The days of the celebrity mega-influencer are numbered.
Ok that’s fairly hyperbolic, but hear me out. I am not saying that celebrity influencers will go away entirely. I recognize that as long as we have celebrities, companies will clamor over themselves to ride those coat tails in order to hock their wares. But in this economy, even enterprise brands with seemingly limitless budgets are starting to rethink their flashy vanity-based ‘exposure’ campaigns and shifting their digital marketing strategies and spend toward well-measured strategies that focus on moving inventory and getting deals signed with provable, trackable ROI.
Companies who routinely cut 6-figure checks enabling Kendall Jenner to solve world peace by sharing a Pepsi (with absolutely no guarantee of profitability) are now setting their sights on a new type of influencer; one with a small but engaged following. A group that is so exclusive, they are the very opposite of the celebrity influencer. The social luminaries these companies are looking to be the face of their brand are people like your aunt Maxine, Thomas, your dog walker, and your home repair guy Joaquin who posts fun DIY how-to's on TikTok.
These folks are known as nano-influencers, and they are quickly becoming the hottest thing in digital marketing.
What is a nano influencer?
Most people automatically think about celebrities and social media stars when they hear the word ‘influencer’, but it is generally accepted that there are actually five defined categories of influencers: mega (celebrities) with an audience of over 1 million followers, macro-influencers (500k-1MM), mid-tier influencers (100k to 500k), micro-influencers (10k - 100k) and… the nano-influencer (up to 10k).
Nano influencers are our peers. This is to say, they are our family members, our friends, and our colleagues. It could be your second cousin who recently lost 50lbs and loves to share healthy recipes, your co-worker who is really into subscription boxes, or the pet groomer friend of yours who can’t stop posting about CBD-based skin care products.
Nano influencers can also be experts in their field. These tiny-but-mighty brand advocates are known for their niche expertise and their subject matter authority is extremely well-trusted by their audience. Carpenters and general contractors, marketing specialists, software engineers - these nano-influencers are known to have a fairly consistent posting schedule featuring engaging user-generated content (think Instagram stories, TikTok videos etc) focused on their craft and the tools of their trade.
Each of these people, with just a few thousand followers or less, have a shared viewpoint with their highly engaged audiences and are becoming increasingly more influential in our day-to-day lives. Consciously or otherwise, most of our decision-making process relies on these pervasive nano-influencers in our lives. Everything we do, from buying a car to picking a new smartphone, is often influenced by the recommendation (or negative review) of someone we know and trust. According to Hubspot, 71% of people making a purchase were influenced by their social media network.
The case for nano-influencers couldn’t be made any more clear than in a recent study by Experticity which showed 82% of people being more likely to take action on a referral from a nano-influencer over an influencer with a much larger following. The study also reported that influencers with 1,000 followers or less generated 85% higher (authentic) engagement than those with 100,000 followers.
And if those numbers aren’t enough to convince you, think about this; most nano-influencers are willing to accept product in-kind or credit for their referrals. In a world where cash flow is king, this is a major incentive for most businesses.
COVID-19 and the explosion of eCommerce
Since 2020 and the proliferation of e-commerce (thanks to a combination of COVID-19 and accessibility via platforms like Shopify) digital ad marketplaces like Facebook, Google, and to a much much lesser extent Bing, have become far more competitive. Acquisition and advertising costs on these platforms have grown by over 25% - a stunning hit to your marketing budget, and an especially scary idea for businesses that operate on high volume and low margin (and let’s be honest, that describes most business models).
These ad networks are also facing a major identity crisis in maintaining their value to digital marketers. User data privacy trends are resulting in companies like Facebook being able to deliver less and less precision and tracking. According to Kate O’Flaherty in Forbes, Apple’s ‘App Tracking Transparency’ initiative (which requires users to opt-in to data tracking rather than opt out) has “delivered a blow to apps such as Facebook which base their business models on tracking data to enable advertising. So much so, that only 4% of iPhone users were opting into app tracking in the US.”
96% (ninety-six!) of iPhone users decided that their privacy and digital autonomy are worth more to them than having personalized advertisements served up in their social media feeds. With targeted ads worth over $80 billion to Facebook, I’d be breaking a sweat if I were Mark Zuckerberg. Then again, if I were Mark Zuckerberg I could wipe that sweat away with crisp, fresh, hundred dollar bills.
So what does that mean for you, the advertiser? First, it means that platforms like Facebook and Instagram will no longer be able to personalize ads, and will have much more limited user data for campaign segmentation. It also means that identifying and tracking attribution will become much more difficult for digital marketers. As a result, many brands are shifting their strategies toward more brand partnerships like nano-influencer programs. In fact, Caitlin Tormey Mongiardini (COO of NAADAM, a cashmere clothing company) told the Wall Street Journal that the company reallocated some of their marketing budget after hearing how the iOS update negatively affected other industry players. In some cases, she says, her contemporaries have seen their ROI on Facebook ‘cut in half’.
Facebook is dead. Long live Facebook.
It’s long been known that organic traffic on Facebook for brands is a pipe dream at best. Some struggle to keep up with an ever-shifting algorithm, while most have given up entirely and put their money and time into ads. Now that those ads are becoming less valuable, is that the end of marketing via social media?
Enter the nano-influencer - a brand’s secret tool to hacking social networks in 2021.
Largely, algorithms on social media platforms are centered around engagement. In terms of volume alone, nano-influencers earn 13x more comments than mega-influencers with 10MM+ followers. And, with nano-influencers, the engagement is overwhelmingly more authentic. Most social media platforms are sophisticated enough to tell the difference between friends engaging in the comments of a post, versus a cringey spam post from @Janice56324409 about exclusive hot deals on Ray Bans.
This authenticity and volume is what is driving successful marketers’ ability to reach new potential customers in their feed. Positive, authentic engagement is rewarded by Facebook’s (and by extension, Instagram’s) organic algorithm - earning more reach per user than that of any Kardashian of your choosing.
Tips for a successful nano-influencer campaign
1. Keep it simple.
For best results with nano-influencers, it’s always best to keep it simple. Make sure your ambassadors understand the goal of the campaign, how and when they will be compensated, and where to track their success. And remember: these are not professional marketers so make sure you keep the jargon out of all your communications.
2. Make it personal.
Random generated share codes and landing page URLs create barriers to sharing, and your campaign’s success. It’s always a best practice to give your nano-influencers access to unique share codes and customizable landing pages with a unique URL. It’s all about the influencer so be sure to keep them in the forefront.
3. Stay engaged.
Making sure that your nano-influencers stay engaged and excited about your campaigns is to stay in touch with them. Referral marketing is a two-way street. Simple things like setting up progress emails and interacting with their posts online is a great way to keep them motivated and your brand top of mind.
4. Look within.
Before you look at an agency or start sliding into strangers’ DMs, start with your own existing customers and social media followers. Who are your top commenters on Facebook? Who are your power buyers? Your fiercest advocates are often already singing your praises without being compensated - lean into their enthusiasm by having them join your refer-a-friend campaigns.
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