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Marketers who understand the value of engagement in influencer marketing also understand the power of micro-influencers.

These micro-influencers make up the majority of the influencer marketing community. Unlike celebrities or high-profile influencers, these "average" social media users have a down-to-earth demeanor that makes them relatable. They are regular people with regular social media accounts who are authentically driven to share their passions; in doing so, they have an incredible endorsement power that speeds up the process of building brand trust among consumers.

To get to know them a little bit better and to shed light on their beliefs and preferences surrounding content creation, social media use, and sponsored brand collaborations, we at SocialPubli conducted a global survey with 1,000 vetted micro-influencers registered on our platform. Here's what we found.

1. They are in it for the long haul

Although, at the moment, 62% of respondents receive less than 10% of their annual income from their work as influencers, more than half (52%) of micro-influencers said their professional goal is to become full-time content creators, signaling that there's a clear movement toward professionalization.

Considering that 77% of them publish content on social media daily, it is fair to say micro-influencers are committed and personally invested in their work. For many of them, especially those who have full-time jobs, being influencers is a passion project that allows them to express themselves and connect to a wider community of people with similar interests—to create what some call their online tribe.

That they see influencer marketing as a viable career option means brands should seriously consider long-term partnerships with those who are the best fit for them: An ongoing relationship with multiple micro-influencers will yield higher returns than a one-time endorsement from a celebrity or macro-influencer.

For your influencer marketing program to be successful you should employ a three-tiered pyramid approach: Micro-influencers should make up the majority of your influencers, followed by mid-tier and macro-influencers. Such a strategic mix allows you to tap micro-influencers to generate word-of-mouth at scale among hyper-targeted audiences, but also harness those influencers with larger followings to drive reach and exposure.

2. Authenticity matters: They will not work with just any brand

A common misconception is that big-time influencers are more selective about whom they work with because there is a personal brand to protect. However, smaller influencers are equally as concerned about whom they work with because authenticity is something that truly matters to them.

Asked why they would consider working with a brand more than once, 37% of micro-influencers cited being fans of the brand as the top reason, followed by 30% who cited receiving a fair and competitive compensation, and 14% who said the brand's values being aligned with theirs.

If we look a bit more closely at those answers, we see that more than half of micro-influencers consider authenticity very important, citing admiration and compatibility as the main factors to consider.

There's a lot at stake: They are building and growing their brands, and so they must protect their reputation and nourish their online communities with content that has value and relevance. Generally, the closer that people are to us, the more responsibility we feel toward them; micro-influencers' followers make up a close-knit community that interacts with the influencers and closely watches their every move.

Whereas a high-profile influencer with hundreds of thousands of followers may periodically pop in and out of the comments section of their social media channels to interact with followers, or answer several direct messages here and there, micro-influencers are constantly engaging and communicating with their online community. That means they can provide brands with invaluable insights—but marketers must ask for them.

Once you've done your homework and identified the best influencers for your campaign, take the time to consult with them before launch so you can craft content that truly resonates with the audience. Then, after the content has gone live, circle back to ask them how it performed, how their followers received it, and whether there are any key lessons learned you should keep in mind for the future.

3. It's not all about money

Our survey asked micro-influencers about their preferred type of compensation: 44.3% of micro-influencers said monetary; 29.2% said free product, service, or experiences; 17.8% said exclusive event access; and 7.9% said affiliate partnership.

Those response show there are multiple ways to work with micro-influencers, and that opens the space to small and midsize businesses (SMBs) that may not have the budget of big brands.

SMBs should get creative and think of ways they could entice micro-influencers to work with them and promote their business by extending a high-value offering that does not involve handing out cash. Giving them VIP passes to a launch event, treating them to an exclusive experience, or sending them a selection of your top-selling products are great ways to engage them and initiate a relationship.

The good news is that micro-influencers are generally more flexible than other influencers; they can better accommodate your needs while still serving their followers. Overall, they appreciate building relationships with brands, and unlike high-profile influencers they view the work as an authentic partnership and not merely as a transaction.

4. Instagram is where it's at

Instagram is the dominant social media platform among micro-influencers: 61% of them select it as their favorite social media network, followed by Facebook (17%) and Twitter (12%).

Those results are no surprise. Instagram has consistently positioned itself over the last few years as an influencer-marketing-friendly environment. In fact, the volume of sponsored content on the platform is projected to amount to 32.3 million posts in 2019.

If you're considering a brand partnership with micro-influencers, then Instagram should definitely be a priority for you. Its mobile and visual nature have helped catapult it to the top of the engagement metric ranks. It is also very intuitive for searching and discovering content, giving influencers and brands much broader exposure and reach.

Start within the platform by looking to see whether any Instagram micro-influencers are already following your account or may have interacted with your brand in the past. Perhaps they've even posted about your products or services, so a quick hashtag search is a good idea.

There are also platforms and marketplaces that you can use nowadays to find the most suitable Instagram influencers for your brand. These are handy tools that often provide useful information for further vetting, including the main topics the influencer posts about, geographical location of his/her audience, and average engagement rate.

5. Popularity does not equal influence

Since its inception, the influencer marketing industry has used follower counts as the rule of thumb for determining whether a social media user is an influencer. Typically, the larger the audience size, the more influential you were considered to be. Now, things have changed. As the industry matures, brands have taken notice that popularity is not synonymous with influence: Engagement rate decreases as the number of followers increases, and fake followers are a very real problem.

More marketers are starting to take notice of the value that micro-influencers bring to the table; however, 68% of micro-influencers still do not feel sufficiently recognized. Although they aspire to dedicate themselves to influencer marketing on a full-time basis, micro-influencers have also expressed a clear need for greater recognition; that indicates the ecosystem as a whole needs to mature and improve if they are to be able to effectively translate their vocation as influencers into a viable career path.

In today's world, where organic reach is declining, ad blocking is increasing, and content production and dissemination is at an all-time high, brands need to tap genuine advocates more than ever.

Micro-influencers are not meant to have an immaculate and perfectly curated Instagram feed in shades of pink ,or meant to share their lavish jet-set lifestyle for aspirational purposes. Instead, they present themselves as they are. There's no facade.

Today's consumers are engaged with and listening to micro-influencers, and influencer marketing is the better for it.

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Five Things Micro-Influencers Want Brands to Understand in 2019

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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