March 14, 2019 by Kelly Rusk

The rise of the micro-influencer: When hype gives way to real strategy and results

In August 2018, one of the most well-known Instagram influencers, the controversial Josh Ostrovsky (aka “the Fat Jew”) declared that influencer marketing was dying — and the rest of the internet followed suit.

If you were looking for influencer marketing in 2019, don’t cross it off your list just yet. This may just mean the best is still ahead of us.

Beyond hype for hype’s sake

Those of us who value real results over impressions and hype have been happy to hear this news. Because once a marketing tactic is declared dead, it’s time for its real strategic value to shine. As spending on influencer marketing reportedly topped $8-billion in 2018, you have to wonder how effectively was that money spent?

But let’s take a step back. Influencer marketing is not new. At its core, it is a blend of two tried-and-true tactics: word of mouth marketing and celebrity endorsement. Add in a healthy dose of social media and buzz, and the last few years influencer marketing has skyrocketed to peak popularity (and annoyance).

Instagram in particular has driven and cultivated a specific type of influencer. Think of the Fyre Festival — models on the beach, perfectly coiffed, perfectly curated, perfectly filtered. These influencers are famous for being famous, or they would like you to believe that at least. (And no, the Fyre Festival was NOT successful at influencer marketing in case you were wondering…).

And like the dumpster fire that the Fyre Festival turned out to be, so has the promise of these kinds of influencers delivering business results.

Does that mean you should forgo influencer marketing? Absolutely not. But it’s time to think differently about what an influencer is and how to leverage them in your marketing.

Trust at its core

Working with influencers is about buying your way into a trusted relationship (between an influencer and his or her followers). However, as time is proving, trust is not so easily for sale.

Influencers who are selling posts to the highest bidder might fool some and profit at first, but they are also finding that their trust — and influence — is dwindling. This is further complicated by the ability to game the system and even buy followers to create an allusion of influence. If you’re focused on driving business results, you’ll likely be disappointed from working with this kind of influencer.

However, trust is alive and well, and if you choose to focus on influencers who have built a strong community of interest based on trust and approach influencer marketing with integrity, the pay-off can be astronomical.

These influencers are often referred to as micro-influencers. They may not have a million followers — in fact, the average micro-influencer has between 1,000-50,000 give or take — but they might just have the right audience and the right fit for your brand.

How do you distinguish between these types of influencers? Sometimes it’s easy. But generally, the trick is you need to do your homework and to work with influencers who have also done their homework. Let’s break it down.

Bigger is not better

Succeeding with any social media often starts with letting go of pre-conceived notions around mass marketing. Winning at television and newspaper advertising was all about hitting as many eyeballs as possible. Applying this mentality to influencers is a dangerous combination. And one that will cost you. For example, last summer, it was reported that Kylie Jenner rakes in a cool million per Instagram post.

Instead start with a solid target definition: who exactly is your audience? How do the spend their time online? What are their interests and behaviours? Social media is all about relevance, and it’s so easy to measure that reaching a million people is completely meaningless if you stop at that.

That’s why micro-influencers are so effective. They’re passionate about a particular topic and were successful in organically building a community of like-minded people who have come to trust what they have to say.

Transparency is key

The biggest failure in influencer marketing is a lack of transparency. Fortunately governments are catching up and applying similar rules to traditional advertising to influencer marketing. Specifically: if you are paying for someone to say something, they must disclose that they’re being paid.

Influencer marketing has auspiciously blurred the lines between advertising and editorial, but the consequences of this are finally catching up. And we now know that editorial and ad content can happily co-exist when presented honestly and transparently.

Adopting this mindset with your influencer program ensures you are being respectful of the influencers audience and integrity and is essential for a successful engagement.

If an influencer is promising to discreetly post this disclosure as a way to fool their followers — run.

Look for mutually beneficial partnerships

Forget all the automated influencer platforms that try to sell you a short cut to success. Start with your current social media following. Do you have any advocates who are also influencers? People who already love and talk about your brand that you can leverage and amplify?

This is the micro-influencer best-case scenario. Especially if their audience already knows they love you. Give these advocates some love (and budget) to extend their message even further, and it will come across with honesty and authenticity.

Start small and meticulously measure

Start with one small engagement, using tracking URLs, look at engagement. If it’s delivering the results you want, then look at how you can grow that partnership. Reduce the risk of tying your brand to one or a small group of influencers (like Subway and Jared, for example) by building your own community of influencers.

Then from there, test, refine, repeat. Social media is measurable down to every single tweet and link click. So there’s no excuse to not demonstrate ROI from your influencer program, while slowly building the trust of your shared audiences.

Like most things in life, there’s no ‘get rich, quick’ scheme to successful influencer marketing, and that’s just the way we all like it. It takes thoughtful planning and careful execution — but it’s definitely worth it when you do.

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