The five tiers of influencer and how they'll impact your influencer campaign

March 19, 2020

As the influencer space evolves, so does the language the sector uses to describe itself. Driven and shaped by influencers themselves, and those who work with them, it can be difficult to keep track. Are you confident you know your ‘merch’ from your ‘share of voice’?!

Organizing the influencer space into categories has become a necessary challenge for brands to overcome. Unlike conventional pay-per-click advertising, where terms are standardised across the board, there’s no central point of reference for influencers or set of published guidelines. It’s up to you to make sure you’re organising and analysing the influencers you use accurately, to ensure the success of your campaigns.

Grouping influencers into tiers of size is one of the easiest and most natural first steps to take when giving your efforts some definition and structure. You’ll soon find though that you don’t have to go far to find more confusion here. Are ‘mid-tier’ influencers good or bad? How many followers do you have to have to be a ‘mid tier’ influencer? Or do you judge an influencer’s tiering by views and impressions? When should you use a mid-tier influencer and when should you stump up for a super influencer?

Influence Network’s influencer tiering

You can go extremely in-depth with influencer tiering, breaking down your influencer definitions into sub-tiers and adding all sorts of labels and analysis. On a broad level though, we think the below works really well to get you started on understanding basic influencer tiers that are starting to become more and more accepted across the influencer space.

Why these levels of influencer tiering?

We think these are the most appropriate tiers to use because at these levels the challenges and results on offer tend to change. These levels also highlight the 3,000 - 25,000 follower range as its own discrete ‘type’ of influencer: the micro influencer. We’re firmly of the belief that, for most brands, this is a sweet spot, for reasons we’ll look at below. Let’s dig into each tier a little more to understand how your experience will change depending on what tier you choose.

Nano influencers: the up and comers

Audience level: 1,000 - 3,000 followers

Good for: Getting started with influencer marketing at a low cost. Reaching ultra-niche audiences.

Characterised by: Relatively new as an influencer. Niche topic. Fast-growing follower count.

Nano influencers can be summarised as the new kids on the block. They’re likely to have relatively new social media accounts, hence the lower follower volumes when compared to the other influencer tiers. They could be an influencer on a very niche topic, or just getting started in a bigger influencer pool. It’s worth bearing in mind that if you choose to work with nano influencers you could well be the first brand they’ve worked with. This may mean a slightly longer process when it comes to settling on how to work together, as the ‘ins and outs’ will be totally new to them. On the other hand, the relatively small follower count could also mean that the cost to you is significantly cheaper compared to working your way up the influencer tier, and the content is just as great quality.

The bottom line for your campaign: You’ll really need to look closely at the overall volume of reach you need in your campaign and your process for working with influencers. If you need a reach of 250,000 then you’re looking at working with at least 84 nano influencers, all of whom will need co-ordinating, paying and assessing, possibly for the first time. For niche target markets or small reach requirements nano influencers could work but they can quickly become challenging partners for bigger campaigns without a platform to manage them.

Micro influencers: your influencer sweet spot?

Audience level: 3,000 - 25,000 followers

Good for: Driving purchasing decisions and spreading brand awareness.

Characterised by: Extremely high engagement levels and increasing levels of experience in sponsored content.

Micro influencers are the sweet spot of the influencer marketplace. What’s more: they remain underused. The reason we believe this to be true is the engagement levels micro influencers offer. Micro influencers have a size of audience that is large enough to interact with the influencer on a consistent basis, generating reach, but small enough that the influencer can still have genuine one-to-one interaction with their followers.

What this tends to mean is that micro influencers are hyper-connected to their audience, interacting authentically with those who follow them. In turn their followers tend to listen to their recommendations more readily than those of influencers with larger audiences, who can sometimes struggle with authenticity and genuine connection. Some of a micro influencer’s follower-base may well have met or interacted with the influencer in person, increasing the genuine connection between influencer and audience.

The bottom line for your campaign: Micro-influencers drive purchasing decisions. It really is as simple as that. Their genuine connection with their audience results in purchases and conversions for brands, and makes them a great partner for ongoing brand ambassador roles.

Mid-tier influencers: on the verge of stardom

Audience level: 25,000 - 250,000

Good for: Achieving a larger reach, whilst retaining some of the attractive qualities the micro influencers have.

Characterised by: A mixture of micro influencer and macro influencer traits, depending on the individual influencer and their system of working with brands.

Mid-tier influencers are best described as, ‘they do what they say on the tin’. They are somewhere between the qualities of a micro influencer (driving purchase decision through an extremely connected set of followers) and those of a macro influencer (large amplified reach). The influencer themselves will likely have a desire to grow and develop their career as an influencer. As we all know though, with growth towards targets comes new challenges. Mid-tier influencers are potentially right in the middle of these challenges, outgrowing their ability to interact with their audience and respond to every comment, whilst simultaneously attracting more attention from brands looking solely at follower counts.

This can create a big disparity within this tier, which can be difficult to identify on a ‘by-influencer’ basis using only manual methods of working with influencers. Some mid-tier influencers will have managed to retain a substantial amount of connection with their followers, whilst others will be much closer to the characteristics of the macro influencer tier.

The bottom line for your campaign: It’s very possible to work with influencers in this tier to drive buying behaviour, but you will have to look closely to find the best ones and your results can be mixed. A programmatic approach, favouring influencers with a proven track record working on similar brands to your own can be the best route forwards.

Macro influencers: media darlings

Audience level: 250,000 - 1 million followers

Good for: Favouring reach and brand presence over targeted audiences.

Characterised by: A mature approach to sponsorship opportunities and increasing profile in popular culture outside of their sphere of immediate influence.

Macro influencers are used to working with brands and may well have established a smooth process for working with you and taking your message to their followers. They are likely to be starting to exert influence outside of their immediate sphere and may well be receiving attention in appropriate mainstream media. If BBC Breakfast were running a segment on how best to perfect your beauty routine they may well turn to this tier of influencer to look for a guest, for example.

The trade off for brands is unfortunately lower levels of engagement from macro influencers’ followers. At these volumes it’s unlikely that the influencer can keep up with the comments and questions they receive, so they don’t tend to foster as strong a connection or engagement with their audience. The relationship here is more of a media company with its viewers and readers and, as such, you may well be buying brand presence rather than a true ‘relationship’ with an influencer. This can still suit certain aims, it’s just worth being aware of what your (increasing) budget will be buying you.

The bottom line for your campaign: Macro influencers are a mature tier of influencer, who have staked their claim to a space in the influencer marketplace over a number of years, succeeding in winning a large follower base. This likely means that their influence over day-to-day purchasing choices is reduced, but don’t ignore their ability to generate large impression figures.

Super influencers: celebrity beckons

Audience level: More than 1 million followers.

Good for: Extreme numbers of impressions for significant brand campaigns.

Characterised by: Super influencers are celebrities in their own right (or, you know, just traditional celebrities). They are likely to be visible in popular culture outside of their social media accounts, which are only an extension of their personal brand.

The truth of the matter is, that if you are working with this level of influencer, then you are likely to be in a relationship that exists only partially in the world of ‘influencer marketing’. You have probably developed a more traditional ‘brand advocate’, endorsement or sponsorship relationship with the celebrity in question, part of which is leveraging social media profiles, which are likely to be significant.

Whilst this type of influencer is likely to boast extreme reach for your brand, they are also likely to command high fees and be able to choose the brand relationships they become involved in.

The bottom line for your campaign: You’ll need a large budget and a sophisticated approach to partner with individual personalities, and also be prepared to pay a premium on top as they are handled through agents.

If you’re not sure which influencer tier would work best for your campaign, feel free to drop us a line and we can discuss your brief and perhaps come up with a few suggestions, or at least some food for thought.

Influence Network is an influencer platform which identifies the most aligned micro-influencers from the entire social web, then rapidly deploys and manages your campaign at an unprecedented scale, before reporting on trackable engagement and ROI. We’re the Double-Click of influencer marketing and we’re here to solve your influencer problems. Sound interesting? Get in touch on info@influence.network or 0203 918 8582

Written by Harriot Rockey
COO, Influence Network

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