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Born

Why Micro-Influence is the Next Big Thing

3 years ago

By Ramesh Patel

A few years back, the word “authenticity” became a byword in sales and marketing. Its popularity rose in parallel with mainstream brands’ feverish land grab for millennial wallet share. Today you would be hard-pressed to find a global brand that does not cite authenticity in its brand identity or mission statement. And yet, one could argue, authenticity is precisely the kind of quality that cannot be engineered or adopted. Sui generis, it defines a class of its own. We demean its value when we assume it can be switched on and commercialized to millions of people.

This is particularly the case with influencer marketing. Marketers have historically struggled to find a way to scale word-of-mouth referrals, which are powerful decision drivers in the purchase journey. Influencers seemed to be the solution.

Through social media, which created an illusion of intimacy between regular users and celebrities, it became possible to simulate a genuine peer-to-peer recommendation—only this time, that recommendation went out to millions of individuals.

Data, however, suggests that we should monitor the relationship between impact and following size. A 2016 study by Markerly cites a “clear downward correlation” between an Instagram user’s following size and likes per post. These diminishing returns accelerate rapidly, with an almost 13x difference between users with 1K followers and users with 10M+ followers. All of which goes to say, size matters, but not in the way you might think. It’s the era of micro-influence.

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One company making waves in this space is Scoutsee, a first of its kind affiliate marketplace that connects brands with shoppers through powerful social micro-influencers. According to Scoutsee CEO and Co-Founder Tom Kwon, we’re at a point when being genuine is more impactful than having the loudest voice: “Over the past 4 years, brands have flooded money into the influencer community, and what value was there is now highly diluted. The fact is that only a fraction of Instagram’s 400 million users have following sizes over 1 million. With brands constantly tapping those same individuals, the market is oversaturated, and people are starting to discredit overplayed endorsements.”

As BORN’s Sharon Gee, SVP of North American Sales, notes:

“Scoutsee stands to democratize and bring credibility back to the influencer market. They’re able to do this by providing micro-influencers curated storefronts through which their followers can engage and shop.”

The platform’s influencers are high-potential brand loyalists who talk about the products they love in a genuine way, providing real context and use cases. They may not be celebrities, but they have the social power to inspire audiences anywhere from 5K-150K users. And unlike paid influencers, they endorse products they’ve discovered rather than been targeted to sponsor.

What could be more appealing? To many consumers, a post about juicing has more credibility coming from a yoga teacher with an edible garden than a supermodel who simultaneously endorses debacles like #fyrefestival.

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Another benefit of tapping into micro-influencers is that they tend to have more homogenous followings, with their influence stemming from shared affinity rather than fame. The yoga teacher may only have 3K followers, but they are more likely to reflect common interests and values than the supermodel’s 6 million fans. This makes the yoga teacher’s cross-brand endorsements far more powerful in terms of resonance and quality. And if a brand can tap hundreds of similarly “authentic” micro-influencers, the quantity of impacted users starts to mount quickly.

With Scoutsee, each micro-influencer is encouraged to maintain their existing social routine, the only difference being that they earn a small percentage off followers’ purchases. The risk, of course, is that this incentivizes a potential spate of product mentions. However, as Kwon notes,

“Micro-influencers are maniacally focused on telling a certain story. We’re betting that they value their relationship with followers more than the chance to earn a few bucks.”

If anything, this movement signifies a new model of ‘expert micro-curation’ that drives product awareness in high-potential niche audiences.

micro_inf_6The Scoutsee storefront, accessible here through Instagram

Scoutsee’s premise has already borne fruit: the average conversion across all micro-influencers is a whopping 18%. Kwon also cited the example of a user who has only 2K followers, but whose 119 posts since joining Scoutsee have generated 49 sales – over 40% conversion. This is compelling evidence in favor of tapping micro-communities, especially in light of the fact that influencer ROI is notoriously difficult to validate.

So does this mean that brands should sunset their plans for influencer marketing? According to Kwon, the answer is no. “Regular influencers still bring the high volume of impressions and eyeballs that brands want. They provide visibility. What micro-influencers and loyalists provide is engagement and sales activation.” In essence, the two models should co-exist and complement each other.

micro_inf_7The Scoutsee team, with Co-Founders Tom Kwon and Dennis Kwon on the far right

From BORN’s perspective, Gee notes that “Scoutsee may be just the caffeine boost that brands and retailers need to revitalize flagging customer acquisitions, particularly in a world of oversaturated PPC, ad blockers, and the decline of television.” She further observes that this is especially true in the near term, while high-conversion channels such as Instagram remain free of algorithms and continue to promote the reach of organic content.

Additionally, Gee is quick to point out that “Scoutsee offers a critical first-mover advantage for brands looking to gain footing in the referral marketplace. If they don’t partner with micro-influencers to ensure that referral links drive back to the brand site, retailers will assuredly claim those links (and the ensuing purchases) for themselves.” The risk is evident: if brands don’t pay attention, this could be a big opportunity cost.

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Whether or not you believe that micro-influence can enable brand growth, one point remains clear:

The tide is turning away from branded storytelling towards peer-to-peer storytelling.

This has been happening offline for years, and it’s migrating online through new social behavioral norms. In our digital reality, we ascribe sincerity to a stranger’s endorsement, if that stranger’s social persona is one we’ve come to trust.

At Scoutsee, Tom Kwon sees micro-influence as a catalyst for the inspiration and validation that shoppers seek: “We’re trying to stimulate critical synapses between consumers, influencers, and brands.” In today’s climate of consumer skepticism face-to-face with paid advocacy, Kwon’s synapse analogy is eerily apt. Authenticity may be our culture’s wonder drug, but the joke is on us—it’s the one thing that can’t be manufactured.

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