Over the past several years, online influencers have gained traction as a notoriously effective way of engaging Millennial and Gen Z consumers. In fact, per VentureBeat, 75 percent of marketers already use influencer marketing. It makes sense, as brands immediately increase their credibility by working with individuals who already have a following. Yet contrary to what you might expect, brand engagement climbs the highest when the influencer has a smaller, niche audience.
This makes a myth of the idea that more views generate more buzz. According to a study by Makerly, micro-influencers, or those with between 1,000 and 100,000 followers, attract more than four times the number of likes on sponsored posts than macro-influencers with millions of followers. This elevated engagement rate can be attributed to micro-influencers’ dedicated audiences, who view them as a reliable expert on a specific topic they care about compared to a more popular, mass-appeal influencer. As a rule, the more followers someone has, the lower their actual level of engagement will be.
For example, if your product is cookware, you will be better off choosing a foodie Instagram with 15,000 followers than, let’s say, Selena Gomez. Despite the fact that she has millions of followers, many of those followers are likely not interested in cooking, nor is Selena Gomez an authority on cookware. Influencers must be relevant to the brand they represent. Additionally, micro-influencers field fewer offers from marketers, making them easier to reach and less costly than a big-name influencer or celebrity.
Not only do macro-influencer endorsements cost more, but as Stephanie Funk, founder of influence company Acorn, contends, “People can’t relate to celebrities.” Although someone who makes comedic YouTube videos might not seem to have celebrity status in the traditional sense, their millions of subscribers would claim otherwise. When I asked 14-year-old Emma K if she follows anyone on social media who isn’t a ‘real life’ friend or a celebrity, she answered, “Who do you consider ‘not a celebrity’?” She asked if YouTubers like Miranda Sings and Cameron Dallas counted, following up with, “I consider them celebrities.”
This response is particularly telling, as today’s teenagers have grown up with YouTube and, consequently, do not differentiate between the fame of a macro-influencer and that of a movie star. Gen Z prioritizes individuality rather than following the masses, and a sought-after Internet celebrity does not fall in line with that ideal. Lesser known micro-influencers are a natural fit for a generation fixated on cultivating a unique personal image.
Additionally, the lifespan of an influencer is short, presenting yet another challenge to marketers.
“You have to be constantly finding new influencers,” says Funk. “Loving on them but not becoming too attached. When they’re done, they’re done.”
Advertisers must identify optimal influencers and employ them before they become irrelevant. Then the cycle repeats. With such a tight timeframe, brands targeting younger consumers must be strategic about choosing influencers that will elicit maximum engagement. Don’t ignore the little guys, because in today’s market, they’re more important than ever.