Although we’ve only started hearing about it since the advent of social media, the use of prominent figures to endorse products can actually be traced back to ancient Rome, when gladiators did the honors.
The word “influencer” has existed for about 10 years, and it has only been in the English dictionary for the past couple years. But it belies what is nothing short of big business for influencers, marketers and brands alike. In fact, modern influencer marketing is projected to be a $13.8 billion industry in 2021. And by 2022, experts predict that more than 72% of U.S. marketers from companies with at least 100 employees will leverage the power of influencer marketing.
You want in? No matter if you’re a company looking for new marketing strategies, a marketer interested in upping your social media marketing game or a budding influencer, the first step to making effective use of influencer marketing is to understand exactly what influencers are.
Influencers wield a lot of power. But what are they exactly? Merriam-Webster defines influencers as people who can generate buzz about products, services or brands by posting about them on social media. These are individuals who can influence the purchasing decisions of their audience. In the beginning of influencer marketing, the influencers most in demand were largely what we call "mega influencers" now. These are celebs with huge followings like the Kardashians, Ariana Grande or Cristiano Ronaldo. While influencers with large audiences have a wide reach, there’s been a growing demand for those with smaller, niche followings in the past few years as authenticity has taken center stage.
In today’s influencer marketing, clout isn’t everything. Instead, the message has to resonate with the audience. It turns out that consumers largely trust influencers more than brands. In fact, 61% of people find information coming from "people like me" to be credible, with 63% of people trusting influencers more than brands and 74% of consumers avoiding traditional brand messaging.
Simply put, influencers are like a trusted friend that connects consumers with brands, services and products. And consumers are willing to listen and act on their recommendations because there are elements of trust, authority and authenticity at play.
Types of Influencers
There are several ways to identify influencer types. The kind of content they create is a big part of aligning the right influencer with the right brand. But beyond that, most marketers break influencers into categories based on the number of followers they have — and remember, bigger isn’t always better. The four main types include mega, macro, micro and nano influencers.
These influencers have large followings of 1 million +. Their audience is typically diverse and the influencers themselves are often celebrities who are more famous than they are influential. This means that their posts get seen by lots of people, but they don’t have high engagement rates and rarely interact much with their audience. Examples of mega influencers include:
Kylie Jenner, who has more than 221 million followers on Instagram alone
Beyonce, who has more than 169 million Instagram followers
James Charles, who has 18.9 million YouTube subscribers
These influencers typically have followings that range from 100,000 up to one million. While most mega influencers are already famous once they come to social media, most macro influencers gain notoriety through the internet. Many are bloggers, vloggers, podcasters and content producers. Macro influencers still provide a broad demographic, but they also allow increased targeting of a certain type of customer. Examples of macro influencers include:
Jesse Driftwood, who has 163,000 Instagram followers and has partnered with big brands like Vitamix
Lily Pebbles, who has 490,000 YouTube subscribers and 435,000 Instagram followers and has partnered with brands like Aveda UK
Molly Yeh, who has 717,000 Instagram followers and is a cookbook author and host of “Girl Meets Farm” on the Food Network
These influencers may have a smaller following, but many marketers would argue that they're more mighty in many ways than those with huge followings. Micro-influencers have more of a niche audience, with a following that ranges from 10,000 to 100,000. Their followers typically view them as a specialist or expert on whatever area they specialize in and are more engaged with their audience. For brands looking for more focused targeting, micro influencers can often deliver. Examples of micro influencers include:
Adam Gonon, who has more than 49,000 Instagram followers and fashion partnerships with brands like Express Men
Little Red Fashionhood, who has fewer than 35,000 loyal followers and has partnered with brands such as Spanx and Hyundai
Lauren Carey (also known as girlgoneabroad), who has 33,000 followers and has worked with brands like Adore Me
With a following of up to 10,000, it would be all too easy to dismiss nano influencers. But many experts predict that these influencers are the future of influencer marketing. They might be business professionals with a cool side hobby, moms who love the products that have helped them or their kids, or social butterflies who can't help but talk about their passions. Most of them are just everyday people like you and me. And that’s the key to the power they have over their audience. They’re great networkers and their followers trust what they say. Examples of nano influencers include:
Ayça Kalayci, who has 1,200 followers and has partnered with brands like MAC Cosmetics
Ritso Yipsa, who has 1,300 followers and has worked with major brands like Dove
Alexis Baker, who has 4,050 followers and has worked with Clinique, a beauty brand that frequently leverages smaller influencers for promotions
How Much Do Influencers Make
Influencers are compensated in several ways. For some, the clout that comes with a shoutout from the brands they work with is enough. Others accept product discounts or free products. Financial compensation is the norm, and it often corresponds to the number of followers that influencers have. Mega influencers may make up to $1 million per post while influencers with smaller followings may make around $10 for every 1,000 followers they have per post. There’s no set rule dictating how influencers earn or how much they have to be paid, which makes compensation a bit of a gray area. Research shows that 46% of influencers who have been building their audience for at least four years earn $20,000 or more, with 77% of content creators depending on brand deals for the bulk of their revenue.
The real magic is in matching the right influencer(s) with your brand. When you’re looking for options, start by considering the purpose of your campaign. If you’re looking for brand awareness, a mega or macro influencer might be a good option. But when you want to really dial in and target your consumers, consider going with nano or micro influencers, who have strong connections with their audience.