Community-First Marketing: How and When to Activate Influencers, Nano-influencers, UGC, and Creators

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We are living in a new era of advertising, one dominated by creator content, user-generated content (UGC), and macro- and nano-influencer marketing. But what do these terms mean, and how and when do we, as advertisers, activate each contributor?

First, we must understand the why behind the era. Let’s discuss the complex infrastructure of what community means. At the core of the success behind influencer and UGC marketing is community: a space designated to a shared perspective. The building blocks of community include interactivity (allowing members to be contributors), open communication (allowing followers to become a part of the conversation), recurring events (providing expectation and structure), and storytelling (giving space for authentic perspectives). Community-first marketing is demanded because it's tapping into our core design as humans. As our world feels unsteady, we all hold onto what makes us feel grounded: familiarity and safety.

Macro-influencers are individuals who cultivate large, dedicated followings around their personal brands and honest messaging. Influencers allow everyday people to engage in aspirational lifestyles and identities. They allow us to escape the mundane or enhance it through education and inspiration. 

The key is matching the content creator's platform, audience, and creative style to your campaign goals and audience. Timing also matters - leverage creators around your key tentpole moments to promote launches, campaigns, and seasonal initiatives.

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Authenticity is Here to Stay

We know today's consumers crave authenticity. Even in the influencer marketing era, consumers are growing suspicious and distrustful of influencers with large followings. They want content that feels genuine, relatable, and comes from a real customer, not a faceless corporation or celebrity. This explains why UGC and creator content outperform benchmarks for social media.

But before we get started with strategies for bringing more authenticity to your brand, let’s get some definitions out of the way. 

User-generated content, or UGC, refers to the content created by everyday consumers. These posts are shared on social platforms, including TikTok, Amazon, and Instagram. Think customer reviews, social posts, and videos. You can find this content by using social listening, like Brandwatch, or by checking posts you’re tagged in. You can think of these as earned content because a brand does not pay for their creation. UGC carries high credibility as it comes directly from a real user. 

Another important term is creator content. These are posts produced by independent content creators, from YouTube stars to TikTokers. Creators build loyal followings around their unique personalities, and using them in your strategy introduces new audiences to your brand. Because they create new content, ideally with some input from the brand, this is considered paid content. The benefit is it feels authentic as it reflects their true selves. When we talk about influencers, we typically talk about content creators. 

Both UGC and creator content satisfy our human need for community and belonging. In an age of social isolation, we crave the real human connections these forms of media can provide.

Macro vs. Nano Influencers: Making the Right Choice for Your Brand

Despite economic uncertainties, brands and large corporations are emptying their wallets to capitalize on influencer marketing as the winning product in this category, with 53% of advertisers planning to increase their investments. While some brands avoid using influencers because they’re turned off by the cost, less expensive options exist. 

Choosing between pricey macro-influencers (10K-1M followers) or more affordable nano-influencers (10K followers or fewer) depends on your marketing goals, target audience, budget, and the level of engagement you want to achieve. Macro-influencers are suitable for broad brand exposure, while nano-influencers are effective for niche engagement and building trust among a specific community.Both deliver branded messaging while retaining their authenticity. According to a study, spending 1% more on influencer marketing results in a 0.46% increase in engagement, showing that using content creators can even generate a positive return on investment.

When a skincare brand wanted to promote their moisturizers to medical practitioners dealing with rough skin from frequent hand washing, we knew a mass market approach wouldn't cut it. Instead, we developed an authentic nano-influencer campaign tapping real nurses to share their skincare struggles and solutions.

We partnered with six prefessionals on Instagram and TikTok, each with less than 10K engaged followers. Each influencer created educational and inspirational content based on their own skincare journeys. By sharing their expertise and authentic experiences, the cost per impression (CPM) for this niche influencer campaign was only 2 times higher than our average CPM for core advertising campaigns, and we saw a significant increase in followers across all platforms.

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A Community-First Strategy

In today's creator economy, communities hold all the power. Savvy advertisers strike a balance of utilizing UGC and influencers aligned with their community’s shared goals and values. 

When tapping into existing creator communities, it’s important to consider their connection to your brand message. With Helen + Gertrude’s Brand Strategy services, we provide a deep analysis of identifying the right ambassadors based on key audience demographics, interests, behaviors, and values. Does the creator offer escapism? Humor? Larger world impact? To build trust and credibility, vet potential creators to ensure they have an authentic connection and affinity for your brand message, then empower them to seamlessly weave branded content into their storytelling style. Heavy-handed ads that lack cohesion with the creator's voice will fall flat and alienate your community.

This strategy satisfies our human need for belonging while providing value through entertainment and engagement. And, when done correctly, the humanity thread of relatability becomes its own content-building machine. Remember, if the content doesn’t fall into a broader paid campaign, you may want to boost it to reach the optimal number of people.


Don’t Replace Production Value for Authenticity: Blend 

The most effective campaigns fuse high production value with authentic creator content. Our in-house team handles the high-production spots that compel with stellar camerawork, lighting, and editing. Strategically, we tap into existing creator communities, identifying the right TikTokers, YouTubers, and micro-influencers to blend organic style with brand messaging.

Under the guidance of our content strategy team, we allow creators to produce branded content in their unique voices. They are, however, experts on what their audience wants, so make sure the guidance is guardrail-based, not direction. We then supplement with on-brand productions, both virtual and in-person, based on accessibility, in popular creator aesthetics and platform trends. Through ongoing testing and data analysis, we refine the fusion of production value and creator content to maximize engagement and conversions. The result is human-centered campaigns that balance polish with authenticity to satisfy our audience’s demand for community. 

At Helen + Gertrude, we know how to employ insights and strategies to identify and activate key communities. We shape content strategies that seamlessly infuse branded messaging into community conversations. By putting community at the center, we drive exponential growth for our brands and provide strong emotional connections with consumers. Here are some quick tips to leverage the power of people in your next campaign.

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TikTok, Reels, YouTube Shorts Content Creators:

Spark engagement with audience-insight based Creators

YouTube Content Creators:

Team up with YouTube stars for long-form, entertaining educational videos

  • Leverage for long-form video content like tutorials, product reviews, unboxings
  • Sponsor content videos or dedicated brand channels
  • Example: Makeup brand collaborating with beauty vloggers for tutorials

Macro-Influencers (100k+ followers):

Create community buzz with high-visibility partnerships and giveaways

Nano-Influencers (<10k followers):

Build a community foundation of ambassadors to promote your values

User-Generated Content (UGC):

Engage and leverage enthusiastic customers who are already talking about your brand

  • Crowdsource real customer photos/videos for authentic marketing
  • Activate an awareness ripple effect by connecting communities and providing reasons to reshare
  • Repurpose UGC for social ads and website testimonials
  • Example: Franzia's #FranzforLife 

Use a High-Quality Production Team:

Invest in branded content to fuel a multi-channel media strategy while diversifying your content for optimization


Kirsten VandenBout
Director, Creative Services

As the Director of Creative Services, Kirsten focuses on cultivating a team that allows room to play and learn from experiences. When offline, you’ll catch this new mama outdoors hanging with her son, husband, and two dogs; or training for the Chicago Marathon this year.

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