By Kelly Ehlers, president of Ideas That Evoke.

I've said it before and it's held true: 2017 is the year of the influencer. Brands have increased influencer marketing strategies for the past few years. But a recent boom has brought with it data, and the numbers don't lie. In the third annual Launchmetrics State of Influencer Marketing Report, 88 percent of industry professionals stated that influencer marketing tactics effectively raised brand and product awareness. Many brands are left wondering how much of their budget should be dedicated to influencers and if they can bank on those with fewer followers. In my experience, the battle between macro and micro all comes down to strategy.

Micro-Influencers Versus Macro-Influencers

Influencers are categorized based on their followers, meaning there's always room for flux. However, they typically stay within the following range: macro-influencers have anywhere from 10,000 to 1,000,000 followers while micro-influencers start out around 1,000 followers. Influencers develop connections and build trust with their audience -- it's a large-scale partnership. Want to partner with an influencer? Follow their lead and reach out on their preferred platforms like Facebook or Instagram. Choosing which influencers to partner with depends on your goals. Are you representing a well-established brand and aiming to reach a larger demographic? Go big with a macro-influencer. Do you need to boost low metrics for a new brand or engage a very specific audience for a product launch? A few thousand dedicated followers may be just the fit for your campaign and your budget.

Engagement Rates Versus Hourly Rates

According to a Media Kix case study, the engagement rate between micro and macro-influencers is extremely close. Micro-influencers led engagement rates by .10 percent in spite of bringing significantly smaller audiences. As you might have guessed, the study found macro-influencers to deliver a higher number of overall impressions. It's no surprise that a wider audience results in a broader reach, but securing a macro-influencer could also cost the majority of your budget. In my experience, having more followers doesn't guarantee a higher return. In fact, for brands working with a modest budget, it only guarantees a higher risk. Consider how targeted ads benefit brands by narrowing your audience (and your ad spend) through directing the content to the most relevant demographic. Strategically speaking, that's what a micro-influencer with a niche audience does best.

Pay to Play

Compensation can make or break a partnership, and the nontraditional roles of influencer content creators haven't yet established an industry standard. I've seen everything from 1 percent to 25 percent to over 35 percent of a marketing budget allocated to influencers, but one trend is clear: brands are increasing their budgets for influencers. Launchmetrics reports that more than half of surveyed professionals plan to increase their designated influencer budget. Sometimes, that big name will bring a big crowd at (you guessed it) a big price. In the case of a PR activation, it was worth it for my agency to go all in on a highly-followed macro-influencer. We also invited a few influencers ranging between the high end of micro and low-end macro, each with a different niche following. The results amplified our recently launched social channels and produced high-quality content we're still using months later.

Products Versus Paychecks

My agency's first venture into influencer marketing began with sampling; we send them a client's product and, in exchange, the influencer posts a review. This model works well to create authentic user-generated content (UGC) within the constraints of a limited budget, though partnerships are typically "one and done." In the case of another campaign, we extended the partnership between the influencer and the brand. Additionally, we offered not only products but career-building opportunities like trade show appearances. By leveraging the brand's community status, we created a win-win opportunity for both the influencer and the brand at a low cost.

Keep in mind when sending products that the influencer will more than likely note the exchange. Use #ad or thank your brand for sending the product for review. Transparency is part of the trust between an influencer and their audience, and the Federal Trade Commission requires influencers to disclose if they are being compensated financially or otherwise.

By engaging with the influencer via social media outreach, you're beginning the first steps of a partnership. Each brand and, for that matter, each campaign has different strategic goals. Often, collaborating with one or more micro-influencers is the perfect starting point. With the rise of influencer marketing, it's a safe bet that your brand's budget should begin making room for this innovative content creation strategy.  

Kelly Ehlers is the President of Ideas That Evoke, a social media and PR agency, the 24th Fastest Growing Agency in 2016, Inc Magazine.