The influencer is dead, but—worry not—the Olivia Jades of the world have spawned a smaller cousin: Welcome to the era of the micro-influencer.
Influencers with relatively small followings (where “small” is 10,000 to just below 100,000 followers) have a trend for a while now, drawing advertisers for a “tight-knit audience that trusts their taste,” according to the Verge. But small-scale influencers, or micro-influencers, are quickly becoming the norm: In 2018, Wired reported that more and more businesses were shying away from million-plus follower handles in exchange for “niche internet personalities” with “intimate, engaged communities.”
As the division between influencer and normal-Instagrammer becomes fewer and fewer number of followers—and less and less money—the already ill-defined Instagrammer industry is bound to get blurry. Let this dystopic thought sink in: it’s only a matter of time before everyone is an influencer.
As spotted by Women’s Wear Daily, Launchmetrics, a marketing and data analytics site for the fashion industry, recently published a report looking at influencer market. The company surveyed more than 600 “marketing, communications, and public relations professionals” along with 200 influencers, and discovered a large number of marketers—more than 40 percent of all polled—preferred to work with micro-influencers. This group said they would choose to work with small-scale influencers over mid-tier influencers (100,000 - 500,000 followers), mega-influencers (500,000 to two million followers) and all-star influencers (over two million followers, a category reserved for Ariana Grande and a handful of teenage gamers.)
A handy graph illustrates the break down:
But why are brands detouring to influencers with nascent followings? WWD’s Alexa Tietjen argues that the pivot solves the problem of “authenticity.” In an increasingly saturated influencer market, it’s easier to trust smaller accounts that seem less immediately professional. The logic tracks: Accounts with under 100,000 followers typically see a higher rate of engagement. These smaller accounts often appear friendlier, more accessible—like a family member recommending something cool, rather than a sleek corporate scheme to rid you of your money.
In business speak, that’s probably “authenticity.”
But there’s a bleak side-effect of the pivot towards small accounts with fewer followers, who likely don’t demand the big bucks of massive influencer stars. More followers equals higher costs. And not to fret over the fate of macro influencers—who seem to be doing just fine—but by seeking out young, up-and-coming influencers, brands are using a classic technique: undercutting the professionalism of more expensive workers. It’s an age-old business strategy, seeking out workers with a lower bottom-line, and making that line standard practice. And it’s much more likely that an influencer with a smaller following will have a small team (or no team) and thus less protection when negotiating rates.
If anything, the growth of the micro-influencer is an extension of big businesses’ desire to sell you more shit, and with micro-influencers they’ve engineered a win-win situation: a cheap, sticky form of advertising that is trustworthy, ironically, because of just how well it masks the fact that it’s an #ad.
The good news, of course, is that the time is right to rebrand your 300-follower Insta and make those big bucks, buddy.