Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

Small businesses can’t afford to hire major celebrities to tout their brands on social media. But they have access to advocates who can prove even more powerful: social media users who’ve created smaller but loyal groups of followers. Endorsements from these “micro-influencers” carry more weight among their core audiences, experts say.

“Think about how you feel when your friend recommends something to you,” says Jackie DiBella, PR and influencer marketing manager at EGC Group, a Melville marketing and digital services firm. “It’s much more impactful than a celebrity or watching a commercial.”

Micro-influencers generally have fewer than 100,000 followers and usually hone in on a specific niche area, she says.

“These are social media users that have accounts that focus on a specific purpose, lifestyle or hobby,” says DiBella. “They have organically built up their audience.”

For small businesses, the “sweet spot” influencer generally has between 5,000 and 25,000 followers, she says. The influencers ask for payment or freebies from the company in return for writing a review or blog post, or posting a photo on Instagram or another platform, says DiBella.

When they are compensated for promoting a business, Federal Trade Commission rules require that influencers disclose that relationship.

Roberta Perry, owner of Bethpage-based ScrubzBody Skin Care Products, says she finds that micro-influencers with 8,500 or more followers generally ask for payment in return for a mention of her business.

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Since she doesn’t have the budget for that, she targets smaller influencers who will write a review or post in exchange for free products.

“They’ve got an audience that listens to what they’re saying,” Perry says.

In the past two months her team has made a concerted effort to reach these influencers and has gotten three Instagram reviews.

It’s not easy, says Perry. “You’ve got to be in front of someone’s eyes 20 to 30 times before they’ll consider a product.”

It also takes work to identify micro-influencers to target, because, unlike celebrities, they aren’t household names.

Instagram is one of the best places to find them. Eighty percent of micro-influencers use it to post original content, according to a survey by Manhattan-based Activate by Bloglovin’, an influencer marketing platform.

A business can pay a platform like Bloglovin’, which has more than 650,000 influencers registered, to connect it with influencers and arrange the influencer agreements.

Bloglovin’ works with clients that are spending thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars on their influencer programs, says Kamiu Lee, vice president of business development and strategy.

But small businesses can make their own connections, by searching hashtags on Instagram for micro-influencers in particular areas.

That’s what Stacy Weinstein, general manager of Calogero’s restaurant in Garden City, did.

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She found @li_eats on Instagram and reached out via direct message to the account’s creator, Haylee Pollack. Pollack, who’s also social media coordinator at EGC Group, has 23,300 Instagram followers.

Weinstein invited Pollack to try the restaurant’s food, which led Pollack to post a photo from Calogero’s.

“I’ve always followed food bloggers and people like Haylee,” says Weinstein, who gave Pollack a complimentary meal. “I had a customer and her boyfriend come in after seeing her Instagram post.”

Calogero’s plans to reach out to other micro-influencers.

Even though businesses are compensating micro-influencers, they can’t feed them a script, says DiBella.

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“They need creative freedom, because you are utilizing their followers,” she says. “These are people that already love what they’re doing.”

And transparency is key. The FTC recently sent out 90-plus letters reminding influencers and marketers that they should “clearly and conspicuously” disclose their relationships to brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media.

“It’s an area of increasing focus by the Federal Trade Commission,” says Pedram Tabibi, an attorney at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone in Mineola. “The reason for that is ultimately the FTC wants to protect individuals and make sure there isn’t any deception or misleading in advertising.”

He suggests companies have written agreements with influencers, spelling out their obligations under the FTC guidelines to make the appropriate disclosures, and then monitor what they’re posting.

In general, avoid vague disclosures and “buried” disclosures, he says.

“I wouldn’t mix it in with several hashtags,” says Tabibi. While there’s not a one-size-fits-all disclosure, “a few little words could make a difference,” he says.

Pollack says only 20 percent of her posts are related to complimentary meals she’s gotten from restaurants, but when she does get a freebie she tries to identify that in her posts by saying “thank you” or “courtesy of” to indicate the meal was free.

But going forward, she says, she’s going to re-evaluate how she handles disclosure, given the FTC’s recent clarification of what it considers proper disclosure.

Besides being the law, it’s in the influencer’s best interest to disclose, says Maria Sipka, co-founder of Linqia, a San Francisco-based influencer marketing platform.

“The influencers actually look bad if they don’t disclose, because it’s about the integrity they have with their audience,” she says.