If the term "influencer marketing” conjures up visions of Kim Kardashian, who boasts 323 million followers on Instagram, you're not alone. But if it also makes you think your small business can't afford to tap into the power of influencers ... you're wrong. Influencer marketing has evolved, and now a larger group of micro-influencers across demographics and psychographics, including the audience you’re looking to activate. And the best part? They can be more affordable for small businesses and more effective, too. What’s the difference between a mega- and a micro-influencer—and why should you care? Let's explore 3 kinds of influencer networks, how to build them, and the pros and cons of implementing influencer programs in your small business. What’s an Influencer? The short version: an influencer is someone with power in your industry or product niche that holds sway over your target customer. A majority of businesses’ marketing teams already make use of influencer marketing, in which an influencer endorses a product or service, usually through social media: 85% of marketers engaged in influencer marketing in 2017 and 92% said their campaigns were effective, according to Sprout Social. The concept of an influencer may have been born with social media, but using endorsements to sell products is as old as advertising itself. Perhaps the most famous—and most lucrative—predecessor to today’s mega-influencer is Michael Jordan and his Nike endorsement deal, which created the Nike Air Jordan sneaker brand. As of 2020, the Air Jordan brand was valued at approximately $3 billion. With a b. Does your small business need to attract an international superstar to make influencing work for your product or service? It definitely doesn’t—in fact, you’re probably better off with a micro-influencer or a local advocate, both of whom can deliver tremendous results on a much more reasonable budget. 3 Kinds of Influencers Let’s break down the 3 main kinds of influencers to see which one is best for your small business, starting at the top: Mega-influencers Mega-influencers are usually celebrities, big-name content creators, and industry pros with brand recognition. You’ll usually need to work with an agency to book a mega-influencer—and get ready to pay big bucks. Kim’s equally powerhouse younger sister Kylie Kardashian reportedly earned around $1.2 million per Instagram post in 2019. Buyer beware: the mega-influencer industry is also plagued by scams. Check out this HBO doc to learn more. Micro-influencers These folks usually have more followers than the average social media user but fewer than the mega-influencers: somewhere between 1,000 and 100,000. As a result, they’re easier for small businesses to book and engage. Fans follow micro-influencers for their depth of expertise: on my social media, for example, I love to follow home-baking influencers, whereas my spouse follows outdoors and photography folks. This points to an additional perk of the micro-influencer: their inherently niche-driven branding can mean more engagement on your partnership content than with the mega-folks. To spot a high-engagement micro-influencer, look at their likes and comments on the social media feed you hope to use for your influencer campaign—the more engaged their followers are, the more they’ll engage with your content. Local advocates Your neighboring small business owner or dedicated customer might also double for you as a collaborator on an influencer campaign. The big benefit here is cost—you may not need to pay anything to set up a partnership like this, especially if it’s mutually beneficial (like a yoga studio endorsing a favorite clothing boutique by having a free event in your store, for example). Time is money, however, and these partnerships can take a lot of time to establish and plan—not to mention that you’re reliant on your own networks and content to spread the word. As a result, this option might be best for more experienced or social-media-savvy businesses. Payment for Influencers There’s no fixed rate for booking an influencer—as noted above, this can vary widely based on their reach, talent, and niche, among other factors. Sometimes, especially for local advocates and some micro-influencers, payment in-kind with your goods or services can be enough. According to a study conducted by Lumanu, a whopping 90% of influencer respondents (mostly micro-influencers) have participated in collaborations involving no cash payments. If you do need to set a cash budget, though, social media expert Neil Schaffer offers some useful starting-point benchmarks on his website for influencers taking cash payouts. How to Make an Influencer Program Work for Your Small Business Ready to make an influencer program happen? Here are 2 examples that may help focus your options for your own small business. You’re a high-end mechanic looking to grow your customer base, specifically hoping to find more luxury car owners in your radius. You could seek out micro-influencers who frequently review or discuss performance cars online: maybe they race cars, collect vintage high-end autos, or else are luxury/lifestyle enthusiasts with a car obsession. You’d choose them over local advocates because you know an influencer will photograph your cars like a pro—saving you on production costs. And you’d choose them over mega-influencers because you have a target niche in mind. You’re a budding skateboard brand, putting you in the sports-adjacent arena (famous for its mega-influencers.) You’ll want to go “mega” because you need eyeballs and authority conferred on your product—but as a small business, you could look for the “next big thing” in skating vs. a more expensive celebrity. A good agency will present options and be able to defend each recommendation. Wondering how to activate influencers in support of your new offerings? Ever-popular skincare/makeup company Glossier launched the #WrittenInGlossier hashtag on YouTube in June 2022 to celebrate a new eyeliner and bolstered the success of the campaign (which included anyone who wanted to join!) with paid influencers posting alongside micro-influencers and ordinary fans of the brand alike. Your small business could pilot something similar to get influencers across the spectrum involved in marketing your offerings. BTW, if you’re ready to explore an influencer marketing program for your small business but aren't sure your bank account is, too, consider small business financing to help you reach for the stars (celebrity or metaphorical).