Two recent Journal of Marketing articles reveal some surprising insights
“Influencer marketing” refers to individuals receiving compensation from brands to post about a brand or product on social media. Influencer marketing is expected to grow to be worth $21.1 billion in 2023, having quintupled in size over the last five years, and is now being used by governments, nonprofits, and firms across industries. Despite this ubiquity, however, many questions remain about the best practices for influencer content creation—that is, what they should post—and influencer followership—that is, what size influencer should be utilized for optimal engagement. Two recent Journal of Marketing articles seek to close this gap.
Influencers simultaneously manage relationships with the brands they are sponsoring and maintain authenticity and trust with their own follower base. Recent findings demonstrate that the content influencers create must be original to be effective. According to “Influencer Marketing Effectiveness,” by putting content into their own words, using critical verbiage, and using personalized methods to demonstrate their use of products in everyday life, influencers can improve credibility and effectiveness. Fine Leung, who coauthored the article with Flora Gu, Yiwei Li, Jonathan Z. Zhang, and Robert Palmatier, notes, “Good news for companies: increasing their influencer marketer budget can increase consumer engagement: a 1% increase in spend on influencer marketers can increase engagement by .46%.”
A 1% increase in spend on influencer marketers can increase engagement by .46%
Another Journal of Marketing article, “Finding Goldilocks Influencers: How Follower Count Drives Social Media Engagement,” by Simone Weis, Alexander Bleier, and Alexander Edeling, discusses the use of “content customization,” whereby influencers can signal to their followers that they value their relationship. Weis said, “One of our most surprising findings is that we observed an inverted U-shape between follower accounts and absolute engagement with a post or a story that an influencer publishes on Instagram. So that means that at some inflection point, engagement decreases, and it might be bad having that many followers if the influencer or advertiser seeks to optimize engagement.”
The Role of Followership Size
Another question remains around the use of micro versus macro influencers for influencer marketing campaigns. While exact industry classifications vary, micro influencers are typically classified as influencers with a followership in the range of 10,000 to 50,000, whereas macro influencers have 500,000 followers or more. Some anecdotal industry evidence suggests that micro influencer campaigns prove to be an effective strategy; for example, Tom’s of Maine successfully utilized many micro influencers for a user-generated content campaign that encouraged their followers to create and post their own content. Other evidence points to the benefits of the wide audience reach that can be generated through the use of macro influencers.
Practical implications of this research show that there are potential benefits and costs of both micro and macro influencers. First, the increase in perceived credibility generated by the endorsement of an influencer with greater followers, or macro influencer, can drive greater engagement. However, influencers with a high follower count (also known as “indegree”) may not have actual significant influence on their follower population because they don’t have the resources to engage their following, resulting in reduced follower engagement. In contrast, influencers with a moderate number of followers (~1.1–1.9 M) are optimal for having a large but still engaged audience. Leung further notes that firms are currently “allocating their budgets suboptimally; they could improve return on investment by 16%” if they were to invest more in influencers who are more original and have more followers. “Posts that announce new products diminish effectiveness. Firms should focus on existing products when engaging influencers,” Leung adds. Taking both studies together, influencer marketing is most effective when influencers retain creative control over their content, which increases trust and authenticity with their followers.
Influencer marketing is most effective when influencers retain creative control over their content, which increases trust and authenticity with their followers
The influencer marketing industry continues to grow and bring new challenges for marketers hoping to harness the power of social influencers. Social influencers, unlike celebrity endorsements, combine earned and paid media, making them a challenging yet powerful tool for brands to target and reach high-value consumers. By striking the right balance of authentic content and influencers with an engaged audience, influencer marketing campaigns can produce great returns.
Advice for Marketing Managers
- Posts that announce new products diminish effectiveness. Firms should focus on existing products when engaging influencers.
- Look for influencers who are original and use their own personal lives and voice to demonstrate and portray products in their post with an authentic voice.
- When creating content briefs for your influencer, tailor the voice to the individual; avoid standardized content.
- Keep your goal in mind as you determine whether to use micro or macro influencers, and both may be used in the same campaign; for example, a firm might use a few macro influencers at the beginning to create buzz and awareness for its campaign, then later use a large number of micro influencers to help spread the word and gain deeper engagement and conversations with consumers down the marketing funnel.
Advice for Influencers
- Influencers with a very high number of followers should look for other signals that can compensate for the negative signal of low tie strength. One way to do this is to customize content to different audiences.
- Post frequently enough to establish yourself as a provider of updated and fresh information and so that followers feel a sense of intimacy and connection, but be aware that posting too much can be detrimental.
- Strive for the right balance of positivity; posts that are too positive will not be viewed as authentic.
Fine F. Leung, Flora F. Gu, Yiwei Li, Jonathan Z. Zhang, and Robert W. Palmatier, “Influencer Marketing Effectiveness,” Journal of Marketing.
Simone Wies, Alexander Bleier, and Alexander Edeling, “Finding Goldilocks Influencers: How Follower Count Drives Social Media Engagement,” Journal of Marketing.