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Less is more: why influencers with smaller audiences are your path to success

Brands are often concerned about ‘niching down’ and alienating mainstream consumers. But influencers can offer brands a safe space to test and learn with new audience segments. 

‘Micro’ is the word of the moment in influencer marketing. Brands are turning away from celebrities and big name talent, seeking creators with smaller, more highly engaged audiences. But don’t take my word for it – research by Influencer Intelligence suggests that 61% of consumers feel micro influencers are the most relatable, while McKinsey found Gen Zs in particular trust those with 30k or less followers more.

2019 saw the rise of the term ‘nano influencer’ – profiles with small, usually even more engaged audience. But what do these terms really mean? Somewhat unhelpfully, each agency and platform is utilising slightly different definitions but by and large the industry would agree that a micro influencer is an individual with under 400k followers inclusive of all their social channels, and a nano influencer is someone with under 20k followers across all their channels. 

(Side bar – be cautious when using these measurements and brackets. They are a marker of how many followers someone has and not their true level of influence. To assess that more effectively, you should be looking at the true reach of a piece of content, an individual’s engagement rate (likes, comments, shares and saves) and their click through rate. In the majority of cases, at the 100k mark engagement rates begin to drop drastically and therefore so does their proportional reach.)

Historically brands have worried about ‘niching down’ and alienating the mainstream audience – advertisers want to get the most bang for their buck and therefore speak to the most common denominator. But with the digital world using personal targeting to provide curated content, shopping recommendations, and more, consumers have grown to expect a more personalised service. They no longer want ads that speak to the masses – they want ads that speak to them.

A micro or nano influencer marketing strategy is by its very nature niche as each profile reaches a small, highly engaged community. With this in mind influencer marketing is the perfect space to explore new market segments, different audience ‘niches’ and even test different campaign messaging.

The smaller the audience (generally) the higher the rate of engagement

Nano influencers have – largely speaking – significantly higher engagement rates than other bands of influencers. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but this higher rate of engagement is significant for a few reasons.

  1. It shows the individual has genuine influence over their audience – which given the entire purpose of this marketing channel is to work with individuals who can influence the thoughts and purchasing decisions of their audience, that would seem to me a basic requirement.
  2. Further to point one, if you’re looking to convert an audience (whether that’s generate sales or simply get them to follow your brand on social media) it’s far more likely they’ll do so if they trust and are genuinely trusting of the influencer.
  3. All platforms reward engaged content. Therefore, the higher the engagement rate (and for the record, you should be looking for a constant average engagement rate) , the more likely that piece of content is to surface in the platform’s algorithm and be served up to your influencer’s audience without extra effort.

They’re still real people in the real world living real lives 

Back at the start of 2020, I wrote about how authenticity and ‘keeping it real’ was going to be a hot trend for this year.

Authenticity has become a hideously over used word in influencer marketing, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less relevant or necessary. […] People are tiring of “best life” content that has become synonymous with Instagram and Pinterest; and with the world, the economy, politics and just about everyone in turmoil, everyone’s feeling a bit jaded.

Nano influencers play into this need without trying. Given then have fewer than 20k followers, it’s unlikely the individual has reached the echelons of fame and fortune that make some loose touch with reality.  In short, they’re still genuinely relatable and as such, consumers trust them and their recommendations more. In a word, they’re authentic.

But what about reach?

While engagement and conversion are the ultimate aim of the game, reach does still have a place in the conversation (sorry). If you work with a single nano influencers with only 5,000 followers the likelihood is – even if they have a sky high 25% engagement rate – you won’t generate the impact you need to sustain your brand. So you’ll need to work with more nano influencers to generate the reach and impact required.

And what about audience waste?

If you work with 25 nano influencers, all with relevant, engaged audiences there is a strong possibility that some of the same individual consumers will follow more than one of those 25.

This ain’t necessarily bad. It may be that you can tap into that ‘tribe’ – by bringing a group of friends on holiday they will appear in each other’s content for instance, their chemistry will be stronger (Sara McCorquodale writes about the potential successes with this strategy in chapter two of her book Influence.) Equally, the brand appearing on multiple influencers’ feeds may merely another touch point with the brand to get the consumer to point of conversion.

But for brands who want to avoid ‘tribes’ for risk of cross over audiences, the devil is in the detail. Whether you’re working with a platform, agency or directly with the influencers themselves, make sure you dig into the audience demographic data available and compare the creators you’re looking at working with.

For instance, you could employ eight influencers who all offer a slightly skewed audience:

  • Influencer 1 indexes highly with women age 18-21 based in the South East
  • Influencer 2 indexes highly with women of colour
  • Influencer 3 with women age 28-35, with a slightly higher income and who also happen to be mums
  • and so on…

In doing so you’re likely to have less audience cross over – i.e. less ‘waste’ – and a higher overall ROI. As a happy side product to the above solution to audience waste, you’ll also be able to measure which of these ‘niche’ audiences works particularly well for your brand.

‘Niching down’ and testing different messaging

Influencer marketing provides brands with a unique opportunity to explore new audience segments in a safe environment. Utilise the nicheness of these nano influencers and target individual communities with slightly different messaging for each one. In the example above, you could also have partnered with influencers from a variety of different ‘niche’ groups (e.g. white, Muslim, LGBT and disabled) to reach different communities in a relevant way. By working closely with the micro or nano influencers, and trusting their creative judgement, you’ll be able to target each community with hyper-relevant messaging, via someone they already trust before expanding that messaging more broadly through other channels such as digital and social ad spend or even regionally segmented out of home advertising.

Have you tried a nano influencer strategy? How have you found working with this group of creators and what advice would you share?

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