In 2020, we binge-watch people like we binge-watch Netflix. The casual viewing mode that we use to consume multiple seasons of The Office in an afternoon now also gets deployed to watch an endless feed of Instagram Stories, TikTok dances, Cameos, Twitch streams, and other personality-centric video content. And just as yesterday’s cable ratings defined the general value of a celebrity, today’s follower counts define the general value of an influencer.
But unlike the cable tv era, where a large broadcast audience size was perceived as the ultimate measure of impact, we’re now all more than familiar with the data showing that micro-influencers drive between 40% to 60% higher engagement in marketing campaigns
. What’s the deal? Why are people more likely to leave macro-influencers on “in the background” instead of earnestly engaging with their content?
Analysts have floated plenty of great theories. But we think that audience size itself might be a red herring in this conversation. Maybe social media doesn’t work exactly like TV, and maybe not all audiences are created equal, regardless of their size. When we take a deeper look into why certain audiences follow the influencers that they do, we reveal a surprising insight into the nature of audience engagement.
Broadcasters and Connectors: Two Key Types of Influencer
When audiences follow influencers on social media, they expect to get something in exchange. After all, our attention is highly valuable, and we don’t just give it away. When we’re selecting influencers for a client, our first step is to group influencers into two broad but profoundly different categories, separated by what the audience receives in this value exchange.
Broadcasters are influencers who give their audiences access to themselves. These influencers are often celebrities, famous and aspirational personalities that represent a “brand of one.” Their social media is analogous to a fan club and their comment sections feel like being in the front row of their daily life. Though they often have much in common, the broadcaster audience is ultimately united by a mutual love of the influencer. And their follower motivation logic is simple:
Follow Influencer —> Get Closer To Influencer
In contrast, Connectors are influencers who give their audiences access to each other. These influencers are often creators, artists, and thought leaders. They produce the seeds of new content and ideas that grow to become their audience’s cultural currency, as audience members comment on, share, and remix the original content in different ways. Think of the fashion meme that gets reposted to a thousand feeds, or the apartment layout that gets tagged as #goals and shared in dozens of group chats.
Though they often have little in common on the surface, the connector audience is ultimately united by mutual community values. Their follower motivation is equally simple:
Follow Influencer —> Get Closer To My Community
Why Connectors Are A Natural Fit For Most Brands
We know that members of passionate communities are inherently more likely to share on social media, but there is an even more critical reason why Connectors and their audiences are ideal for most brands’ influencer marketing goals: Connector-followers are influencers themselves.
Unlike Broadcaster-followers, where communication is almost always a one-way street, Connector-followers both receive messaging and transmit messaging with nano-audiences of their own. Connector-followers are the delivery vehicles that cover the “last mile” of DWOM for consumers. By working with a single Connector influencer, a brand effectively hires hundreds or thousands of additional influencers. The audience, not the host, becomes the most influential voice in the conversation.
In looking to future partnerships, brands should keep the following key tenets in mind: influencer audience size doesn’t determine engagement — it’s audience composition that matters; secondly, broadcaster-type influencers reach passive audiences, Connector-type influencers reach active communities; and thirdly partnering with Connectors allows brands to effectively harness influential brand advocates at 2-10x the scale of partnering with Broadcasters.
The obvious follow-up question then becomes: how do we identify the ideal Connectors? This is something our agency works in tandem with brands to identify the best strategy and subsequent individuals. We are fortunate to work with some of the most creative and engaging brands across our client portfolio. And to meet those brands’ goals, we are constantly looking to evolve our own. We pull our strategies from culture conversations and trends, our greater network of tools and resources, and of course our staff whose own experience and engagement with this space affords us to offer our clients distinct and sophisticated campaigns. With all of the changes and challenges this year has brought, we’re poised for an interesting start to the year where consumers are both desperate and hopeful to meet a new beginning; our vision for these campaigns and the strategy behind who we put forth for brands to engage with must meet those sentiments and the changing climate to ensure we hit the mark.
Steph Lund is managing director at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment (N.Y.)