Influencer marketing has rapidly evolved from a "let's try it to see if it works" tactic to an integral part of a marketer's arsenal. Gone are the days when brands partnered only with celebrities to advertise and spread the word about their products and services. Social media has opened the doors to an influx of new influencers, and the options are now more diverse than ever for marketers.

Not all influencers are created equal. The influencer spectrum ranges from the celebrities with millions of followers and professional bloggers with tens of thousands of followers, to the micro-influencers with up to 5,000 followers and everyday social media users.

Though it's natural to want to gravitate toward the mega-celebrities and the famous bloggers and vloggers for marketing campaigns, bigger is not always better.

A large social media following is not an accurate indication of real influence. The true value of influencers lies in the level of trust they have earned from their audience and their ability to drive that audience to take action. And micro-influencers possess those two qualities. It's human-to-human marketing at its best.

In today's hyperconnected world, most consumers now seek these recommendations via social media. They are greatly influenced by the content they see on social networks. In fact, Mintel's 2015 American Lifestyles report found that seven out of 10 Americans have sought out the opinions of others before making purchases. Of those, 72% looked to their social media contacts for recommendations when purchasing goods and services.

A Micro-Influencer at Work: A Brief Example

Your friend who is a personal trainer posts a status update about a new brand of running shoes. You trust her opinion and recommendation about athletic wear because, after all, she trains other people for a living and fitness is her passion. She's not an ad presenting another new product for you to try. There's a personal connection.

You're actually more likely to buy the running shoes that your friend recommended than a pair that is being recommended by a celebrity on social media.

Why Work With Micro-Influencers

  • Higher engagement. Not surprisingly, studies have shown that as an influencer's follower total rises, the rate of engagement (likes and comments) with followers decreases. On the other hand, the content that micro-influencers produce resonates with their audience. These are people that you can relate to, someone just like you. The more personal connection with the audience leads to tangible conversions and not just mere awareness.
  • Authenticity. Content that micro-influencers produce is naturally more authentic and seems more sincere. This is key. Consumers can immediately spot when a message is insincere, and the first reaction is usually to ignore or reject it. for example, Some 43% of millennials rank authenticity over content when consuming news, according to a consumer study shared by Forbes.
  • Affordability. With the same amount of budget used to hire a celebrity or a high-end influencer, brands can collaborate with 20-30 micro-influencers to reach different demographics and even geographical regions to test different strategies and compare engagement and results.

Algorithm changes on social media networks such as Facebook and Instagram, for example, are already affecting who and what we see in our news feeds. Social platforms have done away with the chronological approach, and content is appearing based on the relationship between the users and the timeliness of posts. These updates are affecting engagement metrics surrounding brand content and celebrity endorsement posts.

As influencer marketing continues to grow, audience size will take a back seat and engagement will be the No. 1 indicator of success. Brands will invest more in strategies that generate leads and relevancy and this means that micro-influencers will become key voices to communicate their messaging in the vast social media space.

How to Find the Right Micro-Influencers

To identify the right micro-influencers for your social media campaigns, consider the following four tactics.

1. Look at your own followers

Take a look at your brand's social media followers, and chances are that you will find several micro-influencers who are already fans of the brand. Identify followers who consistently engage with your social media posts and look at each of their profiles.

One way to home in on influencers is by removing anyone who has fewer followers and less activity than your brand's profile. Also, analyze their posting habits: When was the latest media posted? How many comments and likes are they getting, on average, per post?

Once you have completed your list of influencers, visit their profiles and interact with their posts by liking them or leaving comments. Doing so helps to build a relationship and creates a good foundation for developing future collaboration with the influencer.

Coming up with your list of influencers manually can be a daunting task. Fortunately, there are tools such as Crowdbabble for Instagram and for Twitter that analyze your list of followers and display the top ones based on their engagement with your account and their number of followers.

2. Use hashtags and keywords

Look up various hashtags and keywords that are commonly used in your industry, or those that are related to the products and services your business offers. Micro-influencers who have posted about those topics on social media will surely come up in your search.

Using Instagram's search bar and Twitter's advanced search tool, for example, do a search using a specific term related to your industry, such as "fashion" or "#fashionblogger" and you will see all the posts and tweets that have used that keyword or hashtag.

If you are looking for influencers within a certain profession, then look for that specifically. Some sample hashtags might be #celebritychef or #professionalmakeupartist.

To find influencers who are already talking about you, search for a branded hashtag using your company's name or product name in it.

Hashtag searches are not as effective on Facebook because their use is relatively new on the platform; however, you can still try to use them to find potential influencers, since many users nowadays share their Instagram content on Facebook as well.

Keep in mind that not all the content you find when conducting these searches will be from influencers, so you must look the accounts to identify potential influencers.

To check whether a specific user is an actual influencer, look at the following:

  • Engagement rate. How much are people responding to the user's posts? Look at their ratio of "likes" to "follows." If the account has a large number of followers, but a small amount of likes and comments, chances are this person is being followed by inactive accounts. Read the comments. What are people saying? Sometimes right from the comments you can tell whether this person is a real influencer in his/her niche. If the comments make no sense, then they may be spam.
  • Quality of content. View the content and determine if it's good. Also consider whether the images seem to be stock photos or original, user-generated content. The latter is much better in terms of generating engagement and traction from followers.
  • Number of followers. As noted earlier, a large number is not always an accurate indication of influence; however, you do want to make sure that, for the most part, the users you are considering for your influencer campaign have more followers than your company's profile.

When you are visiting users' accounts, make sure to check whether they have a website or blog. They may even have an email address listed there, which makes it that much easier to reach them later.

Two handy tools that you can use to help you when searching for influencers via hashtags and keywords are followerwonk for Twitter and Keyhole for Twitter and Instagram accounts.

3. Google

Do a Google search of niche bloggers who cover the area of expertise you are interested in.

Run searches using phrases such as "top [industry] influencers on Instagram" or "[industry] micro-influencers" or "top [industry] Instagram accounts." Mix and match the words depending on the industry and the social media platform that you would like to target for your specific influencer campaign.

You will most likely find several lists that have already been put together for your industry. Gather the lists and visit each influencer's social media profile to determine which ones are a right fit for your campaign.

Put together your own list of potential influencers for various social media platforms.

4. Use specialty tools and networks

To find and reach out to the influencers who meet your exact criteria, use an influencer-marketing tool or work with blogger networks (or do both).

This approach is easier and less time-consuming that the others, as you're able to acquire a list of all applicable candidates fairly quickly and can sort through the results to view and compare page and domain authority as well as follower count.

Keep in mind that you may get thousands of posts when searching for a hashtag or keyword directly on the platform. On Instagram, for example, users upload over 95 million photos and videos every single day. Depending on how much time you have on your hands, you may find it more beneficial to use an influencer marketing tool or network to locate the best candidates for your campaign, rather than doing it manually.

Among the benefits of using influencer marketing tools:

  • Easy discovery and identification of the most relevant and engaging influencers in your specific industry segment
  • Automation of repetitive tasks, such as contacting and communicating with influencers, reviewing content, and more
  • Tracking and monitoring of campaign results in real-time

Although there is a cost involved—typically a monthly fee or a fee per campaign—these tools (including, which I co-founded) are more cost-effective than traditional paid advertisements.

* * *

Knowing who your target audience is and what you're trying to accomplish with each influencer marketing campaign will lead you to the best micro-influencers to promote your business.

Before launching your campaign, make sure they can provide the value and quality you're seeking by analyzing their real influence, taking into account daily engagement, per-post engagement, and overall trustworthiness.

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The Power of Micro-Influencers: How to Find the Right Social Media Influencers for Your Campaigns

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image of Ismael El-Qudsi

Ismael El-Qudsi is CEO and co-founder of influencer marketplace and employee advocacy tool SocialReacher. His digital marketing experience includes roles as head of SEO and social media at Havas and project manager for Microsoft Bing in his native Spain.

Twitter: @elqudsi

LinkedIn: Ismael El-Qudsi