February 17, 2020 Last updated on January 28th, 2021
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Can you remember a time before the word “influencer”?

Love it or hate it, it’s now firmly embedded into everyday language. Up until a few years ago, however, the word was used much less frequently to describe someone popular among the masses.

Today, with the explosion of Instagram, the definition has become a little more complex. There are at least four types to be aware of and the exact definition of each is slightly different depending on the source. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to categorize each social media influencer as follows:

  1. Mega: 1 million + followers
  2. Macro: 100,000 – 1 million followers
  3. Micro: 10,000 – 100,000 followers
  4. Nano: 10,000 followers or less

But what do they all mean, and why should brands care?

Well, with the social media influencer marketing industry set to reach $10 billion by 2020, it’s important we understand the definition of each. Knowing the nuances between them (and it’s more than just follower size) could make or break a campaign. That’s why it’s crucial to understand which is right for your business or product.

Let’s dive into the four types of social media influencer in more detail.

Guide to Social Media Influencers

1. Mega influencers

You’re probably most familiar with this kind of social media influencer. Mega influencers refer to social media stars with 1m+ followers.

They are celebrities, whether that’s in the traditional sense of actors, singers and TV stars, or internet personalities that have risen to prominence in recent years.

Considered top of the pecking order of social media influencers, these are the people you want to work with if mass brand awareness is your goal. And as Instagram won’t typically be the only platform they are popular on, their content has the potential to reach a massive audience very quickly.

However, while mass appeal is a big perk of working with mega influencers, there is a downside.

Most mega influencers don’t have an intimate relationship with their followers, so are sometimes considered less trustworthy (when it comes to brand partnerships) than social media influencers with a smaller, but more engaged, following.

And, due to the huge amount of eyes watching every move these mega influencers make, it’s super important that any brand partnership is thoughtfully considered and meticulously planned.

You only have to Google “influencer marketing fails” to see the consequences of a poorly planned mega influencer and brand collaboration.

You’re probably familiar with brand sponsorship faux pas like the infamous Scott Disick and Bootea copy-and-paste caption debacle. But what about British band Little Mixes’ similar slip up? In 2016, the band accidentally posted caption instructions straight onto Instagram.

Little Mix Instagram caption mistake

Tiny mistakes like these can have lasting impact on a brand’s reputation, which is why it’s important to choose the right mega influencer to partner with.

Benefits of working with mega influencers

  • Impact – mega influencers have a huge audience and the potential to reach millions of people
  • Professionalism – mega influencers already have a lot of experience working with brands, which tends to make the partnership simpler and less time-intensive (from the brand’s perspective)
  • Brand exclusivity – being endorsed by the right mega influencer adds a level of “exclusivity” and credibility to your brand or product

Mega influencers: things to watch out for

  • Availability – mega influencers are extremely in demand, and so finding the time to work with them isn’t always easy. Brands should factor this into campaign planning, and aim to speak to influencer agencies as early as possible to secure the right mega influencer
  • Cost – one piece of content from a celebrity influencer could cost anywhere from $2,000 to $50,000, depending on reputation and follower count
  • Risk – with so many people watching a mega influencer’s every move, if things go wrong, there is a bigger reputational risk to brands
  • Relevancy – sponsored content may not be considered completely trustworthy by a mega influencer’s audience. That’s why it’s so important to make sure the influencer is a natural fit for your next influencer campaign

Mega influencer examples

Social media influencer Louise Thompson starred in TV series Made in Chelsea. Boasting 1.1m Instagram followers, she is no stranger to working with brands and also owns her own clothing line called Pocket Sport.

Mega Instagram influencer Louise Thompson

Negin Mirsalehi is a fashion Instagrammer and entrepreneur who has built a successful career on Instagram. She has 5.6m followers and regularly works with major brands including Dolce & Gabbana, Dior and Balmain. Off the back of her successful social media presence, Negin has launched her own range of honey-infused hair products.

Mega influencers on Instagram

2. Macro influencers

Unlike most mega influencers, macro influencers have typically grown a following (between 100,000 and 1 million followers) via the internet.

For many brands, these social media influencers offer the best of both worlds: a large and engaged audience that fits a certain niche. And thanks to their experience growing an audience from scratch online, many macro influencers are masters at effective brand collaborations.

Why? Because unlike mega influencers, many of whom had a mass following pre-Instagram, macro influencers have grown as a consequence of the bond they’ve nurtured (some for many years) with their audience.

They know their target audience inside and out. They’ve spent years understanding what they like and what they don’t. And because of that, their priority is maintaining that strong connection with their followers. They won’t jeopardize that trust over a mismatched sponsored post or irrelevant brand partnership.

Something that brands should be aware of, is that while more affordable than a mega influencer, many macro influencers also have agents ready to secure a good deal. Depending on the influencer’s reputation and level of audience engagement, this could end up being more than the traditional $100 per 10,000 follower general rule of thumb.

Iconosquare’s Instagram Marketing 2019 Trends & Benchmarks Report found that almost 30% of businesses pay social media influencers $100-$500 per Instagram post. More than 20% admit to paying $1000-$5000 per post.

Benefits of macro influencers

  • Relevancy – macro influencers within a specific niche have highly targeted audiences that will respond well to relevant brand collaborations
  • Reach – some macro influencers have both a large reach and good engagement rates, which is ideal for brands that have brand awareness and conversion as campaign goals
  • Professionalism – macro influencers are used to working with brands and creating high quality content that resonates with their audience, which streamlines the collaboration process for both parties

Macro influencers: things to watch out for

  • Credibility – depending on the size of the macro influencers’ audience and how “specialist” their account is, a brand partnership could come off as less credible (compared to a micro influencer partnership, for example). Understanding a macro influencer’s audience very well is the way to avoid this happening
  • Engagement – some macro influencers with follower numbers at the higher end of the scale (800,000/900,000) may have low engagement rates
  • Cost – many macro social media influencers today are signed to influencer agencies, and as a result can command high fees for brand partnerships

Macro influencer examples

Photographer Jesse Driftwood is a great example of a macro influencer with big reach and high levels of engagement. He has 162k followers and an 8.19% engagement rate according to Social Blade.

When he does partnerships with brands like Vitamix, the recommendations look and sound like they’ve come from a friend. It doesn’t sound forced or inauthentic.

Instagram sponsorships with influencers

Lifestyle blogger and YouTuber Lily Pebbles is a macro influencer with a following of 435,000. While her engagement rate is on the lower side (at 2.54%), her reach is fantastic as she’s prolific on Twitter (248.7k followers) and YouTube (490k subscribers) as well as Instagram.

Lily Pebbles YouTube

3. Micro influencers

The most common kind of influencer on Instagram right now is the micro influencer, who has between 10,000 and 100,000 followers.

What differentiates them from their bigger counterpart, the macro influencer, is a smaller reach. However, micro influencers are more specialised than macro influencers and therefore more trusted by their extremely loyal, highly engaged and relevant audience.

With such engaged audiences, these social media influencers are more likely to generate qualified leads and conversions than macro influencers, whose audience isn’t so specific. If a brand’s target market is a match with the micro influencers’, it could definitely be a partnership worth exploring.

Benefits of micro influencers

  • Credibility – many micro influencers are specialists in a particular niche, and so any content they share that’s related to that niche is considered more credible
  • Cost – Less investment is required to work with a micro influencer, which makes this kind of partnership more accessible to brands
  • Engagement – micro influencers tend to have better engagement rates than mega or macro influencers, because their audience can easily relate with not only the content but also with the influencers themselves
  • Conversion – micro influencers are more likely to turn warm leads into subscribers and customers thanks to the strong level of trust between them and their audience
  • Availability – due to the lower cost of working with each individual micro influencer, brands have the option of working with several influencers at the same time
[Did you know? Influencer agency HelloSociety found that micro influencers, (or accounts with 30,000 or fewer followers) are more beneficial for marketers to work with. And, campaigns with micro influencers are 6.7 times more efficient per engagement than influencers with larger followings.]

Micro influencers: things to watch out for

  • Time – depending on the campaign, you may want to work with multiple micro influencers to get maximum results. And this will require more time –  not only to find and communicate with the influencers, but to work through different briefs and review cycles etc.
  • Quality – some micro influencers, for whom Instagram isn’t their full time job, may be juggling a busy schedule and this could (potentially) compromise the quality of content. However, you can agree to quality checks/revisions in the contract to avoid this becoming a problem
  • Reach – micro influencers do have limited reach as they have smaller audiences. If brand awareness is your goal, it will make more sense to work with a macro or mega influencer
  • Creativity – micro influencers create their best work when given some freedom. Unlike some mega influencer brand collaborations that can be more straightforward in execution, micro influencers don’t want strict guidelines on exactly what to post. The best thing to do is provide brand guidelines and the goals of the campaign, and allow the micro influencer to create content they know will resonate best with their audience

Micro influencer examples

Lifestyle Instagrammer Lauren from @huntersandheels share snippets of her family, her beauty routine, and life in the British countryside. She’s partnered with numerous brands, including B&Q and Aveeno.

Micro Influencer example

4. Nano influencers

The new influencer kid on the block is the nano influencer, an Instagrammer with less than 10,000 followers.

Nano influencers are individuals with influence within their local community. Think of that friend or family member who has a flair for Instagram, creating quality content that consistently achieves good engagement. That’s your nano influencer.

And the great thing about nano influencers is that while, yes, their reach is low, their influence among a small but tight-knit community of people is potentially huge. They will know most, if not all, of their followers, and that level of intimacy could be a huge benefit for the right brand or campaign.

As a recent Guardian article put it: “You’re far more likely to book a holiday on the suggestion of a discerning friend than some random celebrity”.

This statement is more significant at a time when Instagram users are becoming increasingly disillusioned with unrelatable content. People want to connect with real people that share experiences they can empathise with, and for many, they’re not finding that on the accounts of bigger Instagrammers.

This lack of relatability, or trust, is why we’re seeing a shift back to peer-to-peer engagement. “At the end of the day, the most effective form of advertising is peer-to-peer referral,” said Amber Atherton, founder of marketing platform, Zyper.

Benefits of nano influencers

  • Engagement  nano influencers are likely to have the highest engagement out of all the other social media influencers
  • Cost – thanks to the lower cost of working with a nano influencer, this kind of partnership could work very well for businesses or start-ups with a small marketing budget
  • Credibility – many nano influencers know their followers on an intimate level, so you can guarantee that your brand or product (if relevant) will be well received
  • Conversion – as mentioned above, many people trust – and act upon – recommendations from friends and family more so than from celebrities or big Instagrammers. This means the likelihood of conversion is greater with nano influencers than with macro or mega influencers
  • Location – if a brand has a brick-and-mortar location or is promoting a local event, a partnership with nano influencers could be a great way to build buzz and generate positive word-of-mouth among the local community

Nano influencers: things to watch out for

  • Reach – if brand awareness is one of your campaign goals, it’s important to consider other options besides nano influencers (whose reach is limited)
  • Experience – nano influencers aren’t as experienced as bigger Instagrammers when it comes to working with brands. Some may not be aware of how or why to use branded hashtags, for example. For brands, this means a little more hand holding may be required to ensure a great outcome for both parties
  • Quality – similar to the point above, nano influencers might not have created branded content before. That’s why it’s important for brands to have those conversations early on about the goals of the campaign to ensure the end result will align with their brand identity

If you want know more about nano influencers, Hivency provides great tips on how to find them and collaborate with them.

Nano influencer examples

The account @BristolFoodCritic may only have 1,617 followers, but it has a whopping 22.53% engagement rate.

Nano influencer example

Illustrator Anna Ivanir has an 8,511 following and 11.94% engagement rate.

Instagram nano influencer example

How to choose the right influencer for your next campaign: A quick guide

Mega influencer: If the goal of your influencer marketing campaign is to increase brand visibility and raise awareness about your products (and there are no budget limitations), choose a mega influencer.

Macro influencer: If the goal is to target a certain audience but still reach the masses, choose a macro-influencer. Keep an eye on ROI, as some macro influencers have better engagement rates than others.

Micro influencer: If the goal is to increase conversions, leads and subscriptions among a specific audience, choose a micro influencer.

Nano influencer: For local brands and businesses that have a small marketing budget but want to drum up engaging conversations about their brand or product, choose a nano influencer.


As you can see, there are a few things to consider before working with social media influencers – and this starts by understanding the different types you could work with, and how to reach out to them.

To get the best out of an influencer partnership, make sure to get really clear on your campaign goals, draw up a shortlist of potential social media influencers, and then carefully research the kinds of collaborations they’ve done in the past. Good luck!

About the author
Bella Foxwell

Bella Foxwell

Bella Foxwell is a door obsessive and Instagram educator, teaching small businesses, solopreneurs and content creators how to build engaged communities on Instagram in less time. Read more from Bella on her website:

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