Small Is Beautiful, But Is It Trustworthy?

Major cosmetics player L’Oreal won’t trust micro-influencers at first blush

Popularity Contest?

L’Oreal Active Cosmetics takes an interesting but increasingly popular tack when it comes to working with influencers – the social media personalities who have come to dominate the online marketing palette. The company sets aside significant ad dollars to work with so-called micro-influencers – social media personalities with around 10,000 followers. But why? Successful influencers can sport tens or hundreds of thousands of followers; a mega-influencer, someone like Kim Kardashian, sports tens of millions of followers. It would stand to reason that companies would be all about bidding up on the most-followed personalities that their budgets can afford, right?

Social Peaking

Nope. Turns out there’s a significant drop-off in an influencer’s … well … influence once a certain follower threshold is reached. One study, for instance, suggests that rate of engagement (the number of collected likes and comments) drops off after an influencer garners 1,000 followers or so.

The key to this phenomenon seems to be personal investment – the micro-influencer’s very proximity to their smaller fan base means that micros are trusted advisers about their areas of expertise.

So, smart money would be spread out among a larger group of micro-influencers who could provide multiple sources of high engagement instead of a small number of prominent influencers who leave little room for growth.

Sounds good, but here’s the challenge: Mega-influencers like Kardashian are trusted assets – they’ve been vetted by hundreds of thousands or even millions of consumers, and the big-business ad dollars they can command leave much less room for chicanery. Because their profiles are under the radar, micro-influencers are much more likely to expose brands to fraud, fake followers, and disreputable content than their high-profile peers.

The Takeaway

’Oreal is attempting to meet the challenge by purifying its micro-influencer cohort through a three-pronged strategy.

First, it’s using automated analysis to pick out which of its possible micro-influencers are suspect: accounts with sudden spikes in follower numbers, for instance, or large numbers of foreign followers. Next, the L’Oreal program relies on analog advice in the form of manuals used by its social media divisions to weed out micro-influencers who are genuine but nonetheless associated with products or subject areas the company doesn’t want to be paired with. Finally, the company runs background checks on influencers before moving ahead – looking over post histories for offensive, illegal or otherwise troubling content.

It’s important to note that L’Oreal’s hybrid approach involves human review and personal assessment of the characters of individual influencers. This sort of analog engagement doesn’t guarantee against nasty surprises, but it sure goes a lot further than a purely algorithm-based method can.