Five years ago, many social media influencers were thrilled to promote partner brands in exchange for nothing more than a few product samples. Today, the biggest names in social are raking in millions as they turn their feeds into heavily #sponsored online destinations.

If you're a smaller brand, you may feel like you've missed the boat on working with influencers--but you don't need to sign the biggest names in the business in order to launch a successful campaign. In fact, according to new research, you should do the exact opposite by hiring "micro-influencers" to help you reach a smaller, targeted, highly engaged audience.

That because, as an influencer's number of followers increases, the rate of actual engagement (likes, comments, and shares) decreases:

  • Mega-influencers with one million to 10 million followers see only a 1.7 percent "like rate."
  • In the zone of 10,000 to 100,000 followers, there is a 2.4 percent like rate.
  • Micro-influencers who have 1,000 to 10,000 follower have a 4 percent like rate

Based on these findings and several real world campaigns, we recommend that our clients strongly consider programming that taps multiple micro-influencers, as opposed to one mega-influencer. Here are a few more reasons to think "micro" when using personalities to jump start the conversation around your brand.

The content is more engaging

Let's face it: when you see a product featured on a celebrity Instagram feed, your marketer's brain thinks "ad" before you even get to the #spon. Consumers are becoming just as savvy, and just a photo of an A-lister holding an eye cream does not read to anyone as an authentic endorsement. Micro-influencers, on the other hand, take on far fewer branded posts and put more thought into weaving them organically into their feed. Not only is this a bonus for quality, but it might actually lead to more visibility due to new Instagram algorithms.

Micro-influencers equal targeted followings

Think of mega-influencers as the Super Bowl, and micro-influencers as the World Series of Poker. Yes, you will reach just about everyone with a television with a Super Bowl ad, but if you're selling casino visors, why not spend less money to hit your niche audience? The same can be said of influencers, who specialize in categories ranging from tech to landscaping.

They're eager to please

Though the micro-influencer title is new, at my company Masthead Media, we've been working in this small- to mid-range following sweet spot for years. In our experience, we've found that beyond the engagement rate benefit, these influencers with small-but-growing followings tend to be eager to please--thus easier to work with.

But don't forget...

If you want to reach the audience size you would with a mega-influencer, you'll need to source more micro-influencers--which can take a lot of time and research. Fortunately, there are agencies and media companies (such as my own) that have established relationships with a range of influencers, including the new wave of up-and-comers, that can handle the whole sourcing and management process soup to nuts. Tap their expertise to ensure the influencers you hire--mega or micro--fully deliver on their potential.