’re the best choice for a campaign. Marketers have found that micro-influencers have pitfalls that can endanger campaign success and brand reputation. Though some studies have shown that micro-influencers may sometimes garner higher engagement, Digiday recently shared some of the major difficulties of working with micro-influencers.
The criteria can differ, but micro-influencers are often defined as creators who have 100,000 or fewer followers. Instagram has become the default channel for micro-influencers because it lends itself to the formation of small communities around specific interests.
Unlike micro-influencers, “macro” or traditional influencers are the notable names in influencer marketing — creators like Lele Pons, Grace Helbig, Logan Paul, Bethany Mota, and Markiplier. Macro-influencers are known for their reach, garnering hundreds of thousands or even millions of impressions on a single post or video. These massive, notable names are great for brand lift, or elevating audience perception of and engagement with a brand.
Micro-influencer campaigns come with different campaign goals, structure, reach and results. Micro-influencers have fewer followers, which can mean more opportunity for direct, one-on-one interactions with a smaller fanbase. Micro-influencers’ fans are engaged, they’re interested in what these influencers have to say, and they want to be a part of the conversation in a way that they can’t be with macro-influencers.
The initial cost of working with micro-influencers may be lower, too. Where macro-influencers can command five or six figures per post, micro-influencer rates are much lower due to their smaller reach and can be as low as $20-30 for a post. Provided micro-influencers serve campaign goals well, marketers may be able to reach a small, target audience of engaged users with a lower price tag — so long as the brand has the resources to source and manage a campaign with 10s or 100s of influencers
Micro-influencers’ followings are also typically niche communities. People who follow particular micro-influencers often have things in common (age, interests, gender, sexuality, etc.), which gives brands an opportunity to target audiences more precisely and to tailor messaging to these specific audiences.
Micro-influencers are far from perfect for every campaign. There’s no one-size fits all approach in any type of marketing, and influencer marketing is no exception. It’s important to weigh the shortcomings of micro-influencers before deciding if they’re the right choice for a campaign.
For all of their specificity and, in some instances, higher engagement rates, micro-influencers are still reaching fewer people. Audiences are smaller, and though brands have the option of partnering with more micro-influencers while staying in budget, using micro-influencers means sacrificing the brand lift that comes with tapping major tastemakers. It behooves brands to carefully consider exposure, awareness, engagement, and conversion goals when designing campaigns around macro and micro-influencers.
What’s more, working with micro-influencers doesn’t guarantee higher engagement. Building and nurturing an active community is difficult and not every micro-influencer has engaged followers. It’s also worth noting that fake followers and fake engagement run rampant on Instagram, in particular, and that follower counts and engagement can be inflated. If that’s the case, engagement and reach metrics may not translate to real results.
Bots are a common problem on Instagram, and they’re used primarily by smaller accounts that are attempting to grow. Whether it’s by way of automation (that is, using software to follow users and like and comment on photos without any user participation in hopes of creating engagement and getting users to follow back), spam accounts, or “user farms,” micro-influencers are the most likely parties to turn to bots to boost their numbers.
Micro-influencers also create more work. Dedicated and eager to work though they may be, working with dozens or hundreds of micro-influencers can quickly lead to a lot of juggling and oversight. Every influencer has different needs and communication requirements, which means that working with many of them turns into a big job. Details like clear, consistent, and correct brand messaging and compliance with FTC regulations are paramount to a campaign’s success, and when brand and marketing resources are distributed in a campaign with dozens of influencers, brands run the risk of pivotal elements falling through the cracks.