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influencer marketing

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?

influencer marketing, social media

Books and resources to read about social media and influencer marketing

As with every other form of marketing, as the influencer industry matures more and more books and resources about campaign execution, the history of the industry and the theory behind best practise are being published.

Below is a round-up of the ones not to miss. Unless specified, I have read or listened to the media in question and it is included because it comes with my personal recommendation.

Influence: How social media influencer are shaping our digital future, by Sara McCorquodale, CEO and founder of CORQ

A fantastic exposé of the influencer industry through the ages. McCorquodale takes the reader on a journey, from it’s first rumblings with Google Blogger, the rise of Facebook, the battle of Youtube, Instagram’s 2014 explosion through to modern day, asking the tough questions as she goes as well as ‘what’s next?’. Intensely researched and written with a keen insight, this is not only informative but enjoyable to boot.

Highly recommended for anyone already within the industry or who’s looking to understand the industry as a whole better.
Not recommended if you’re looking for strategy or best practise advise and guidance.

Social Media Strategy: a practical guide to social media marketing and customer engagement, by Julie Atherton

Covering all aspects of social media from planning to measurement, Atherton has produced a helpful, step-by-step guide to creating and producing your own social media strategy. Jam-packed with case studies and interviews, there’s also online resources to accompany the book giving you a hands-on approach.

Highly recommended for anyone who is new to social media marketing, or looking to brush up on their skills.
Not recommended for experts in the field

YouTubers: How YouTube shook up TV and created a new generation of stars, by Chris Stokel-Walker, tech journalist for WIRED, The Economist and more

Stokel-Walker spent a number of years researching the platform, charting its rise as well as the individuals it propelled to fame. He’s interviewed 75 people involved in the platform from creators such as KSI to insiders from Google HQ and attended numerous YouTube events to get under its skin.

NB: I haven’t yet read this book and therefore cannot provide a personal recommendation.

Blogosphere Magazine

With their finger on the pulse from a creator’s perspective, Blogosphere is a must read for anyone working in the influencer industry. This is a quarterly magazine, providing in depth articles on a variety of topics that are important to creators and the industry, as well as recommendations for each niche.

Highly recommended for creators and industry professionals who want the full picture
Not recommended if you’re looking for strategy advice, best practise information or instant responses to industry issues

Social Minds Podcast, by Social Chain

A weekly podcast covering everything social media. I particularly like their fortnightly ‘Social in Six’ episodes to stay on top of platform changes and news from the industry. Their hour long interviews with brands like Lonely Planet and Oatly discussing their social strategies along with interviews topics like AR implementation on Snapchat or the representation of disabled individuals in advertising are also excellent.

Highly recommended for up to date industry information and insightful interviews

Serious Influence Podcast, by Blogosphere

A podcast dedicated to the influencer marketing industry, sharing views, experiences, strategies and case studies from both creators and industry professionals. Hosted by Blogosphere founder and CEO Alice Audley, she leaves her interviewees no where to hide, exploring what is both great within the industry and that which needs some work.

Highly recommended for insightful interviews with the industry’s finest and examples of best practise work

When purchasing books, it’s all too easy just to head to Amazon. But please consider if your local book store could order a copy for you , or if you could use an alternative, independent book seller website such as Waterstones or Wordery.com. If we don’t diversify where we buy products from, we will simply fuel a retail monopoly. Thank you

social media, Uncategorized

Why your engagement rate on Instagram has plummeted in 2019

Throughout 2019 I watched as engagement rates slowly declined on Instagram. Influencers all over the app (and on Twitter when the app crashed – again, and again) creators were all lamenting their dropping engagement rate.

But the evidence was more than anecdotal. At Mumsnet, my team had software tracking all our members’ channels – including Instagram – and we could see very objectively that engagement rates were decreasing overall. It was my personal opinion that this couldn’t be a coincidence.

Usually, an apparent shift in functionality or behaviour on Instagram is because the powers that be behind the platform are preparing something new. And so we waited… But little did we realise quiet how big those changes would truly be.

Last week I published a thread on Twitter explaining the phenomenon and how it it about so much more than simply Instagram ‘hiding likes’…

influencer marketing

Influencer Marketing Trends for 2020

2019 was a rollercoaster year for the influencer marketing industry. It started with Netflix’ documentary on Fyre Festival, and has ended with more influencer drama (in the parenting world at least) than even Glee managed in six seasons.

Following the panic in 2018 around follower fraud there was an overall drive in 2019 to better the industry. It goes without saying that as we move into 2020 (and beyond) there will be a continued effort to improve the metrics, data and reporting both for influencers’ individual channels and on campaigns as a whole. But beyond this slightly obvious prediction, what else can we expect from the year to come, and the dawn of the roaring twenties 2.0?

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‘Keeping it real’ is the new chic

Reports show that consumers are gravitating more and more towards influencers who are ‘keeping it real’. 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. This shift in consumer thinking was clearly (albeit crudely) depicted in the demise of skinny jeans as women welcomed ‘mom jeans’ back into their wardrobes in the last couple of years, along with the return of grunge. (If you’re interested in this in more detail, read The age of the Influencer has peaked. It’s time for the slacker to rise again.)

To brands this may feel a worrying shift – it’s easier to understand how to execute a brand campaign safely with controlled flat lays and aspirational photography. But consumers are seeking influencers who aren’t afraid to show the real-life mess (albeit in a stylised and curated fashion, I’m sure). If brands and their agencies can learn to trust digital content creators to do what they do best – to be authentic, creative, to speak a language their audience tunes in for – then there is no reason for them to fear this shift.

This could prove an exciting next phase for the influencer industry as it returns to its roots (real people actually being real – shock horror) but with the structure in place that brands, the influencer industry and governing bodies such as the ASA have put in place. Roaring twenties indeed.

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Authenticity remains important

Authenticity has become a hideously over used word in influencer marketing, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less relevant or necessary.

With consumers being all the more concerned by authenticity (see above), it’s more important than ever for brands and agencies alike to ensure the creators they work with are genuinely a good fit for their brand and the product. Doing your due diligence – digging into the data, checking audience demographics, past brands they’ve worked with and what’s in their pipeline, personal history where necessary, etc.

And there is without a doubt equal onus on the creators themselves to ensure the brands they collaborate with are right for them and their audience too.

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Say hello to in-house teams

As the industry continues to mature (see my article on why the industry is still actually just a toddler in training pants here) and brands’ influencer marketing budgets increase it makes sense that brands are looking to hire specialists in-house to manage the activity and their agencies. For example in March, Melanie Kentish joined Sky as their Head of Influencer Marketing and in May, Lauren Spearman joined Made.com as their Head of Brand Advocacy to name but a few.

In-house influencer teams are a big step forward for the industry – brands are not only taking it seriously but genuinely putting money and resource behind influencer marketing. It just – got – interesting!

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Usage rights will dominate conversation

This subject came up on a number of campaigns in 2019, with more established talent agents already building this into contracts. I foresee this becoming a much bigger topic in 2020. Influencer campaigns are becoming far more sophisticated with brands utilizing campaign assets across the full marketing mix rather than creators remaining siloed on their own channels.

2020 will be a year of negotiation and trial and error as everyone in the industry tries to find a solution that suits all involved – likely led by the talent agents who have worked with traditional talent and are used to negotiating these sorts of rights already.

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Quality, not quantity

At the start of 2019 the Competitions Market Authority (CMA) published guidelines for digital content creatorsstating that creators must now declare if something in the content (e.g. a pair of shoes, a camera, the sofa they’re sitting on) was the result of a brand relationship, whether that be paid, gifted or otherwise if the relationship was within a reasonable period (e.g. the last year or so).

As a result, many influencers suddenly risked every post becoming ‘ad’ content – which doesn’t spark delight in audiences, no matter how devoted to an influencer they may be. In response, creators are becoming more particular about who they work with and what products they feature to ensure that when they do declare a brand relationship, it’s truly worth it to them and their audience.

Another really positive change for the industry. If an influencer works with 100 brands in a year, you are 1 in 100. If an influencer works with 10 brands, suddenly you have the opportunity to do more with that individual, to demand exclusivity for your sector, and to build a truly meaningful relationship with them and their audience that is far more likely to convert in the long run.

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The rise of B2B influencer marketing

This is the big one. Millennials have come of age and are applying the same social media savvy to LinkedIn as they learned on first MySpace, then Facebook, Youtube and more over the years. Creating digital content is second nature to this generation, so it’s no surprise that as they mature and their careers become more established they should look to do the same in the professional sphere as in their personal.

Enter LinkedIn. If you hadn’t noticed, LinkedIn has responded in kind to this new appetite for its platform and is practically giving away organic reach at the moment. Now is the perfect time for individuals and businesses alike to harness that ‘free’ reach and grow their B2B brands effectively. But as with any good marketing strategy, make sure you plan a multi-platform approach, as LinkedIn won’t offer such high levels of organic reach forever. As with Facebook and YouTube before it, it will close the gates at some point, and you and your business need to be ready for that when it happens.

Strong examples from early adopters in 2019 include:

  • software provider Sage who’s B2B and employee advocacy strategy drove 23% of all organic social referrals last year
  • Social Chain who employed personal brand consultant Ashley Jones to work with Founder and CEO Steven Barlett and MD Katy Leeson to build their personal brands and support the agency’s B2B strategy (find out more here)

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Podcasting comes of age

“Everyone has a podcast these days” – so the joke goes. But 2020 will be the year that podcasters and brands alike figure out how to effectively monetize this channel and we’ll see more podcasters in the mix for influencer marketing campaigns alongside their more ‘traditional’ influencer counterparts. Podcasting giant Acast is already making moves in this space with their new tiered approach to the Acast platform.

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Tik Tok goes mainstream

As 2019 draws to a close this is the platform on everyone’s lips. Tik Tok currently has a very young userbase, but more brands and influencers will join the platform in 2020 and start experimenting with the format.

Tik Tok released their ad platform earlier this year and this week released the Tik Tok top 100 to help brands and creators alike start to see what (and who) is popular on the platform as they develop their 2020 strategy.

personal news

Influencer Top 50

I am very proud and genuinely flattered (and shocked!) to have been named as One To Watch in Talking Influence‘s list of most influential industry players in influencer marketing for 2020.

One to watch

For the first time, we’ve highlighted a number of individuals as One to Watch, indicating the rising stars of the industry who are set to push the boundaries and improve the channel in 2020 and beyond. 

“The ones to watch celebrate the rising stars of the industry that have shown commitment and courage to make their mark in the space,” continued Zulawski.

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Click here to view the full list

To whoever it was who nominated me, I am extremely flattered and grateful. But also to those I’ve worked with over the past year – the influencer team at Mumsnet, my clients and of course the many influencers themselves I’ve worked with – thank you for listening to and trusting my expertise – I wouldn’t be in the list unless you had allowed me execute my ideas and influencer strategies.

What an incredible end to an already fantastic year. Roll on 2020!

influencer marketing

Diversity and representation in influencer marketing – the uncomfortable truth

Influencer marketing has disrupted the advertising industry over the past few years, but hasn’t managed to escape the pitfalls of traditional media, not least when it comes to being predominantly white, straight, able and privileged. 

I was proud to host a panel at the Influencer Marketing Show (IMS) discussing the issues around diversity and representation in industry. This was actually my second panel of the day: the session before we discussed how to assess an influencer’s true value to a packed out room – it was one of the busiest sessions of the conference. But clearly getting bang for you buck is the priority for most as the room emptied out in between the two sessions. In truth, we managed a half full audience for the diversity panel. This was extremely disheartening to see, and perhaps speaks to why there is still a problem in the advertising industry as a whole when it comes to diversity and representation.

Below is a run down of our discussion on the panel to help you rethink your own strategies and help you persuade the powers that be where you work why this is something you should be thinking about in your campaigns.

The panel:

Nicole Ocran, Independent Talent Manager at The Fifth
Simon Ragoonanan, Marketing Manager at Hopster TV
William Soulier, Co-Founder and CEO at Talent Village
Chair: Amie Shearer, Influencer and Social Media Marketing Consultant

Tokenism: the lazy marketer’s crutch or a step in the right direction?  

Traditional forms of advertising have long been criticised for relying on and perpetuating stereotypes. Despite hugely disrupting the advertising industry and breaking the mould in so many ways, influencer marketing is slowly falling into the same woeful habits, with ‘tokenism’ becoming one of the key issues of the moment.

It’s the idea that brands employ a roster of talent for their campaign, including one individual who is (for example) black to ‘tick the diversity box’, while everyone else involved is straight, white, privileged – and often even blonde.

But is tokenism itself really all that bad?

Nicole Ocran (Black Ballad, Disney and more recently working at The Fifth) suggested that if a ‘tick boxing exercise’ is what it takes to ensure a campaign is diverse, then that’s better than failing to be diverse at all – at least it shows the team are consciously trying to be inclusive in their marketing, which in itself is a step forward. The problem is when a brand fails to move beyond tokenism time and time again.

During my time at Mumsnet, I chose to put quotas in place to ensure diversity and representation was front of mind for my (all-white) team: influencer shortlists sent to clients required a minimum of 20% of the creators being from a minority background – whether that was BAME, SEN, adoptive or LGBT families or other. This didn’t mean that quality, relevance or engagement rates dropped. It simply meant the team had to work harder to ensure all criteria were met.

But this is an industry of two sides and Jess Jones (The Fat Funny One) has challenged the influencers themselves to take a more active role in the campaigns they are a part of. Speaking on Grace Victory and Simone Powderly’s podcast The Sister Space (listen here from about 8mins in) Jess called for influencers to ask who else is on the roster before they sign onto a campaign, and if it’s not diverse, call out the issue, recommend alternative talent and be a voice for change.

Myth: diverse talent only access a niche audience

Have a quick think – how many brands can you name that have a vegan focussed product already on shelves? Tesco has an entire vegan range (Wicked Kitchen) and recently launched it’s first vegan ad (much to the Farmer’s Union’s disgust – awkward); and if you search ‘vegan leather’ on Net-A-Porter you can fit out your entire Autumn Winter wardrobe in smug, animal friendly chic.

Yet only 1% of the UK population are actually vegan.

By contrast, there are 13 million in the UK who are considered terminally disabled, which stretches to 53% of the UK population when you include carers, friends and family affected by someone who is disabled.

Still sounding niche?

But how many advertising campaigns have you seen recently including a disabled individual as part of the talent roster? Likely not that many as research by The Valuable 500 – a global organisation putting disability on the business agenda – has discovered that only 0.6% of adverts represent those who live with a disability. (Stats via the SocialMinds podcast here).

What’s more, M.I.N (Muslim Influencer specialists) presented case studies at IMS showcasing how they had helped major UK brands increase sales with targeted Muslim messaging via Muslim influencers. Omar Shahid shared how their Ramadan campaign contributed to Anchor becoming the second largest butter brand (in terms of sales) in the UK.

But such a niche group couldn’t manage that – surely?

So is it really minority groups ‘being niche’ that is the problem, or is it modern discrimination at play? An uncomfortable thought for all of us that work in the industry, but one we need to openly consider if we’re going to make a change for the better.

Are ‘niche’ talent pricing themselves out of the market?

But many brands and agencies alike complain that ‘niche’ talent are charging a premium for their services – women over 50 with half the engaged audience of a woman in her 20s charging twice as much, “simply because she’s more experienced”.

This very phrase could warrant an article all and of itself, outlining some of the major issues in the influencer marketing industry currently – in that specific example, do you know any other industry where you wouldn’t pay a premium for quality and experience? But I digress…

On the panel at IMS, Nicole and Simon Ragoonanan (HopsterTV) both felt that it was wholly acceptable for talent from minority backgrounds to charge a premium. If you don’t agree that an individual is worth what they are charging then maybe they’re not the right talent for your campaign anyway.

It has been the case in the world of talent long before digital influencers joined the fray that talent and their agents charge what they believe that individual is worth. It is subjective, and sometimes murky. The influencer space has actually really disrupted the talent space by expecting fees to be more reliant on objective measurements of return on investment – something that William (Talent Village) felt was crucial regardless of a creator’s race, gender, ability or any other personal classification.

But where the panel did agree was that we live in a Capitalist society and it could be argued this is a very simple case of supply and demand. The digital influencer default is able, straight white, aged 18-35. For instance, Vuelio published research earlier this year confirming the industry is hugely lacking in diversity, with only 9% being people of colour.

Turning that on its head, Vuelio also found that over 80% of influencers in the industry are female, and that on average male creators charge more, and earn more than their female counterparts – but no one is calling them out for charging a premium for being a minority in the industry.

So again we return to the question: how much are the problems within this discussion simply a result of modern discrimination?

The uncomfortable truth: the problem lies with advertising professionals

I wrote earlier that while I was Head of Influencer Marketing at Mumsnet, I introduced diversity quotas. This is often seen as an unpopular course of action, but after speaking to those from minority groups within Mumsnet HQ and our influencer network, I felt it was the right one to ensure we broke out of our own echo chambers and removed our own unconscious bias as we were an all-white, all-female team.

We started searching for creators on Google Incognito so our personal preferences that had been training algorithms for years didn’t get in the way. On Instagram and YouTube we didn’t rely simply on the ‘Like this profile? Try these’ suggestions, but instead delved deeper – who were these profiles following, and who were they following? Over three months, we discovered hundreds of new profiles that had never before been on our radar. Not all of them had a strong enough relationship with their audience yet for all our campaigns, but at least we now knew who they were for when they had grown their influence further.

Simon echoed this need for agency teams to work harder:

HopsterTV is a progressive brand, targeting a progressive parent audience. But I want it all – I want an agency to come to me with a diverse range of influencers who will represent and reach our desired target audience, and ultimately convert that audience into customers. Sometimes these are competing priorities, but that’s what agencies should be aiming for.

Influencer Intelligence (2018) found that 38% of marketers still rely on recommendations from friends within the industry. So is it any surprise that so many campaigns utilise the same faces again and again?

But at the heart of all of this is the issue that the advertising, marketing and media industries are still largely white, privileged and London-centric. And until we address this within our own teams at brands, agencies and platforms alike, diversity and representation in advertising – of all varieties, not just influencer marketing – is likely to continue to be something teams have to actively consider through quotas, tick boxing and other means rather than it simply coming naturally to the creative process.