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A New Guard of Microinfluencers Is Redefining the Digital Beauty Landscape

Consumers’ growing search for meaningful messaging by their favorite brands is disrupting the influencer marketing successes and misses of bygone days. 

The jury is in: good things do, in fact, come in small packages. 

Specifically, packages of under 100,000 followers, as is evidenced by the growing impact of microinfluencers on beauty brands’ earned media value, which is a monetary value assigned to a brand’s social media content and exposure.

Data from Tribe Dynamics indicates that for the top 15 U.S. beauty brands in EMV from August 2020 through July 2022, which include Charlotte Tilbury, Huda Beauty, Colourpop and E.l.f. Cosmetics, microinfluencers generated a greater portion of EMV for each brand than any other influencer tier. 

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To fully grasp the significance of this, one must remember that not even five years ago, during the tail end of the Golden Era of YouTube beauty influencers, it was the cosmetics stylings of a small cohort of mega-influencers — James Charles, Nikkie de Jager, Jeffree Star and Tati Westbrook, to name a few — whose content dominated the internet, commanding audiences of sizes not often seen anymore in today’s digital beauty landscape.

This isn’t because consumers are any less interested in beauty — rather, the opposite is proving true — but because consumers are beginning to turn toward niche creators, or microinfluencers, who are increasingly cultivating small followings mighty enough to make waves in a noisy social media landscape.

Far from being the spiritual successors of their YouTube beauty influencer forefathers, the main advantage wielded by today’s rising microinfluencers — who claim Instagram and TikTok as their primary platforms — is their targeted appeal.

“[Microinfluencers] have targeted, niche audiences who are highly engaged and who really resonate with what they’re putting out there. As a brand that wants to be trusted, that’s so valuable,” said Alanah Dixon, vice president of influencer relations and social media at Anastasia Beverly Hills.

Data from Traackr backs Nixon’s assessment. The influencer marketing software company compiled engagement rates of more than 1.1 million posts made by roughly 87,000 influencers in the U.S. from January through August 2022 to determine which influencer tier fosters the most engagement. 

Traackr found that nano-influencers, or those with less than 10,000 followers, had the highest engagement rates, at an average of 3.35 percent engagement, while influencers with between 10,000 to 50,000 followers garnered a 2.7 percent average engagement rate. Mega-influencers, which the company defined as those with 1 million to 5 million followers, averaged a 1.44 percent engagement rate.

“Microinfluencers have this level of authenticity that makes them feel like a neighbor or family member — someone you can trust,” Nixon said. “They help [Anastasia Beverly Hills] connect with audiences that we would otherwise simply never reach.”

Tribe Dynamics reports that out of the $1 billion total EMV Anastasia Beverly Hills garnered from August 2020 through July 2022, 42 percent was generated by microinfluencers.

The brand came second only to Colourpop in terms of total EMV during the period, with Colourpop ringing in $1.3 billion by comparison. Thirty-eight percent of that total was fueled by microinfluencers, who composed more than three quarters of the 16,900 content creators the brand benefited from during the time frame.

Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty launched its microinfluencer program, the Rare Collective, just over one year ago and has seen a 21 percent year-over-year increase in EMV by the group since, according to Tribe Dynamics.

Rare Beauty’s top microinfluencer during the first half of 2022 was Marwa Islam, who has 49,000 followers on her main platform, TikTok, and generated $864,900 of the brand’s $423 million EMV during the period.

A makeup look by Marwa Islam, or @marwa.muah on Instagram and TikTok, who is the top EMV-driving microinfluencer for Selena Gomez's Rare Beauty.
A makeup look by Marwa Islam, or @marwa.muah on Instagram and TikTok. courtesy photo

Like many other fledgling beauty influencers, Islam began posting makeup videos to social media during the pandemic in an attempt to offset lockdown-induced boredom. It wasn’t until 2022, when she began uploading videos of makeup looks inspired by the HBO Max hit series, “Euphoria,” following the show’s season two premiere in January, that her accounts began gaining momentum and brands started proposing collaborations. 

“I was [creating videos] for fun, just as a way to practice something I love and enjoy in my free time,” Islam said, adding that her first brand collaboration was with E.l.f. Cosmetics, in which she created an eye makeup look to promote the brand’s E.l.f x Dunkin’ limited-edition launch in March.

Since then, Islam has worked with KVD Beauty, Morphe and “Euphoria” makeup artist Donni Davy’s own makeup line, Half Magic, even inking contracts — which she says the average length of is one year — with a number of them. 

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While stories like Islam’s are growing increasingly relevant, this is not to say that brands are not still reaping the benefits of tapping large creators: they are.

Creators such as Mimi Choi, who has 2 million Instagram followers and is best known for her intricate, art-inspired makeup looks, and Kali Ledger, who has 538,000 followers on Instagram, the main platform to which she uploads her imaginative makeup tutorials, are presently the top EMV-driving influencers at large for NYX Professional Makeup and Charlotte Tilbury, respectively, Tribe Dynamics reports.

Anastasia Beverly Hills and Colourpop, too, claim mega-influencers as their overall most EMV-driving creators, although compared to their impact from 2016 through 2017, which was before microinfluencers came so heavily into play, mega-influencers are generating a fraction of the EMV the group once spearheaded.

The highest EMV a single influencer drove for a beauty brand from August 2020 through July 2022 was $18.8 million, having been produced by makeup artist-turned-brand-founder Danessa Myricks, for Morphe. 

While sizable, that is significantly less than the $32 million EMV driven by Morphe’s top influencer from 2016 through 2017, de Jager, otherwise known by her YouTube channel name, NikkieTutorials.

During this period, de Jager also reigned as the top EMV-driving influencer for MAC, Tarte, Morphe, Benefit and Huda Beauty, single-handedly driving double-digit millions value for each.

YouTiber-turned-founder Nikkie de Jager, who was the top EMV-driving influencer of many beauty brands during the late 2000-teens.
Nikkie de Jager, who was the top EMV-driving influencer of many beauty brands during the late Aughts into 2010s. courtesy of Studio BengBeng

However, the days of a lone influencer generating $32 million in EMV over the course of two years for a brand, which de Jager and other creators with followings of her size did with seeming ease in their heyday, are over.  

Today, Huda Beauty’s top EMV-driving influencer, Petra Miettinen or @bangtsikitsiki on Instagram, garnered a total of $5.1 million for the brand from August 2020 to July 2022.

And yet, the brand still grew.

Huda Beauty’s total EMV swelled to $727 million during August 2020 through July 2022, up from $618 million from the start of 2016 through the end of 2017, when the brand, like most others, was more focused on helming an all-star cast of influencers.

Brands today have more than a few reasons to think twice about latching onto mega-influencers, though. A central aspect of the dumpster-fire appeal to many of the biggest names in beauty influencing, like Charles and Star, is the controversy and scandal their public personas are seemingly inextricably imbued with.

With many of beauty’s biggest influencers proliferating a string of misdemeanors ranging from being wildly out of touch with reality, to facing sexual misconduct allegations and being called out for racist behavior, consumers and brands alike have grown increasingly weary of the group.

Last month, Forma Brands, the parent company of Morphe, was said to be considering filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

A slew of factors led to the circumstance, such as widespread supply chain issues and other hits to the brand’s performance of late, including recent controversy surrounding two of its former leading influencer-collaborators, Charles and Star, both of whom the brand has now cut ties with.

In fact, beauty brands’ big bets on influencers are, more and more often, beginning to backfire.

The same weariness that drove consumers away from celebrity brand endorsements (see: public reaction to Kendall Jenner’s 2019 partnership with acne care brand, Proactiv), and thus partially fueled the popularity of mega-influencers as a seemingly more relatable alternative in the late Aughts and 2010s in the first place, is once again making its rounds.

This time, it is the very mega-influencers the sentiment once bolstered, who are now befalling its consequences.

Even Beautytok darling, Mikayla Nogueira, who skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic thanks to what viewers saw as a refreshingly authentic approach to content creation, is not exempt from the bubbling phenomenon. Earlier this summer, Nogueira caught backlash for complaining about long working hours in a TikTok video in which she acerbically invited viewiers to, “try being an influencer for a day.”

The video, coupled with increasing incidences of the like by mega-influencers, only further fueled the perception that influencers, like the celebrities before them, are not from planet Earth.

Consequently, more consumers are looking to microinfluencers for their product recommendations and content intake, and thus brands who cultivate relationships with such influencers are beginning to see substantial payoff.