MicroInfluencers – The Long Tail of UGC

When Amazon opened their doors back in the 90’s, it was a website that only sold books. And their focus wasn’t only on selling the NYT best sellers, Amazon also opened their doors to indie/micro publishers and authors, providing them a platform for exposure – and more importantly, a sales channel that was previously unavailable to them.

And for Amazon, it was an incredibly profitable move.

Amazon’s approach to building a marketplace for selling books that were not considered best sellers, but rather niche or obscure titles was what Chris Anderson defined as “selling the long tail.”

The “long-tail” defined.

The “long-tail”, in business, is a phrase coined by Anderson in 2004. Anderson is the Founder of Wired Magazine, he’s also the Founder/Curator of TED. In his book The Long Tail: Why The Future of Business is Selling Less of More, Anderson argued that products in low demand or with low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, but only if the store or distribution channel is large enough.

From book sales to search engine optimization (or SEO), the long-tail theory has been applied to dozens – perhaps hundreds – of industries and is widely viewed as an alternative to a mass-market, or commoditized approach to selling.

Amazon’s recent announcement of Spark, a shoppable social content feed, inspired me to consider the long-tail theory as it relates to user-generated content.

Amazon understands that every brand on this planet, whether a B2B or B2C, needs content, particularly authentic, user-generated content in order to stay competitive. Content that can help their customers discover and curate new products, and to ultimately shorten the path to purchase.

Amazon Spark is very much like the social media platforms and news feeds we use daily.

First-time users of Spark are asked to create an account and provide a list of at least five interests to follow. Amazon Spark then develops an image-heavy, customized feed of related products, photos, stories, and ideas generated by other Spark users.

Just like the major social networks.

And it’s not a stretch to imagine heavy users of Spark eventually identifying and implementing a monetization strategy allowing them to generate income, similar to the influencers monetizing their followers on Instagram.

However, with the Spark platform, Amazon will once again leverage the long-tail theory, this time with user-generated content to drive sales.

Anderson sums up the state of “hits” vs “long-tail” nicely: ”Although we still obsess over hits, they are not quite the economic force they once were.”

Anderson’s quote seems appropriate for a conversation regarding the long-tail as it relates to user-generated content.

Engaging the long tail of content creators. The micro-influencer.

We believe it’s time for brands to engage and compensate their long-tail content creators rather than celebs and influencers for owned user-generated content.

Hiring a celeb or an influencer is an alluring proposition, especially as a popular consumer brand. Hiring a Kim Kardashian or Selena Gomez can generate a nice pop in reach, perhaps even hundreds of likes and new followers. That boost in followers will likely be short-term, provide little (if any) sales lift, and the celeb or influencer receives compensation, they’ll be on to the next brand willing to write them a check.

However, what if brands focused on the collective long-tail of their content-creating fans and customers rather than on celebs and influencers? Their collective long-tail of content creators have the ability to bring the same visual and economic value to a brand, and it’s an opportunity for brands to recognize and reinvest in their actual fans and customers in a meaningful way. And potentially make them lifelong customers.

Just like Amazon realized significant success in the long-tail for selling the most obscure books by niche publishers, and Google created their success selling ads to small businesses, consumer brands will also see the same long term success by recognizing and reinvesting in their long-tail micro-influencers for authentic, owned UGC.