Influencer marketing was one of the hottest topics at the 2016 Curalate Summit. Everyone seems to have lots of questions about the burgeoning field: Is influencer marketing the future of e-commerce? Is it just a passing trend? What are the best ways to structure partnerships?

We put together this all-star panel to answer all these questions and more. The panelists were:

  • Lauren Hise, Associate Marketing Manager, Social Media, Crate and Barrel
  • Abigail Gilman, Social Strategy Manager & Blog Editor, The Bon-Ton Stores
  • Rachel Mae Smith, Founder, the Crafted Life (an influencer with 37,000 Instagram followers)
  • Veronika Sonsev, Partner, Chameleon Collective (moderator)

Here are three things we learned:

1. Micro-Influencers Are More Effective

Micro-Influencers (users with under 100,000 followers on a particular social platform) are cheaper, have loyal communities, and drive higher engagement than influencers with higher follower counts. In fact 84% of micro-influencers charge less than $250 per branded Instagram post, and 97% charge less than $500, according to a study by Bloglovin. Compare that to influencers with more than 1 million followers who earn between $6,104 and $24,406 per post, according to Mashable.

A major reason that Crate and Barrel works with micro-influencers is to leverage communities of engaged followers.

“You see them in the comments section talking with their followers like they’re friends. It’s that personal connection that really resonates,” said Hise. “They built that strong relationship with these influencers and their followers take their recommendations very seriously because of that.”

At Bon-Ton Stores, working with micro-influencers helps the brand market to specialized audiences. Think about it, Bon-Ton sells everything from clothing to furniture to cookware — meaning it has to market to communities of people interested in different verticals like fashion, home design and food.

“Working with influencers allows us to leverage people in those communities in a one-to-one way and develop a really strong relationship with them,” said Gilman.

2. Keep it Authentic

Smith says that keeping her content authentic is a major priority — and its crucial to any successful brand/influencer relationship.

“For the five years that I’ve been blogging, I built trust with a large audience and readership. Compare that to a larger influencer like Kim Kardashian who just gets paid to say ‘X’ about a certain brand,” Smith said. “I work with companies that I know, I love and I vet — and that builds trust with my readers and followers.”

3. Let the Influencer “Do Their Thing”

One of the keys to Crate and Barrel’s success with influencers is letting them be themselves and have their own voice — rather than meddling too much with the content.

“Don’t bother them,” said Hise. “If you’re going to work with an influencer, let them do their thing. That’s why you came to them in the first place.”

Looking for ways to discover micro-influencers who have an authentic voice and an engaged audience? Check out our newest product, Curalate Explore.