With the rise of Klout and other personal influence measurement tools, much of the talk around influence marketing has focused on how to best target and engage high-ranking influencers.
But new research is showing that a focus on mid-level influencers is actually far more effective when it comes to engagement and driving earned media, and at a much more efficient cost than working with “professional” A-list influencers.
This is the conclusion from a SocialChorus analysis of over 200 social word-of-mouth campaigns, which shows that large-scale social engagement is increasingly driven by a group of influencers the company refers to as the “Power Middle.” These influencers typically have a smaller but very loyal audience (2,500 to 25,000+ unique monthly visitors to their blog or other social networks). Because their communities are so loyal, these Power Middle influencers drive an average of 16x higher engagement rates than paid media and owned alternatives–and at a much lower individual cost than professional influencers.
Interestingly, these findings match what many experienced marketing people have known for years. In an interview a year ago, Zoetica co-founder Kami Watson Huyse talked about how to leverage the power of the “Magic Middle“–a term based on a 1996 article by Technorati founder David Sifry–to build long-term relationships and form enduring communities around your brand or initiative.
The SocialChorus analysis finds that brands can achieve both scale and engagement when working with 100 – 300 power middle influencers, vs a smaller number of high-end influencers with larger followings. Over the course of three months, a Power Middle campaign with 100 influencers routinely drives 10 actions per influencer and 30,000 to 40,000 social endorsements delivered to millions of consumers.
Why do these mid-tier influencers drive so much engagement? Their audience isn’t just consuming news but often feels a true connection and allegiance to the influencer. They are part of a community and an ongoing conversation. As a result, a mid-tier influencer’s audience is much more likely to engage with an influencer-endorsed brand.
Campaigns targeted to Power Middle influencers tend to be far more cost-effective. In the 200+ programs SocialChorus has run, the “social currency”–content, access, product and other rewards used to engage the influencer–has averaged under $100 in total value per influencer, within a range of $0 (when highly exclusive content is involved) up to $500. In contrast, professional influencers can require thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars to work with brands. The lower cost of the Power Middle allows brands to approach a wider set of influencers with different personalities, perspectives and vertical areas of expertise, which, in turn, can drive more focused engagement from each influencer’s audience.
Successful social brands truly see these campaigns as two-way relationships. One way they increase audience actions is by repurposing influencer-generated content on their owned channels. Influencers appreciate the attention and are more likely to link to your brands and encourage their audiences to do the same. SocialChorus found that when their clients repurpose Power Middle influencer content on their owned channels, it outperforms the brands’ own content by an average of 3 to 5X and as high as 10X when used for (Facebook and Twitter) sponsored stories.
Echoing the conclusion drawn by the influence marketing panel at this year’s SXSW, the Social Chorus analysis shows that ongoing relationships are more important and effective than sporadic campaigns.
For more details on the analysis, including how SocialChorus measures and compares engagement rates across different types of platforms and campaigns, you can download the complete Power Middle white paper (free, registration required).