In 2018, consumer attention is at a premium. We're all bombarded with marketing messages from the moment we wake right through to bedtime, whether they appear in apps or on the radio, between TV shows or on billboards. An increasing variety of channels, coupled with a growing blindness to banner (and even native) ads, is forcing brands to rethink how they connect with their audiences and guarantee actual engagement. It's because of this landscape that online influencers have emerged as the celebrity endorsement opportunity of the digital age. Brands are paying those with significant enough online followings to promote their products, and are reaching audiences they might otherwise be locked out of.
It's big business, too. Forbes reported that, if an account has over a million followers, the owner can earn over $50,000 for just one sponsored post. This is a lot of money for most brands to spend on a single marketing message, and for many the best-followed accounts will be a long way outside budget.
More followers do not necessarily mean greater engagement on Instagram, though. In fact, research suggests that engagement per follower actually peaks when an account has around 1,000. In terms of the ratio of likes and comments to follower numbers, this is the sweet spot. Once you get over about 100,000 followers, engagement starts to flatten out and growth in key metrics slows right down. Simply, people are happier interacting with someone they can relate to than a celebrity; it almost feels pointless liking a post with hundreds of thousands of likes already.
This is where micro-influencers are thriving, social media personalities with enough followers to be genuinely influential but not so many that their audiences feel disconnected to them. Brands are realizing that a 'smaller' influencer with better engagement figures, and one with an audience applicable to the product being promoted, is preferable to an influencer with a large but disconnected and irrelevant audience. HelloSociety, acquired last year by the New York Times, categorizes micro-influencers as any account with 30,000 or fewer followers, and has declared them more beneficial for marketers than accounts with comparatively huge followings.
Micro-influencers will have a job outside of social media and will see relatively little money from it. They'll be either locally popular or popular within a niche category. They also make up by far the largest percentage of influencers (vs celebrity or macro-influencers) and they share a more personal relationship with their followers than the other two types. It's this last post that is important to brands. Yes, driving awareness is good marketing, but driving awareness through a medium the audience trusts and has a relationship with is incomparably better.
At the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit this February 27 - 28 in New York, Rachel Cone-Gorham, former executive director of digital and social marketing at Penguin Random House, gave a presentation on the power of micro-influencers to reach new audiences. Her first example was of a book published by Penguin Random House that was aimed at teens, which Rachel and her team searched the web for to see what fans were saying and what the general reception was. They stumbled across a woman called Christine who, at the time, had around 100,000 followers and was making two or three videos every week about young adult books. She was acting as a brand advocate for the series and was connecting with a niche YouTube audience.
"She lived on YouTube within this niche community called BookTube," Rachel explains. "I, being new to Penguin, assumed that everyone must have known about her, and that we probably sent her the other books in the series. I assumed that everybody in publishing knew about BookTube as well." They didn't. YouTube was an area of potential exposure that Penguin largely hadn't previously considered, and Rachel and her team found an entire community of micro-influencers discussing young adult books on the platform. "By the time I left, we had created a really robust campaign that was about 70% planned. And that was: monthly books getting sent out, key important titles getting paid efforts across all of our influencers, we did interviews with authors, we brought influencers to events where we would create offline experiences, we did book signings where there would be an influencer and an author just to combine those fandoms together."
The results were very positive. One of Penguin's authors reported back, having been sent on a tour, that actual teens had been attending the events - one of the secrets of young adult fiction, Rachel reveals, is that very few teens actually read it and that the average reader is a 34-year-old woman. When the author asked the teens how they had heard about her work, they all said it was thanks to BookTube. The uncovering of a YouTube niche opened up Penguin's reach to audiences it had somehow not managed to connect with in the past. The results were more than anecdotal, too. Pre-orders went up, there was measurable buzz around the product, rankings on Amazon improved, author awareness went up, and title-specific sales lifted.
Of course, not all products are as clearly marketable through influencers as books. However, as Rachel points out, there are internet communities for just about every niche you can imagine. There are very popular channels that explain areas of accounting, for example, or channels entirely dedicated to videos about elevators - your niche will be out there. All brands should consider reaching out to micro-influencers to put together some form of campaign. They are relatively inexpensive, their audiences trust them, they will largely be open to working with brands if their channels relate to them, and they see better engagement than you might think.
Find out more about the latest trends in digital marketing, from a host of executive-level speakers, at the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit this September 13 - 14.