Most social media users follow 1–5 influencers. Businesses can partner with an influencer who can showcase their brand authentically to an engaged target audience and boost interest in products and services.
Updated: February 3, 2022
Achieving success on social media can be challenging, especially for a small business with minimal resources.
In fact, Visual Objects found that 93% of small businesses in 2021 faced at least 1 of 5 common challenges across platforms.
- Assuming Social Media Challenges Are Straightforward
- Connecting and Engaging With Instagram Followers
- Generating Leads On LinkedIn
- Creating Content On TikTok
- Posting Consistently With Limited Resources
Businesses currently facing any of these challenges may benefit from partnerships with influencers. Influencers are social media users with the ability to affect purchasing decisions by promoting products to their followers.
Looking to hire a social media marketer that can manage a partnership with influencers? Check out our shortlist of top social media marketing companies.
What are Social Media Influencers?
Influencers are social media users with the ability to affect purchasing decisions by promoting products to their followers.
The top influencers have an advantage: large followings that many businesses don’t. They’ve already connected with target audience groups with shared interests and receive regular engagement from them, no matter the type of influencer.
In 2021, Visual Objects surveyed 501 social media users in the United States to help small businesses determine ideal types of social media influencers or categories of influencers for effective brand partnerships.
- 57% of social media users follow between 1–5 influencers, emphasizing the importance of partnering with well-known influencers.
- 55% of people generally follow influencers with less than 50,000 followers, showcasing niche micro-influencers’ popularity.
- 22% of consumers find new social media content through influencer posts, exemplifying an influencer’s place in brand sales funnels.
- Consumers favor following subject matter experts (34%), business leaders (29%), and wellness influencers (28%), indicating the importance of informative content.
- 58% of social media users never intend to buy a product using an influencer promotion code, despite associated product deals and savings.
Types of Influencers
There isn't one type of influencer – explore the categories of influencers.
Many social media users easily recognize macro-influencers. They generally have hundreds of thousands of followers, with some boasting follower counts in the millions.
In 2021, 57% of social media users only followed 1–5 influencers across channels. Macro-influencers likely gain these coveted ‘follows’ due to their broad reach, name recognition, or celebrity status.
Macro-Influencers use their large following to reach a broad audience. A brand partnership with a macro-influencer will enable your product to be seen by a wide variety of people with different interests.
According to Mark Hayes, head of marketing at e-learning platform Kintell, macro-influencers’ massive reach entices brands most.
“The main advantage of partnering with a macro-influencer is that your marketing materials will reach an enormous audience on their native platform,” Hayes said. “Getting an endorsement from your favorite influencer can drastically change your perception and buyer behavior, which is what makes this such an alluring concept for marketers.”
Getting an endorsement from your favorite influencer can drastically change your perception and buyer behavior.
While partnerships with macro-influencers have clear advantages, their celebrity-like status may make them appear inauthentic to some. Since they also often partner with businesses for promotions, their posts may not seem genuine or interest those who see them.
LifeHacks licensed professional counselor Sandra Henderson, for example, appreciates the Kardashian family for their commitment to beauty and makeup, asserting that their tutorial videos always teach the audience something new.
“The Kardashians have always been a great part of my life in exploring the beauty and the art of makeup,” Henderson said. “They have always been a center of issues because of their lifestyle, but I am always constantly hooked when it comes to them.”
Henderson and millions of other social media users have been hooked on Kardashian content for years. Kim Kardashian alone boasts 283 million followers on Instagram and receives millions of likes on the reach of her posts.
While Henderson enjoys her content, she also notes that macro-influencers may have too much command over defining what natural beauty means for their millions of followers.
Furthermore, macro-influencers such as Kim Kardashian have followers with wide-ranging backgrounds and interests. This means that not all of her followers would be interested in some of the products she promotes.
While macro-influencers have an impressive reach, businesses should consider their social media priorities and budgets before investing in a partnership with them.
Micro-influencers, who sometimes only have several thousand followers, don’t have the same reach as macro-influencers. However, their ability to engage with their smaller follower base offers them different advantages.
More than half of people (55%) generally follow micro-influencers with fewer than 50,000 followers, indicating that their popularity contends with influencers with greater name recognition.
Experts familiar with working with micro-influencers believe that these partnerships are beneficial because:
- Micro-influencers are more engaged with their followers
- Micro-influencers can better attract a cohesive audience with similar interests
- Micro-influencers are perceived as more authentic by their audience
- Partnering with micro-influencers generally costs less than working with macro-influencers
According to Tanner Arnold, president and CEO of Revelation Machinery, micro-influencers should never be overlooked by companies when they’re defining their social media strategy.
“Any brand should include micro-influencers in their marketing campaign because it will help their budget in the long run,” Arnold said. “Brands have a better chance of reaching a larger, more engaged audience this way, allowing them to develop a genuine fan base.”
Brands have a better chance of reaching a larger, more engaged audience this way, allowing them to develop a genuine fan base.
Although it may take extra work to build and maintain partnerships with them, micro-influencers are essential for a well-rounded social media marketing approach.
For instance, passporttofriday is a popular luxury travel account on Instagram. Run by travel advisor Chelsea Martin, the account inspires wanderlust by showcasing aesthetically attractive destinations and accommodations worldwide.
The account has about 27,000 followers, boasting beautiful images and several promotional posts. While Martin doesn’t have the volume of followers that the Kardashians do, she has succeeded in creating a community of followers interested in luxury travel.
Companies hoping to appeal to this audience can easily target them through partnerships with specialized accounts and types of influencers like her.
With more engaged followers of similar interest groups, micro-influencers serve as a competitive alternative to partnering with larger, more expensive macro-influencers.
With only a few thousand followers, nano-influencers can focus their content on specific interest groups that their larger counterparts cannot.
Because of this, nano-influencers play a crucial role in connecting their followers to new content and products because of their niche focuses.
In fact, the most popular way for social media users to discover new content in 2021 was through influencer content. Twenty-two percent of people (22%) find new social content and accounts via influencers.
Nano-influencers can curate niche interest groups and are most likely to effectively introduce products that align with their audience’s specific interests. Businesses working with nano-influencers will benefit from their highly engaged, trusting audience.
Arthur Iinuma, president of app development company ISBX, sees the niche following of nano-influencers as a powerful avenue for businesses to connect with consumers.
“Today’s audiences are savvy and can easily tell when influencers engaged in staged product recommendations. If influencers promote products without a strong personal angle, the audience will perceive it as contrived,” Iinuma said. “Audiences need to know that influencers actually use the product to be convinced.”
If influencers promote products without a strong personal angle, the audience will perceive it as contrived. Audiences need to know that influencers actually use the product to be convinced.
With an industry-specific ethos and followers predisposed to engage, nano-influencers are ideal partners for those looking to appeal to audiences at the interest level of the sales funnel.
For instance, dcfoodgod gained a strong regional following in the Washington D.C. area for their content about the best restaurants in the area. Their followers rely on them for their food recommendations and high-quality visuals of their meals.
With around 9,000 engaged, local followers on Instagram and even more on TikTok, dcfoodgod has earned its place as a trusted source for the best food in D.C.
While this content may not interest those living in other cities, D.C. locals can effectively use it to find hidden food gems in their area. New restaurants looking to build a local following should look for accounts like these for partnerships. Their niche, regional appeal attracts an already-interested audience that may be more likely to base their next restaurant choice on their content.
If your business can connect with a nano-influencer in a niche that aligns with your offerings, the relationship is sure to drive consumer interest.
The phrase “social media influencer” can conjure thoughts of celebrities and lifestyle icons. Informative influencers who are subject-matter experts in their fields, however, tend to engage more with their audiences.
Subject matter experts are the most popular type of influencer (34%) among social media users.
Consumers also regularly seek out influencer content from business leaders (29%) and wellness experts (28%). Those surveyed were most drawn to influencers that share important information or educational tips within areas of interest.
Kyle Dulay is the director of Collabstr, a marketplace that connects brands with Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube influencers. Dulay believes in the importance of working with informative, knowledgeable types of influencers.
“Brands should only reach out to influencers that are highly relevant to their products,” Dulay said. “The influencer should be able to talk about the product with ease because it's something they would've used in their everyday life regardless of the sponsorship.”
Brands should only reach out to influencers that are highly relevant to their products.
One influencer who has built a strong follower base by being a subject-matter expert is Gary Vaynerchuk. Vaynerchuk, sometimes known as GaryVee, co-founded the restaurant reservation app Resy and has been involved in several other business ventures. His social media presence is built around entrepreneurship and mentorship.
Vaynerchuk’s followers see his success as a source of credibility and appreciate his content’s informative nature.
- “I follow him because I think he encourages hustle culture with the right mindset, said Shelef. “A lot of influencers are into hustle culture, but I think he is the only one who is smart about it.” Tal Shelef, CondoWizard Realtor & Co-Founder
- “I follow Gary Vaynerchuck because of his interesting, edgy, and sometimes over-the-top content about entrepreneurship,” Petra Odak, Better Proposals Chief Marketing Officer
With Vaynerchuk and others, having the knowledge to back up the ideas is key to connecting with followers.
Businesses shouldn’t overlook the value of these informative influencers when defining their digital marketing strategy.
Authentic influencers, who strive to publish content without a promotional feel, can better appeal to and connect with their followers. Their content leads to more engagement and genuine interactions.
A common indication of a social media advertisement is a promo code. Influencers post their personalized codes that can be used by followers when purchasing the advertised product.
In 2021, 58% of people never planned on buying a product with an influencer promo code, despite the potential for savings.
People don’t engage when media partnerships feel underhanded. In fact, Designed for Blogging founder Marina Gusa appreciates when businesses are honest about working with influencers.
“I don't mind sponsored posts at all, as long as they're not pretending it's not sponsored,” said Gusa.
Gusa sees Vanessa Lau as a genuine influencer. Lau, founder of Vanessa Lau International Inc., amassed a strong following on Instagram with content focused on business social media use. After achieving success in the area herself, she’s passing on her industry knowledge to her followers.
According to Gusa, Lau’s real-world experience drives both the substance and tone of her posts on Instagram.
“I love Vanessa's content because she teaches her audience useful things about business,” Gusa said.
Other experts, such as Intellifluence CEO Joe Sinkwitz, believe that moving away from traditional advertising tactics can help businesses leverage influencer marketing most effectively.
“Audiences are intelligent, and by treating them with respect and intelligence through honest disclosures, we can see that they can be very natural,” Sinkwitz said. “How can influencer product reviews be even more natural? Proper influencer selection."
While on social media, people may not respond well to blatant advertisements from other types of influencers. Rather than looking for deals and savings, they’re hoping to learn and exchange information.
Influencers Play An Important Role In Digital Marketing Strategy
Understanding the different types of social media influencers is critical for small businesses who want to develop a successful social media strategy.
There are five types of influencers, each offering distinct benefits:
- Macro-Influencers offer high volumes of followers and a broad reach across demographics.
- Micro-Influencers have engaged audiences, primarily composed of a specific interest group.
- Nano-Influencers create extremely targeted content for a highly engaged audience.
- Informative Influencers provide content that educates or teaches followers about a topic or industry.
- Genuine Influencers project honesty in their content, even in their sponsored posts.
By leveraging the advantages of partnerships with each of these types of influencers, companies can ensure their offerings are being showcased authentically to target audience groups.
Interested in social media success? Check out our directory of top social media consultants.
About the Survey
Visual Objects surveyed 501 US social media users in March 2021 about types of influencers.
Forty percent (40%) of respondents are male; 35% are female; 24% did not identify.
Eighteen percent (18%) are 18 to 34; 29% are 35 to 54; 28% are 55 or over; 25% did not provide their age.
Respondents are from the South (35%), Midwest (30%), West (20%), and Northeast (14%).