In the inescapable world of social media, it feels like everybody knows somebody who is an influencer. It’s that girl you went to high school with or that friend whose closet you always went to raid before a big event — it could even be you, actually, if you have a few thousand Instagram followers.
Micro-influencers, which are roughly defined as having anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 followers, are becoming more appealing to brands.
Francesca Gariano, a New York City-based influencer marketing manager, told HuffPost that deciding which influencers she works with on paid campaigns depends on the project, the brand and the budget of the campaign. “Some brands still ask for a 10k follower minimum if they want to be able to use a swipe-up link in Instagram stories,” she said.
But follower count matters less and less in influencer marketing, and, in fact, much of influencer marketing is skewing in favor of smaller accounts. You can use the case study of @Arii, an Instagram user with more than 2 million followers who created T-shirts last spring that she promoted on her account, but it didn’t hit the 36-unit order minimum to continue producing them. It further proves that if you have 2 million Instagram followers but none of them care about what you have to say, you don’t have influence. You just have 2 million Instagram followers.
Gariano said she does a lot of “social sleuthing” when finding influencers for campaigns for the brands her company works with, which she has asked not to name in this article. “An account with 75,000 followers and seven comments or 200 likes on a post is a bad sign to me,” Gariano said. “I get really into authentic following and engagement because I think integrity is important, and if brands are using their budget to work with creators, I want to ensure that their money is being spent on an influencer whose audience is real. If I see a lot of comments that are just emojis, comments in a language that the influencer doesn’t speak, etc., those are red flags. I also scroll through their likes and followers and check for similar signs of fake accounts or fake engagement.”
Many brands have made micro-influencers a priority in their marketing budgets for two main reasons. The first is that there is higher return on investment for the brand, because larger accounts naturally get lower engagement, whereas smaller accounts get higher engagement. The second is that there is a lower risk associated with hiring a micro-influencer. If a brand shells out $1 million for a celebrity to post an Instagram photo and it flops, that’s a huge miss. But if you hire a few micro-influencers to post on Instagram and spend a few thousand dollars in total, you’re reaching a wider audience and saving money.
So if you have 1,000 Instagram influencers and you create content, can you get paid by a brand to create content? Absolutely. As there continues to be more transparency about pay in the influencer space, it has become more apparent that smaller creators can be valuable for brands, deserving to be compensated for their work, and they could ask for additional fees if a brand wants usage rights to content for any period of time, exclusivity or the use of the influencer’s content in paid social or email marketing.
We profile five influencers with Instagram audiences of fewer than 5,000 to learn how much they were paid for recent social media and blogging campaigns they worked on. The influencers below didn’t name the brands that paid them for their work.
Lisette Melendez (@ohsnapitzlizzie)
Lisette Melendez is a fashion, beauty and lifestyle influencer based in the Bronx in New York City. She has an Instagram following of more than 3,200. She’s been blogging for five years but started taking it seriously three years ago. After she started treating it as a business, she got a collaboration opportunity after two months.
Deliverables: One static feed post on Instagram, a blog post and a YouTube video
Exclusivity: Cannot work with competitors for one month
Usage: One year of image rights for use in social media and on brand’s website
How long the content needed to stay live: One month
Her two cents: “Tagging brands before I’ve ever gotten sponsored and using relevant hashtags helped me land brand deals a lot quicker than I imagined. My advice to any micro-influencer like myself is to remain true to your personal brand. While it can be easy to want to accept every partnership you get, always choose quality over quantity. I’ve made the mistake of accepting too many sponsored posts at once and, despite them being brands I genuinely loved, it was overwhelming and felt like I wasn’t being paid enough for my time. Don’t be afraid to negotiate pricing. If a brand really likes your content, they will work something out.”
Megan McSherry (@acteevism)
Megan McSherry is a sustainable fashion and lifestyle influencer based in L.A. with an Instagram following of of more than 3,200. She started blogging seven years ago and got her first paid project after five years of blogging ― once she realized she could get paid for her content even with a small audience.
Deliverables: Three Instagram feed posts, including the brand in a blog post, Instagram stories (no specified amount of slides) and “a few” images to share with the brand
What she was paid: $400 and free products (about $200 retail value)
Usage: Rights to the images she shared with them and organic use of the images on the brand’s social media account
How long the image needed to stay live: Not specified
What she was initially offered: $350 (this is the third iteration of a contract with this brand, the original contract one year ago was $200 for the same ask)
Her two cents: “It has been really interesting to see how my sponsorship opportunities and decisions regarding sponsored posts have changed since deciding to focus only on sustainably and ethically made products. When I first started monetizing my platform, I would take any paid opportunity that came my way. Though I had a more regular stream of income, I definitely took a hit to my engagement. Since I’ve only started promoting products that meet my rigorous sustainability and ethics requirements, I’ve not only started making more per post with my niche audience, but I’ve also regained the trust of my followers. My ads now seem like a natural extension of the topics I already talk about, which in my opinion should be the goal for any influencer, regardless of their main focus or niche.”
Gabby Whiten (@gabbywhiten)
Gabby Whiten is a lifestyle and fashion influencer based in New York with an Instagram following of nearly 3,000. She has been blogging for 4½ years, and she got her first paid project after one year of blogging.
Brand category: Beauty retailer
Deliverables: One Instagram feed post and two sets of three to five Instagram story frames, and one blog post
What she was paid: $145 plus $120 retailer gift card
Exclusivity: Not specified
Usage: Perpetual license for brand and network
How long the image needed to stay live: Not specified
Her two cents: “As a nano-influencer, working with brands can be so exciting, but I also think it’s extremely easy for brands to take advantage of our influencer tier. Our high engagement rates are a great negotiating tool and very valuable for brands looking to convert brand awareness to sales. Synthesizing my stats into meaningful metrics has made it easier for me to ask for compensation and ultimately get paid! My favorite thing about sponsored content is that it doesn’t feel like all business for me. My blog and Instagram are my passion projects, and I always try to keep my collaborations authentic, fun, relatable and (arguably the most important to my audience) useful!”
Darrian Chamblee (@darrianchamblee)
Darrian Chamblee is an authentic motherhood and military life blogger based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, with an Instagram following of about 3,000. She started blogging 2½ years ago, and it took her six months to get her first paid project.
Brand category: Beauty and personal care
Deliverables: Craft one blog post with 350-plus words with five high-quality images, social shares (Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram/IG stories), one additional IG story post (they provided photos) for extra compensation
What she was paid: $525 ($450 for the initial campaign and an additional $75 for the add-on IG story)
Exclusivity: Three months
Usage: Full usage rights to all content.
How long the image needed to stay live: 3 months
What you were initially offered if you negotiated: The initial quote was $400 to $600 and we ended up on the higher end of that.
Her two cents: “Up to this point, I have only relied on influencer networks to get sponsored opportunities. While it takes the legwork out of pitching, influencer networks come with their hassles and often remove the ability to negotiate pricing. It has also been a lot more difficult, in my experience, to create a relationship directly with brands when working on sponsored content through influencer networks. While influencer networks are a great way to get started with sponsored content, you ultimately reach a point where you need to be actively pitching yourself to make a consistent income and build those critical relationships with brands, which is something I plan on focusing more on in 2020!”
Michelle Dufflocq (@michelledufflocq)
Michelle Dufflocq is a lifestyle influencer based in Brooklyn, New York, with an Instagram following of about 3,400. She’s been a YouTube content creator with her sister Aline for six years and got her first paid project after four years.
Brand category: Lifestyle
Deliverables: Non-dedicated mention of product in a YouTube video within the first minute of the video and including a discount code for the product. Content was reviewed by the brand for approval before posting.
Usage: Full usage for one year
What she was initially offered: $200
Her two cents: “As a smaller creator, I really struggle with sponsored social media content. It’s easy to get stuck in a state of imposter syndrome, which is only exacerbated by brands who only work on a gifting basis or use your follower count as a reason to not compensate you for your work (despite how high your reach/engagement/quality of content is). I think you learn very quickly how important negotiating and advocating for yourself is, as well as being open with other creators about how much you’re being paid. When negotiating with a brand, just ask for more. The worst someone can say is, ‘We currently don’t have a set budget for this campaign.’”