Member Exclusive Opinion

Reach Versus Reward: The Power of Micro-Influencer Word of Mouth

The influencer marketing sector is growing at a phenomenal rate, and in no other space is it quite as influential as in retail. The rapid growth of social e-commerce is further accelerating influencers’ impact on the retail sector, and competition is fierce. 

The stats for why influencers are so powerful for driving retail traffic, in particular, are well known. Not only does it engender more trust through implied personal (human recommendation), but it also gets results. 

According to recent research, 72% of consumers have had purchase decisions influenced by something they saw on Instagram. And as online commerce, particularly social e-commerce, develops rapidly, brands are seeking to capitalise on all of the purchase avenues available to them. 

But the issue of which influencers really leverage the greatest effect can still be a complicated one in such a comparatively young discipline. Based on our findings, the metrics don’t lie – as long as you look at the right ones. Mass reach does not always imply mass sales. Instead, smart analysis of micro-influencers combined with paid media enables brands to reach millions in a target market, delivering more authentic and relevant content for improved performance. 

Exploring the skincare sector

Take for example the skincare sector – an avenue exploding as a popular category of social engagement. We fed a sample of 4.6k Instagram posts and Reddit threads from Jun-Dec 2021 through a data analysis tool – it references all the authors in the dataset, and finds instances of them being mentioned in the copy of other posts. The result is a visualisation of all the conversation dynamics within skincare, allowing us to see how information flows between those talking in the space and who is influencing who within subcommunities. 

When it comes to ‘skinfluencers’, the pattern of connection initially proved quite disparate and disjointed. We identified two small clusters centered around the skincare brand Clarins, indicating they have successful influencer partnerships in the space already and garner reach and relevance beyond the authors they are seeding content to. 

One such partnership was made with ‘foodswithmich’ – not a beauty influencer, but a food blogger across Instagram and TikTok. On the surface, quite an odd choice, but a successful one. The reason the partnership worked is the common thread of veganism. By seeding their naturally vegan skincare product to a veggie food blogger, Clarins ensured reach to an audience that likely shared their core values, which is key to making authentic connections. 

Partnering with a related author in a tangential space has allowed Clarins to expand its presence and image as a supplier of vegan products to a relevant audience. Through thinking beyond their core category, they have leveraged an amplifier effect and spoken to new audiences, taking their message well beyond the skincare faithful.

Reach vs. reward

When it comes to balancing reach versus reward, the findings were even more fascinating. For example, sports broadcaster turned golfer and lifestyle blogger, Brittany Benson, had the highest following of any author we studied. But, she had very few connections, suggesting that she isn’t inspiring much interaction or influence. Whilst she does reach a lot of people, her content isn’t that relatable or authentic and it certainly isn’t all relevant to skincare. 

This is a prime example of why numbers aren’t everything when selecting an influencer. Brands could select her for a campaign based on high followership, but it actually would be unlikely to deliver the impact they are looking for. Her feed is highly curated, somewhat forced, and ultimately does not invite interaction – highlighted by how few comments and conversations her recent posts inspire (5-20 comments from 112k followers). 

In contrast, micro-influencers could be the key to greater connections. Laurie Bluez specialises in eye art, using her face as a canvas. Brands are quick to engage with her, seeding products to position themselves as either the product that helps care for the extreme way she uses her skin or as the ‘foundation’ of that creativity. This type of micro-influencer can provide alternative but highly engaged audiences – essentially creating a chain of social word-of-mouth connections that can amplify campaigns much further than a single, high follower post.

Skincare is becoming hotly competitive, and it is easy for brands to be lured by the high numbers of celebrity or popular influencer accounts. While the role of micro-influencers has been discussed for some time, this study shows clearly that in some cases they can be the key to keeping online conversations buzzing about a brand ahead of a single high profile celebrity post. 

Brands looking to get people talking could actually draw on more accessible initial partnerships by this smart application of a paid media strategy and reap much more effective rewards as a result. Turning influence into action takes more than a high follower count. By delving into the data a little deeper, it is possible to identify much more influential potential partners to drive campaign success.