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Your Proximity May Be The Key To Amassing A Large Social Media Following, Study Reveals

Researchers found that targeting “nearby” influencers with small follower counts but a connection to the brand can be 46% more effective than the conventional strategy of targeting remote influencers with large audiences.

The study, published in the Journal of Marketing, shifts the focus from the follower base of the influencer to the follower network surrounding the brand or content creator itself. It proposes accelerating the natural tendency for people to follow someone if they have a mutual connection – a phenomenon known as “triadic closure.”

Authors Jacob Goldenberg, Andreas Lanz, Daniel Shapira, and Florian Stahl analyzed data from a leading audio platform where creators attempt to grow their audiences through unpaid endorsements like follows, comments, and messages directed at other users.

Their analysis reveals nearby low-status influencers – those followed by someone who already follows the creator – have a 14.37% probability of following back after an outreach activity, over double the 6.68% for remote low-status influencers. For high-status influencers, those percentages are 0.19% and 0.02% respectively.

“The creator’s own follower base is an overlooked area for finding valuable influencers,” says Goldenberg. The tendency to follow someone based on a mutual connection helps explain the higher follow-back rates for nearby influencers.

To quantify the impact, researchers conducted data simulations incorporating direct follow-backs, reposts triggering indirect follow-backs, and cascading returns from the new followers themselves over two years. Targeting only nearby low-status influencers outperformed traditional influencer marketing to large audiences by 2,300%.

The strategy also beat targeting remote low-status influencers by 46% and more than doubled the actual targeting done by creators in the data. “Low status dominates high status, and nearby dominates remote,” says Stahl.

A preregistered field experiment further validated the findings in a controlled setting. The authors provide recommendations for platforms to build recommender systems helping creators identify ideal nearby targets based on their existing followers.

While most influencer research focuses on the influencer’s status, “we provide a new orthogonal dimension – nearby versus remote influencers identified by the presence of mutual connections,”  Lanz explains, with the report claiming that brands frequently overlook opportunities in their immediate network vicinity.

The researchers see potential applications to paid influencer campaigns, where nearby influencers may have higher contract acceptance rates due to the triadic closure effect. “Firms should not underestimate the value of influencers interconnected with them,” says Shapira.

With social media fueling the $16 billion influencer marketing industry, strategic targeting of nearby micro-influencers offers an effective, lower-cost approach to rapidly expand creator audiences and brand followings.

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David Adler is an entrepreneur and freelance blog post writer who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship, travel and the influencer marketing space.

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