The rise of micro-influencers.

WHEN the Internet was just starting to become a popular platform for disseminating content, it was thought that online advertising would take the form of banner ads. And indeed that is today a common form of online advertising. However, its popularity is declining fast.

For one thing, people are employing ad blockers on their browsers to stop online ads from displaying. But even when ad blockers are not used or do not work properly, people are simply ignoring online ads. “Banner blindness” refers to the now-common phenomenon whereby people have become so immune to banner ads that they actually don’t even see them even though they’re there!

Increasingly, many organisations are turning instead to what’s called “influencer marketing”, whereby they engage bloggers and Facebook or Instagram celebrities to attend their event or promote their products.

It shouldn’t be surprising that social media stars are now on the forefront of marketing and branding activities. Social media has become the main source of news and information for many people. It’s also through social media that many people communicate with each other, for personal and business reasons.

In today’s world, some young people can go for days or even weeks without reading a physical newspaper, magazine or book. The same applies for listening to the radio or watching TV. But all of them check their social media pages not just daily but several times a day.

When I was a teenager, there was no such thing as the Internet so the celebrities we admired back then were TV and movie stars, and singers with hit records. And what did brands do back then? They hired such celebrities to endorse products.

Well, times have changed. Young people today admire YouTube stars, bloggers and Instagrammers much more than big screen stars. These social influencers may not be household names the way the big stars are but some of them have huge followings. There are some local social media stars with well over a million followers.

RISE OF THE MICRO-INFLUENCERS

The natural inclination for big brands is to go with the traditional celebrities — the TV or movie star or recording artiste. But such people cost an arm and a leg. And if you notice something about big stars, their social media postings don’t have that much engagement.

Sure, they get lots of “Likes” but not that many people interact with them, maybe because they’re too busy (and frankly, too big) to deal with individual fans.

And that’s where micro-influencers come into play. As their name implies, micro-influencers are those social media stars with smaller followings, but are popular within their own demographic or reach.

There’s no set standard for what constitutes a micro-influencer but it’s generally thought to mean those with fewer than 100,000 followers. Study after study has found that micro-influencers generate more online engagement than big-name social influencers or celebrities with massive followings.

Make no mistake, big-time celebrities and social influencers get lots of “Likes”. What they tend to get less of are the more valuable forms of engagement, in the form of comments, shares, tagging of friends and so on.

For good engagement, you have to look at micro-influencers who have a following but nowhere near the size that celebrities have. These micro-influencers tend to be more real in the sense that they’re small enough to still want to interact with their online fans. They don’t have public relations people answering queries or replying to comments on their behalf. They do it themselves, and that makes it that much more genuine and meaningful to their fans.

MORE REAL

Micro-influencers, by nature of their size, tend to be more cost-effective for brands to hire compared to regular celebrities. For the cost of one big-time celebrity, a brand could easily hire 10 or more micro-influencers, each with their own niche target audience. This helps to spread the message to a much wider range of people.

In some cases, depending on the size and prominence of the micro-influencers, money doesn’t even have to change hands in order to have them promote a product or a service. Just give them payment in kind — the company’s product, obviously — and many would be delighted. Celebrities, in contrast, will almost always demand money.

While it is expected that celebrities would endorse almost any product that pays them to be their ambassadors, this is not so much the case with micro-influencers. Micro-influencers have their own constituencies which they know really well. They will not jeopardise their credibility by endorsing a product they didn’t believe in. Their readers know that and that’s why micro-influencer marketing is so effective. It just seems more “real” than a typical celebrity endorsement.

Although theoretically micro-influencers can be useful for promoting any brands from any industry, they’re generally most useful for consumer brands. Many of these micro-influencers are primarily active on the picture-centric Instagram, which is great for consumer brands.

Choosing a micro-influencer or several of them to help with a marketing or branding campaign will be more tedious than choosing a well-known celebrity. This is because micro-influencers, by the very nature of the size of their following, are not that well-known.

Some of these micro-influencers are more into fashion, while some are into food, others are into travel, and some are into fitness and so on. So some research work needs to be done to find the right ones for a particular brand.

You will need to look into their postings, check on their fan engagement and so on to see if they have the image that you’re comfortable with. If you can find the right slate of micro-influencers for your company, they can do wonders for your brand. It’s definitely worth the hassle.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com

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