A few years ago, only celebrity icons like Rihanna were courted by brands for coconut water advertisements on Instagram. Soon it was the turn of more #relatable individuals like Jonathan and Anna Saccone Joly, who started documenting their daily lives as somewhat of a joke but quickly became a social media sensation (A quick explainer: they’re Irish).
More recently, brands have turned to micro-influencers: more specialized and thus more trusted individuals, who might be persuaded – for a micro-fee of course – to become a “brand ambassador” for a cashew milk-based product.
We’ve also seen leading brands tap into the computer-generated influencer phenomenon, a trend which doesn’t appear to be going out of fashion. Now we have a new player in the influencer economy, one that doesn’t rely on digital fake-believe: say hello to the nano-influencer.
A nano-influencer, or “nano,” is just like you and me, depending on who you are of course. Nanos are perfectly ordinary digital citizens, with follower counts as low as 1,000.
Despite such shockingly relatable follower counts, nano-influencers are being courted for their influence. Why would such paltry influence appeal to brands? The appeal is that nanos aren’t famous.
Everyone who’s on Instagram has that friend who is quite simply really popular. Everything that friend touches on Instagram turns to gold, racking up likes, compliments and countless emojis. They’ve most likely never worked with a brand before, but they’re just really good at social media. So if your annoyingly cool first cousin suddenly starts preaching the virtues of slimming tea or vegan bacon – that’s probably why.
If you think about it, it’s a logical progression in the influencer economy. Ordinary people are much easier for brands to deal with than your typical Hollywood or YouTube A-lister. Cheaper too: they don’t usually require huge riches, just some free product or a small commission.
What they lack in reach (typically, a nano will have no more than 5,000 followers) they make up for in intimacy or real-time personalization of the brand. When they recommend a brand or product on Instagram, their word seems as genuine as advice from a friend.
These nano developments come at an interesting time in the influencer economy. Existing evidence (and logic) suggests that as leading influencers grow in popularity, they start charging higher rates. With greater success and online fame, influencers can lose the down-to-earth quality that once distinguished them from the social noise.
An economy that is both opaque and rife with questionable tactics, it continues to attract big money from brands. A reminder of that came when a public relations firm sued fashion model Luka Sabbat, saying he failed to fulfill the terms of an agreement with Snap Spectacles. According to the suit, Sabbat was offered $60,000 for providing one Instagram post and three Instagram Stories and for being photographed during fashion weeks while wearing the spectacles.
As in any industry, there is potential for market saturation at the top. From a brand’s perspective, this could make as-yet undiscovered nanos all the more appealing.
The emergence of nano-influencers as a viable option for brands poses a wider, slightly philosophical question: is the meaning of ‘influencer’ changing?
Ask any Tom, Dick or Harry what comes to mind upon hearing the word ‘influencer’, and they’ll think of intriguing food and beverage products, lavish vacations and far too many shopping haul videos. The difference with nanos, is that Tom, Dick and Harry are the influencers.
It’s the natural next step in the influencer economy. Everyone is so accustomed to marketing themselves and creating an online persona of sorts, that in theory, anyone can be an influencer. Need proof? Companies like Captiv8 and Obviously connect brands with influencers of all stripes. Obviously in particular has hundreds of nanos on its books, with plans to add more.
It remains to be seen how successful nano-influencers can be, as brands weigh the benefits of placing smaller bets instead of a Kardashian-sized bet. In the meantime, pay close attention: you could be scouted as the next nano superstar at any time.