Long before social media, and even before broadcast commercials, businesses have partnered with celebrities and high-profile stars to promote products and add credibility to their brands. Over the past decade, advancements in communication technology and digital media have sparked the rise of online influencers, democratizing the ability for brands of all sizes (and budgets) to enlist influential individuals to promote their products and services.

According to a Nielsen study, influencer marketing content delivers 11 times higher return on investment than traditional forms of digital marketing. And, as Millennial lifestyle expert Chelsea Krost explains, follower count doesn't necessarily play as big of a factor as once thought.

"We've gotten more social savvy to really understand that you can have 100,000 followers and not really generate that great of engagement, but then someone can have 10,000 followers and generate phenomenal engagement," said Krost. "So, the power isn't necessarily so much behind follower count anymore, it's really how much engagement and how much traction can you really get in the social media landscape."

The Micro-Influencer Advantage

The power of bloggers and micro-influencers, people whose follower count ranges from about 500 to 10,000, can dramatically increase a brand's presence online. These smaller influencers are effective because of their close relationships to their tight, loyal, hyper-targeted communities.

Much of the engagement and loyalty is due to their manageable following counts. This allows for strong two-way dialogue with their followers, as opposed to influencers with higher follower counts and broader audiences.

While micro-influencers can deliver value across any industry, consumer brands will often see the most value from this form of marketing. Food, fashion, hospitality and travel work well with micro-influencers because their content tends to be highly visual.

In addition to micro-influencers, there are macro-influencers, who generate content for their 50,000 to 100,000 followers. Each of these influencer groups are known to produce higher engagement because they are more accessible, cost effective and have a better understanding of the content that best resonates with their audiences.

On the other side of the equation are mega-influencers and celebrities. Mega-influencers, those with 500,000 to one million plus followers, fall right behind celebrities, who have over one million followers.

While each of these groups clearly have a high follower count, they don't necessarily have a higher engagement ratio because of their audiences' broader interests. They're also much harder to reach and more expensive to partner with.

Launching a Micro-Influencer Marketing Campaign

When exploring your influencer marketing options, it's imperative to break down the goals and objectives of your campaign. Understand which type of influencer will provide the best return to avoid wasting time and money tapping into an audience that isn't listening.

If micro-influencer marketing is the right route for your brand, the next step is finding the right micro-influencers for your specific needs. Krost recommends searching popular industry hashtags on Instagram and Twitter. Once you begin to "social listen," you'll find out which power players are curating the most engaging content relevant to you and your brand.

But, don't rush to email your potential influencers just yet. "Before you ask them for something, engage in their channel," Krost says.

Show them you're interested in their content by liking, sharing and commenting on their page, that way the influencer knows who you are before you start building a relationship. Using Instagram and Twitter direct messages is a quick, effective and personal way to reach out to potential influencers. Explain the value you will provide to them for working with your brand and, in turn, you will notice more people respond to your inquiry.

With micro-influencer marketing, compensation is also an important element to consider. There are many ways to go about payment, whether it's cold hard cash or free products or services in exchange for each post. For example, a fashion brand could ship an Instagram model a box of free clothing, or a hotel could offer a travel blogger a free stay.

For brands looking to bolster online visibility and customer engagement, investing in micro-influencer marketing can be a game-changer. Understanding your audience is key to deciding if micro-influencer marketing is right for your company, and as Krost explains, offering a different perspective to your marketing mix might be what it takes to elevate your brand.