HBO’s Fake Famous Is Why Brands Should Prioritize Micro-influencers

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If you haven’t watched Fake Famous on HBO yet, you should. In the film, Nick Bilton attempts to take three random people and turn them into Instagram Influencers. Spoiler alert: one of them actually becomes a legit influencer.

During their journey to become Insta-famous, the producers rely on manufactured settings and bots – lots and lots of bots – to drive up the follower numbers and engagement. When their numbers are high enough, free stuff comes rolling in from various lifestyle brands, from sneakers and jewelry to free trips and even a bidet.

At the heart of the film, there’s a question that goes unanswered: who is famous – and what makes them famous? I think the better question for brands is: what’s your influencer strategy?

So many brands have been turning their marketing budget towards influencers. In fact, brand spending on influencer marketing is expected to hit 13.8 billion in 2021 – a 711% increase from just five years ago, according to Influencer MarketingHub. But how and where this budget is spent are the decisions that will determine the success or failure of marketing campaigns.

Some brands will throw a lot of money at some of the biggest influencers, like Kim Kardashian and other celebrities, whose massive follower numbers (of which many are probably bots) are larger than magazine circulations. For consumer brands with really deep pockets that might make sense, but the smarter move is to focus on micro-influencers and nano-influencers, while leveraging influencers with a larger reach selectively.

Micro-influencers have between 5,000 – 100,000 followers, while nano-influencers have between 1,000 – 5,000 followers, and both are focused on a particular niche rather than being generalists. In addition to being less expensive (and usually easier to work with), these influencers are going to reach specific audiences with specific messages. And the best part is, the data shows these influencers have better engagement.

According to a HubSpot report, influencers with fewer followers have higher engagement rates:

Number of Followers Average Engagement Rate
More than 1 million 1.97%
100,000 – 1 million 2.05%
20,000 – 100,000 2.15%
5,000 – 20,000 2.43%
1,000 – 5,000 5.60%

In the end, influencer marketing isn’t really that complicated. Rather than get blinded by large numbers, it’s important to remember who you’re trying to reach. For example, if you’re selling a new running watch, your budget is probably more effective trying to reach readers of Runner’s World vs. The Wall Street Journal.

The same thing goes with influencers – rather than spending your time and money on the biggest names with the most followers (and bots), focus on the micro-influencers and nano-influencers who have engaged audiences that matter to your brand. Your brand might not pop up on your neighbor’s Instagram feed, but you’ll get a better return on your investment.


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