It’s not often that pest management professionals are encouraged to think smaller when it comes to marketing their business — but if you do, chances are you’ll stumble on your next influencer marketing initiative, which has the potential for huge results with minimum cost.

According to research by Experticity, Wharton University of Pennsylvania and the Keller Fay group, a micro-influencer is an individual who has impact through word of mouth or a greater-than-average reach in a relevant marketplace.

These individuals aren’t celebrities in the traditional sense, but they often work in the category and are knowledgeable, passionate and authentic, and therefore are seen as trusted sources when it comes down to buying recommendations. They can even be one of your existing customers.

In the study, Jonah Berger, Wharton professor and author of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” and the Kay Feller Group surveyed micro-influencers from Experticity’s unpaid influencer network about the number of buying conversations they have each week. In addition, they polled average consumers about their volume of expert recommendations. Finally, they asked both groups about the impact of the recommendations they received.

After more than 6,000 online interviews, the study found that these micro-influencers have up to 22.2 times more buying conversations — including specific product recommendations — every week than an average consumer. Eighty-seven percent of these recommendations happen face-to-face and they’re generally more direct than those of traditional consumers, with 74 percent encouraging someone to buy or try a product or service.

These recommendations also hold more weight. Eighty-two percent of consumers said they are highly likely to follow micro-influencer recommendations while 73 percent act on recommendations from an average person. This is likely because influencers tend to get their own first-hand information instead of getting it from others, giving them more clout. The study concluded that the best micro-influencers are credible and believable, knowledgeable and skilled at explaining how a product works or could be used.

BRINGING IT HOME. How does this apply to the pest control industry? “Word of mouth is 10 times as effective as advertising. People trust it, and it is more targeted. So, getting consumers to talk and share can help any business grow,” said Berger. “When most people need to call pest control, they do what they do when they make almost any decision, they talk to their friends to get their opinions. Who should I work with?”

According to Adam Buchanan, digital marketing strategist at Convince and Convert, brands first started taking notice of these conversations, and micro-influencers in general, in the last three years.

“Influencers have a high amount of trust and close proximity with their audience so this could be huge for referrals in the industry,” said Buchannan. “Especially when the customers are located within communities, they have a lot of recommending power companies could activate.”

Buchannan suggests using your existing customer list as a starting point for tapping into that resource.

“Find out who is already referring customers to your company,” he said.

Once you’ve identified those customers, it’s time to reach out.

“Let them know you appreciate their work, and that you’d like to collaborate together,” Buchanan said. “Never require anything of them and never incentivize them with money or gifts. As time goes on you can send them a kind thank you, but you should never incentivize recommendations or social posts with gifts or money.”

Eighty-two percent of consumers said they are highly likely to follow micro-influencer recommendations while 73 percent act on recommendations from an average person. This is likely because influencers tend to get their own first-hand information instead of getting it from others.

He added that micro-influencer relationships don’t have to be permanent, and he recommends implementing a three-month advocate program.

“Don’t ask them to work with you forever. Let them know you have a three-month advocate program they can be part of,” said Buchanan. “If they are solid to work with, continue working together. If they aren’t a good fit, part ways after three months.”

Although micro-influencers act as brand ambassadors, Buchanan added that it is important not to manage them — simply spotlight content that they are creating on their own. Always ask the individual permission to use their content, and before you hit post, give them credit for creating it. When sharing micro-influencer content, it’s also important for a business’ credibility to maintain transparency and let consumers know they are an ambassador for your brand and that you work together.

Although some individuals have larger networks than others, Berger maintains that the content is the main driver of any micro-influencer program.

“The key is not particular people, it’s the message — crafting contagious content or experiences that your customers will share,” he said.

Authentic content is often the most contagious, while hard sales messaging should be avoided.

“Experiment with low production content, let people record their experience on an iPhone video and share it to see how it resonates,” Buchanan said. “Capture yourself surprising a customer with a unique act of kindness and share it. ‘Undercover Boss’-type content performs really well and most influencers enjoy sharing those messages.”

As for the best channels to share your micro-influencer content, Buchanan said that sticking to the main channels you’re already investing in is most effective.

“That could be email, social, mobile or your website,” he said. “Wherever you are placing your big bets and seeing results, that is your best channel.”

By using content your existing customers are already creating and sharing it on your most impactful marketing channels, implementing a micro-influencer program is an easy way to leverage the superior product and attentive customer service that you already provide in the marketing realm. And with the low cost, and high potential for referrals and interaction with new and relevant audiences, it’s not an opportunity to overlook.

The author is a Cleveland-based writer who can be contacted at lstraub@gie.net.