Why brands should be looking to micro-influencers to generate sales in the countdown to Christmas

​Back in the midst of August, online fashionista Zoella uploaded a first look at her Christmas beauty range. With over 11 million YouTube subscribers and a further six million on Twitter, she is often referred to as one of the most powerful online influencers.

There's no arguing that influencers are now an integral part of the marketing mix, and when names like Zoella and PewDiePie first arrived on the scene the opportunity seemed simple: align yourself with the person with the largest following and reap the results. Years down the line, brands are beginning to question how valuable this exposure is when there is a possibility that the influencers’ followers may not even be interested in their product.

If we add the complexities of hitting the right target audience while meeting the format requirements of each influencer, the challenges of constructing an effective influencer marketing programme become apparent. Looking for a solution, we’ve seen many brands beginning to reach out to micro-influencers who have a smaller, yet highly engaged followings.

As marketing departments tee up their Black Friday and Christmas influencer campaigns, they should carefully consider the fact that less is more and test reaching out to micro-influencers, ie individuals with 10,000-100,000 followers on social, to help them win the season.

Solving the micro-engagement dilemma

While this might appear to be a step backwards, if we take Instagram as an example, a recent study has shown that engagement rates drop rapidly from the 1,000 follower’s mark (where influencers boast an 8% like ratio) to 1.6% at the point where the following surpasses one million users.

There are several factors that dictate this gap in engagement. Firstly, influencers with fewer followers tend to enjoy a larger proportion of fans who actually know them personally and are thus more likely to trust their recommendations. This ties into the fact that the more followers an influencer has, the more likely they are to attract a higher number of fake and bot accounts that will beef up their numbers, but won’t actually generate genuine engagement. Trump’s recent social fiasco in the run up to the US election is a testimony to this.

Appealing to the social media savvy

Alongside the higher proportion of engaged followers, micro-influencers also appeal to changing consumer perspectives. Millennials, who have grown up with social media, are hyper-sensitive to the highly edited versions of ourselves that are portrayed through increasingly professional social media outfits. Craving a more authentic version of events, we are seeing that younger audiences are attracted to smaller-scale and more unique personalities.

It’s also important to be more conscious of the way in which we consume content. Social media personalities have become powerful because we all follow so many of them. With a potential customer’s news feed comprising of posts from dozens of different influencers, there is a risk that if they are all promoting the same clothing line, it will become clear that it’s sponsored content and not authentic, which can tarnish a brand’s reputation.

Working together dynamically

This plurality of influencers places the onus on brands to do the work to find the right influencers with the right followings to get their message out to their target audience. This means choosing collaborators who fit naturally with your brand and are perhaps already brand advocates. Ensure any influencer you work with is prioritising the relationship with their audience– it’s not about numbers or their popularity, it’s about how they can take the best of what the brand has to offer and combine it with their unique point of view.

Crucially, a brand’s mix of influencers will always be in a state of flux. Every marketing initiative, depending on the objective, will shift. That means that the type of influencer a brand works with will likely adapt in line with the campaign. What remains constant, however, is the need to engage with personalities that echo and align with your brand values – especially as the countdown to Christmas looms.

Megan Dado is regional senior director of Rakuten Affiliate Europe at Rakuten Marketing