Social media has changed the world. Gone are the days of teenagers ordering their eight ‘top friends’ on MySpace and posting videos to Vine. The rapid evolution of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and WeChat is transforming not only how we communicate, but how we shop, how we access the news, and even how we organise political change.
According to the 2021 DataReportal Global Overview report, more than half the world now uses social media. Those with a large and dedicated following – be it beauty vloggers, fitness instructors, gamers, or just the downright famous – have become what we have termed influencers.
Influencers have the power to create trends and guide people with their decision-making. In early 2000, marketers started catching on to this, approaching influential bloggers and asking them to promote certain products in return for free items, and later for money. Today, influencer marketing is a booming business.
From $1.7bn (£1.23bn) in 2016, influencer marketing is estimated to have grown to have a market size of $9.7bn in 2020. That's expected to reach $13.8bn by the end of 2021, according to Influencer Marketing Hub.
The different types of influencer
Influencers can be broadly split into four categories – mega-influencers, macro-influencers, micro-influencers and nano-influencers. While it seems that the distinction between these four categories is merely the size of their following, the differences are far more refined. Segmentation like this assures that marketing campaigns don’t take a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and offers them a higher chance of success.
Mega-influencers tend to have upwards of 1m followers and are usually A-list or B-list celebrities. Kim Kardashian is a good example of one of the original mega-influencers. Now with a following of nearly 240m, it is rumoured that the star is paid a whopping $1m per Instagram post.
While mega-influencers might be able to promote a product or service to the largest audience, their followers are also the broadest in diversity. Their relationship with the individual members of their followership also tend to be more distant. This makes mega-influencers more suitable for top-of-the-funnel marketing campaigns that promote products that appeal to the masses.
For brands looking to target a specific type of customer whilst also reaching a large audience, macro-influencers may be a more appealing option. A macro-influencers follower numbers fall somewhere between 100,000 to 1 million.
Unlike mega-influencers, most macro-influencers have gained fame through the internet itself. Macro influencers are often approached first-hand by a brand – a business will ask them to feature their product or service on their social media profiles, with a contextual caption mentioning the brand.
However, their fees can still be extremely high, usually ranging from $5,000 - $10,000 per post.
Micro-influencers focus on a specific niche or area and are generally regarded as industry experts or topic specialists. Their followers usually range from 1,000 – 100,000. As opposed to mega or macro-influencers, micro-influencers tend to have a stronger relationship with their followers, due to their perception as an opinion leader of a subject matter, and therefore their sponsored posts can seem more authentic.
For example, if a sporting micro-influencer posts a photo singing the praises of a new protein powder, followers are more likely to believe them and take note of the product. Micro-influencers are also a lot cheaper, usually charging between $100 - £500 per post.
Nano-influencers are a relatively new breed of influencer. They tend to have a smaller number of followers in comparison to their counterparts, usually less than 1,000 followers. Instead of having celebrity status, nano-influencers are people who have influence in their community – for example a local MP or community leader.
The idea behind nano-influencers is to get normal, everyday people to promote a product to their friends and acquaintances. Nano-influencers are much more cost-effective than their higher-ups, so brands with limited resources may want to start at this level of influencer marketing. Some nano-influencers don’t even charge brands, as they are building their following and partnerships with brands, although a usual fee will be between £10-£100.
There is some discrepancy about the difference between influencers and creators, as the terms are often used interchangeably for anyone who produces sponsored content online.
Mary Keane-Dawson is Group CEO of Takumi, a global influencer marketing platform. She believes there is an “important distinction” between traditional influencers and content creators.
“The social media creators who we work with tend to act as their own creative director and collaborate with brands that match their own unique online identity – rather than just plugging products without any context," says Keane-Dawson. "These are the people brands and marketers want to work with, and we call them creators, not influencers. This terminology may seem like a minor shift, but it’s an important creative one.
“Consumers follow creators for a reason and they want to see their support translate into quality content that matches the creator’s identity. If they don’t find this, then they won’t hesitate to unfollow and search for a different creator who shows more care for the content they produce and only engages in brand partnerships which match with the identity of their account.”
Takumi has more than five years of industry experience including partnerships with leading fashion and beauty brands across the globe, such as Clarins and L’Oreal. It has carried out more than 3,000 campaigns to date, working with thousands of curated content creators.
“The amount of budget dedicated to influencer marketing continued to grow last year and it appears many brands who tried the medium last year will dedicate more spend to it in the future,” says Keane-Dawson. “Our whitepaper found that 58 per cent of marketers are now interested in working with influencers on YouTube in the next 12-months, along with 55 per cent on Instagram, 35 per cent on TikTok, and 20 per cent on Twitch.”
TRIBE is an influencer marketplace that works slightly differently. Brands simply set a brief live on the TRIBE app and wait for submissions to come in from influencers and creators, who either own the product or have gone and bought it. Creators set a price for their content and if the brand likes it, they can buy it.
“We pride ourselves on putting so much opportunity into the app every week, that creators will never spend their money on products they wouldn’t ordinarily consume,” says Global Head of Sales at TRIBE, Lisa Targett. “We’ve always said that if you’re not willing to spend your own money, you have no right to recommend anyone else does. This goes a long way for authenticity and engagement.”
Both micro and macro-influencers connect with brands on TRIBE, with those with upwards of 100,000 followers able to earn upwards of £350. Video and motion posts can be worth double that.
“If you look at engagement rates, they diminish the larger your audience gets" says Targett “And it makes sense. With a smaller audience, I can reply and build a one-to-one relationship with my followers... but once I have 80m, you are a broadcaster with a one-to-many relationship. When that happens, there’s a shift in trust and responsiveness – the two components that make partnering with micro-influencers such an amazing opportunity for brands. It's real engagement.
“So often I’ve seen our creators partner with brands, and then follow through with questions and comments from their audience as if they were an extension of that brand’s customer support team – helping creators select shades of make-up, or directing them to stores where stock levels were sufficient. The creators have a vested interest in nurturing their community, and your brand becomes the enabler of that.”
When a brand rewards an influencer with a payment, free gift, or other perks, any resulting posts become subject to consumer protection law.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK’s advertising regulator. The ASA makes sure ads across UK media stick to the advertising rules (the Ad Codes), which applies to influencer’s sponsored posts.
Under the UK advertising code, promotional posts must clearly indicate that they are paid-for endorsements, typically using a hashtag such as #ad or #spon, short for advertising or sponsored.
Social media stars such as Jodie Marsh and Chloe Khan have come under fire by ASA for repeatedly flouting the advertising rules, and face the removal of their posts and financial penalties.
Davien Garcia is a TikTok influencer with nearly 645,000 followers. He works with many different brands including Nascar and Grammarly and is paid a flat fee for each sponsored post, regardless of how many likes or shares the post gets.
“My sponsored post usually do OK,” says Garcia “It's not my regular content so sometimes they will do awesome and sometimes not. It's a hit or miss."
Rather than setting out to become an influencer, Garcia started a YouTube channel last year, where he was happy to have a small group of people “to entertain”.
“I would post weekly videos and average about 50-100 views,” he says. “When the pandemic started, I feel like it helped me to be more creative as we were in lockdown and couldn’t go anywhere. I started posting on TikTok and slowly saw my videos gaining lots of views, which motivated me to take it seriously. That's why I am where I am today.”
Sarah Francati was also inspired to join TikTok in the 2020 lockdown and has already accumulated a whopping 2m followers. She regularly posts videos with her younger sister, Emily who she insists is “the star”.
“To be completely honest I have no idea how my audience grew so fast,” says Francati. “I just kept posting funny and silly videos and all I wanted was to make people laugh and smile. There is so much content out there that is negative and hurtful and all we wanted was to bring some positivity. However, our ‘audience’ is far from just that. They are family. They are our biggest support.
“As far as sponsored posts go; we don't want them to scream ‘ad’ in front of your face. We only work with brands that match our energy and views. So, anything we are promoting we proudly use as well.”
Her tips for aspiring influencers are to find a niche or something you are passionate about and then consistently post about it every day.
“This is such a beautiful and amazing opportunity to make friends with people around the world” says Francati. “I can’t stress enough how important our TikTok family is. It has been the biggest blessing in our lives.”
Since eSports became a professional discipline in 1997, gaming influencers have sharply risen in popularity, amassing millions of views on their YouTube channels. Some of these have become real marketing assets for video game developers and distributors, as they increasingly turn to influencer’s services.
James Day is Director of Community at Dovetail Games, a platform that creates ‘digital hobbies’ enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people across the world.
“I’m a big fan of using subject-matter specialists, who have small, but highly-engaged audiences. Our games appeal to knowledgeable hobbyists and enthusiasts, so choosing a variety of content creators isn’t perhaps a wise investment. Using more focused creators requires a bit more upkeep and management, but it’s worth it to provide our current (and potential!) players content which will appeal to them as experts,” says Day.
He continues: “You’re also spreading your risk by using a budget on multiple smaller creators, rather than one large one – meaning that if one activation doesn’t pay off, it’s not the end of the world. It also provides a feeling of hype with several activations within a short time-frame, if you’re coinciding them with, for example, a new product launch.”
YouTube has proved essential for Dovetail games, with many high-quality gaming simulator creators using the platform, although the company is looking towards what TikTok has to offer.
“We’re working on more creative activations, which fuse the worlds of simulation and real-life” says Day. “Live streaming can be really effective for some games brands to provide an instant and immediate hit, but can often be expensive for what you get. We’ve consciously gone down the VOD route to ensure the content has permanence and a long tail, much like our games do.”
The future of influencer marketing
With people’s social feeds becoming increasingly full of sponsored content, are people growing tired of it?
The COVID-19 pandemic saw several influencers come under fire from the general public and the media for advertising their lavish lifestyle online whilst the majority of people remained stuck indoors.
For example, fitness blogger Sheridan Mordew received heavy criticism after appearing on national television to defend her trip to Dubai, claiming it to be 'essential work'.
There has certainly been a call for more authenticity and diversity when it comes to influencer marketing. One-off #AD posts are being replaced with more creator-driven video content such as Q+As and vlogs, as brands look to create more ongoing partnerships with influencers.
Alex Springer is Regional Vice President EMEA at Impact, a partnership cloud platform. He believes that 2021 will see the rise of a new generation of content creators, termed 'genuinfluencers'.
"In response to influencer fatigue and a general oversaturation of the market, brands are looking to genuinfluencers to create less glossy and more authentic content that really resonates with consumers," says Springer. "Genuinfluencers are defined as being wholly focused on making a positive impact, with their priority being their social activism and their moral and ethical beliefs, and brand collaborations playing a secondary role to their overall goals. This means that they will always fully vet a brand, including their history, partners, and practices, before working with them, and won’t collaborate with anyone who doesn’t align with their cause.
"Working with genuinfluencers allows brands to show their support of social issues through a trusted external voice, making their views seem authentic and reassuring their audience that their activism is not simply a marketing ploy to sell more services or products."