What is a Micro Influencer and How Can They Help You?

The term micro-influencer has become very popular lately.

With the practice of influence marketing maturing (well, sort of), marketers are embracing concepts beyond Klout scores and “social amplification as influence” when designing influence marketing campaigns.

Micro-influencer is one of those concepts.

However, the definition – like so many other things in this industry – shifts based on what money-making scheme an influencer wishes to sell you, what shortcut a marketer invents to justify his or her job or when a blogger needs to create something fresh.

Lately, I’ve noticed a rise in the use of micro-influencer as a term to describe people with a smaller but more engaged following than macro-influencers –  or “social celebrities” – who have earned a large following on their social media accounts.

Well, by “earned” I mean “purchased”, but that’s a topic for my next article.

A Micro-Influencer By Any Other Name…

Linguistically, this makes sense. Macro means “very large in scale,” whereas micro means “very small.”

Thus, macro-influencers have large quantities of social followers, and micro-influencers have, comparatively speaking, a small number of social followers.

In this context, micro-influencer is used to champion influencers who have a smaller but more engaged base of followers on social media.

The theory being: If a brand hires a person with a smaller but more engaged audience to mention or recommend their brand, the likelihood of engaging more people is greater.

A Takumi study revealed that among 500,000 Instagram users, the follower rate had an inverse correlation to engagement; the larger the audience, the less engaged they are with the person they followed.

Below is a chart they produced illustrating this finding.


Revelations like this have fostered the labelling of those with smaller social media audiences as micro-influencers. And, not to be outdone, some marketers and bloggers are extending this theory to segment and label: Celebrities, Macro-Influencers, Middle-Influencers, and Micro-Influencers.

mi chart

Please, stop.  This is just lazy.

What Is A Micro-Influencer?

Danny Brown and I introduced the term micro-influencer in the context of influence marketing in our book: Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage, and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing a few years ago.

The term was used to describe the lessons learned from our study of who truly influences consumers to make a purchase decision or to reverse a purchase intention.

We charted a small group of people surrounding a brand’s customers and prospects, whose relationship to the buyer is defined by proximity, relationship, and time.

We discovered that the nature of the conversations between this group had a greater impact on purchase decisions than those whom they followed online.

In other words, a micro-influencer is not someone with a smaller audience than the more commonly known social celebrity or macro-influencer, he or she is not an individual at all.

Micro influencers are a group of people whose relationship and proximity to a potential buyer has more sway over the purchase decision of a brand’s audience.

For example, a group of co-workers connected on social media have greater influence to sway the purchase decision of a colleague buying a mobile phone or a computer than any one person they may follow on Instagram.

Conversely, that same group may have little-to-no influence on the manner in which that same work colleague will vote in a government election or what brand of diapers his or her family purchases for their babies.

So micro-influence is not defined by the number of one’s social following but the relevant conversation groups that a buyer engages in. Therefore, a micro-influencer is not someone with a specific number of followers – engaged or otherwise – but the people whom your potential buyer speaks with when considering a purchase decision.

In my experience, the number of followers a person has on social media, despite their level of engagement, is still not enough to accurately predict the likelihood of a sales transaction.

We’ve already proven the Klout model of “reach equals influence” to be ineffective. All we’re doing with this new classification is shifting the same old tired model to another group.

Again, it’s lazy. Influence marketing is NOT a short cut.

Branding Vs. Sales

As if often the case in marketing discussion, this comes down to the difference between brand amplification and brand sales.

This premise is the “chicken or the egg” equivalent for marketers. Is brand amplification enough? Or should marketing be accountable to sell products?

In truth I understand that both are important and interrelated; in practice what I can tell you is that I’ve rarely seen a CFO reward a marketing team with greater budgets on the back of followers and mentions.

On the other hand, I’ve been rewarded with renewed contracts and more significant funds by clients when our marketing campaigns are linked directly to sales transactions.

Marketers, say it with me: “Causation instead of conjecture or correlation….yes, we can!”

Choose Wisely

Ultimately, the choice is yours. Hire people with a limited, albeit more engaged following than a social celebrity, or work to sway the discussion of those who are proven to influence a purchase decision.

I know where our focus is.

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