Let’s face it: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have all become wildly unpredictable tools for social marketers. Every tweak of the feed algorithm leaves us spinning, and we’re fighting a new set of obstacles to get our content in front of fans! Power users on Instagram, both brands and influencers alike, have reported new challenges with maintaining their follower count, growing their viewership, and even making sure their posts are seen by the followers they do have.

What are we up against? Consider this.

On Instagram, the rate of engagement on a given post dictates its place in our newsfeed. This means that an account with 500,000 followers that only manages 5,000 likes on a post will see its content buried, while content from your Aunt Linda, who has only 100 followers but gets 20 double-taps per post, will take precedence. That’s great news for the casual Insta user, who really does just want to keep up with the people they know—but it’s terrible news for us marketers, who now have even more noise to break through.

To fight these changes, more and more brands have been turning to partnerships with influencers, prodigious content creators who give them the opportunity to increase brand awareness. For years, these influencers have spun a living out of posting sponsored content, as brands shelled out for #ad posts as the easiest and best way to grab eyeballs and conversions.

And for a while, when the market was smaller and our newsfeeds prioritized posts from platform-wide popular users, that was true.

But lately, the biggest movers in the influencer space, from mega-celebrities like Kylie Jenner to a mom blogger with 650,000 followers, have all been struggling to produce the engagement rates they once could. Engagement has shrunk for the platform’s biggest users, and mega-influencers just aren’t producing conversion rates comparable to the highs we saw just a few years ago.

That’s not to mention the costs associated with traditional influencer marketing, either. In an industry where a single sponsored post by a top influencer can run into the five figures, it can be hard to swallow the idea that your post won’t get traction.

In 2018, posts by mega-influencers simply aren’t the savviest use of your ad budget. Social media power users nearly always hit a point of diminishing returns, usually around 100,000-200,000 followers, at which point their engagement rates (and the quality of that engagement) goes down even as their follower counts continue to rise.

Lest you think influencer marketing is on its way out altogether, though, think again. Enter the micro-influencer, who has a smaller but much more engaged following in a niche arena.

Micro-influencers are relatable. They’re genuine. They’re more likely to be engaging, “normal” people who just happen to have a social media platform with a distinct voice, and their followers are deeply connected to them.

Micro- and nanoinfluencers have established trust with their audiences, which isn’t necessarily true of the social celebrities whose millions of followers may be only mildly interested in the content they post. And importantly, their engagement rates are likely to be much higher than mega-influencers—who may have bought followers or engagement.

Everyday social media users with fewer than 50,000 followers are the sweet spot for small brands trying to activate on social without losing money (though we use the term micro-influencer to refer to anyone with a following of less than 100,000). They’re cost-effective, they have genuine conversations with their followers, and they deliver higher engagement rates without the sky-high fees associated with power-influencer marketing. The content they post performs well organically, and their audiences are more likely to convert because of the established relationship of trust.

Here’s an example. Last year, our firm ran a campaign for one of the largest sports leagues in the world, where we worked with 12 bloggers to drive traffic to the league’s online store. The influencers we worked with had audiences ranging from the 7,000 to 600,000, but of those 12 bloggers, the four with the smallest audiences accounted for 93% of our traffic. That’s pretty telling — and it’s led us to drastically rethink our approach to dealing with influencers.

At the end of the day, if you’re after conversions, working with micro-influencers will get it done. Choosing engagement over reach and capitalizing on the trusting relationships these users have built with their audiences is one of the easiest, and most cost-effective, routes to better ROI.

Tips for finding (and working with) micro-influencers:

  • Research, research, research! Knowing your industry inside and out is the key to pitching the right people. Make sure you’re pitching users whose brands feel like a natural fit with yours — their followers will notice, and they have more to lose by “selling out.”
  • Cast a wide net. Take advantage of this cost-effective model and really put your brand out there! Instead of working with one influencer, you can now work with five or ten!
  • Maintain a relationship with your micro-influencers even after the partnership has ended. You’ll see many happy returns from some surprise-and-delight gifting or content shout-outs.