If you want to work with influencers, it's critical to understand the different influencer tiers and when you should work with each. Find it all here.
The influencer marketing industry keeps growing, and each year its market value grows further into the billions. And even though influencer marketing may change over time, it shows no sign of slowing down.
For many brands, collaborating with influencers is already a proven way to promote awareness and drive sales. And with the success of these brands, more and more companies are sticking their feet into the influencer waters for the first time to try and validate the strategy for their own brands.
Whether you’re just trying influencer marketing for the first time, or you’ve already run successful influencer campaigns, it’s important to keep up with the changing vocabulary in the industry. In particular, you should stay abreast of the influencer synonyms gaining traction, and the different influencer tiers, which organize influencers according to their audience size.
If you’re not sure what a nano-influencer or a mega-influencer is, this article is for you. Let’s break down the different influencer tiers and when you should work with each.
Reach: the key metric in determining the influencer tiers
Before we jump into the tiers, it’s important to understand how they’re determined. There are many criteria we use to evaluate influencers: category, location, engagement rate, audience authenticity, and so on.
But when it comes to influencer tiers, we’re looking at one key metric: reach.
Reach is a fancy marketing way to say the size of someone’s audience or the total number of people who might see your content. It’s called reach because it’s the number of people you can potentially reach with what you publish.
In the case of social media, the number of followers is a good indication of reach. This isn’t exact, because based on social media algorithms, it’s possible that people who don’t follow you might still see your content.
But in order to approximate, we usually work off of the number of followers, and that’s how the influencer tiers are defined, too.
The 5 influencer tiers
So, now that we know the influencer tiers are organized according to the number of followers, we can pretty easily understand this chart below.
Source: Shopify.There we can see the five influencer tiers:
- Nano-influencers - 1,000 to 10,000 followers
- Micro-influencers - 10,000 to 50,000 followers
- Mid-tier influencers - 50,000 to 500,000 followers
- Macro-influencers - 500,000 to 1,000,000 followers
- Mega influencers - 1,000,000 or more followers
In case you didn’t notice, the influencer tiers use Latin prefixes that we also use in other fields. Microbiology or macroeconomics, anyone?
No? Okay. Then let’s jump into when you should use each influencer tier.
Nano-influencers have between 1K-10K followers. This means they have small, personable, and manageable audiences. It’s going to be easier for nano-influencers to give that personal touch to their 10K followers than it would for an influencer with millions of followers to connect with them on an intimate level.
This translates into very high engagement rates. nano-influencers tend to have much more highly engaged, more authentic audiences. The people who follow them trust them. Because nano-influencers feel like real people, sometimes even friends, whose opinions you can trust.
Grace is a British nano-influencer in the fashion category. She’d be a good choice for brands working in the goth or punk niches.When brands should work with the nano-influencer tier:
- You want to create an intimate, very personal impact on a new audience.
- You’re trying to penetrate a new niche or specific geographical area and want to work with someone who connects with that targeted audience.
- You don’t have a high influencer marketing budget and want to collaborate with someone who might accept only gifted products or low fees.
Micro-influencers have between 10K-50K followers. They’re similar to nano-influencers in that their audiences see them as highly authentic. This means they usually have high engagement rates.
What sets them apart from Nanos is that they have a bit more experience in the influencer marketing industry. In most cases micro-influencers will have collaborated with a few brands already, meaning they have a sense of how brand collaborations work.
Also, their slight bump in reach gives another layer of credibility. In addition to maintaining authentic voices, the bigger number that appears above followers helps users see them as approachable experts in their given field.
Sara Milic is an Instagram micro-influencer working in the vegan and fitness spheres.When brands should work with the micro-influencer tier:
- You want a collaborator who still feels authentic, but who already knows the ins and outs of doing brand collaborations.
- You can afford to pay an influencer around $100-300 in exchange for their content.
- You’re prioritizing audience engagement over maximum reach.
Mid-tier influencers have between 50K and 500K followers. They have higher reach than nano- and micro-influencers but be warned that engagement rates can start to drop off in this tier, depending on the network and category you’re dealing with.
A more practical difference here is that many mid-tier influencers are full-time influencers, while nano- and micro-influencers also do their social media work as a side hustle to a day job. In this tier, you can also expect to see some influencers with managers.
Skincare Ninja is your BFF for skincare recommendations on Instagram.When brands should work with the mid-tier influencer tier:
- You want to host a giveaway, content, or takeover to get lots of new followers or a boost in engagement.
- You want to prioritize reach without breaking the bank on influencer fees and can swing a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per post (this range depends on reach, content type, category, and other factors).
- You prefer to work with an influencer who’s not committed to another job and/or who has a manager, as it can make getting in touch and closing a deal easier.
Macro influencers have between 500K and 1M followers. They’ve made it to the big leagues, and they have enough followers to be considered internet celebrities. Their increased reach means that a collaboration with them would reach many more people than if you worked with a micro-influencer.But that higher reach doesn’t always mean higher conversions. Macro influencers can bring in good ROI, true. But they can also connect you to an audience that’s just not that engaged. So before working with any macro influencer, make sure you carefully examine their engagement rate and do a fake follower check to make sure they’re worth the cost).When brands should work with the macro tier:
- Your priority for collaborating with influencers is to reach a large number of people with a less focused niche or geographical area.
- You can afford to pay thousands of dollars per piece of content.
The final influencer tier is the mega-influencers, who have 1M or more followers. They have the ultimate reach, and they usually have followers from around the world. Mega-influencers are celebrities on and off the Internet.
The downside is that despite having massive followings, these influencers usually don’t come across to their audiences as highly authentic. Frequent collaborations can leave a “rotating product display case” feeling, and their glamorous content can make followers feel disconnected from them. What’s more, since they’re in high demand, it can be difficult to get in touch with them.
That said, this isn’t always the case. For example, on TikTok, it’s more common to see mega-influencers that still retain a down-home authentic vibe. Take food influencer Emily Mariko for example. Despite having 12.4M followers on TikTok, her content still feels down-to-earth and approachable.
When brands should work with the mega tier:
- Your influencer marketing goal is to drive trends or sway public opinion.
- You have a large budget. Mega influencers can charge up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for one piece of content.
- You have the resources and willpower to deal with talent managers, bureaucracy, hectic schedules, and sometimes, diva personalities.
Bonus influencer tier: apex influencers
You won’t find this tier on the chart above, because I’ve just invented it. I had a quick brainstorm on the name—super mega, maxi, extreme, etc.—before settling on apex influencers. Whatever we call them, I wanted to communicate that these influencers are at the very top of the industry.
Apex influencers have 100M+ followers. They’re the creme de la creme, the top of the pops. Let’s look at two examples here.
@cristiano on Insta
Cristiano Ronaldo has 604M followers on Instagram. And while he regularly posts content on the social network, we all know that’s not why he’s famous.
A lot of the time, apex influencers are going to be media personalities famous for other reasons. Think of athletes like Cristiano, politicians, singers, actors, etc.
Something important to keep in mind is that the audiences of these influencers usually aren’t very engaged. They’re just fans who follow along to get a glimpse into their favorite stars’ lives.
@khaby.lame on TikTok
Khaby Lame was a regular kid working at a factory in Italy before he went viral on TikTok for his silent mockery of trending “TikTok hacks” that often involved overly complicated solutions to not-so-complicated problems.
He now has 152.5M followers on TikTok and collaborates with brands like Mcdonald's. Apart from appearing in branded Mickey D’s content on TikTok, Khaby even appeared in the brand’s paid ads shown during the 2022 Fifa World Cup. Global brand, world stage—it doesn’t get more top than that.
When brands should collaborate with apex influencers:
- When you’re McDonald's, Coca Cola, Nike, Toyota, or one of the other brand giants.
There you have it, the influencer tiers. You now understand the different types of influencers according to their reach, plus when brands should work with each one. Now the only thing left to do is decide which one you’ll use for your next collaboration!