Who is an influencer?

InfulencerHere are some truths we need to grapple with in today’s economy:

  • Consumers trust word of mouth recommendations from family and friends more than advertising
  • Consumers trust recommendations from perfect strangers more than advertising
  • Anyone can create a position of authority and attract a community if they demonstrate expertise, credibility and consistently produce content to keep that audience engaged

All of those truths have led to the popularity and effectiveness of influencer marketing. If you aren’t familiar with the term, influencer marketing is a new twist on an old tactic. Remember celebrity endorsements? When someone you liked, an actor or athlete, endorsed a product or service, you thought more favorably about it. Expand that definition of “celebrity” to anyone who has created subject matter celebrity or notoriety and has a defined audience that trusts their endorsements.

This could be a teenager who reviews technology for other teens on YouTube, it could be a person who reviews convention hotels, or it could be a mom with a popular blog aimed at other moms. These people have some things in common that will help you identify them as a genuine influencer:

  • They regularly produce content on a specific topic
  • They give away a lot of information for free
  • Typically, they will have a core channel (YouTube, podcast, blog, etc.) but also have a very active social presence
  • They have attracted a group of people who are all interested in their niche topic and consume their content regularly (through subscription, attending live events, etc.)
  • They rarely stray from their core topic or subject matter expertise
  • They write for other publications, channels, or media outlets

No matter what their specific subject matter expertise is, all of these people have the ability to influence the behavior and/or opinions of their audience because they’ve earned their trust.

One of the biggest shifts in this tactic is the emergence of micro-influencers. Back when we only had three to four channels (TV, radio, print, outdoor) all of the influencers were bigger names and had a broad base of appeal. In 1960, you might have seen a magazine ad featuring Claudette Colbert telling you why she chose to smoke Chesterfield cigarettes or Humphrey Bogart reminding you to buy a box of Whitman’s chocolates. Today, we’d call these kinds of celebrity endorsements macro influencers.

Interestingly, they are not the focus when it comes to influencer marketing now. In a world where niching and targeting are greatly valued, the power seems to be in the micro-influencer. Consider Mischa Pollack who has 74,000+ subscribers on his Drunk Tech Review channel on YouTube where he leads a roundtable discussion (with alcohol being liberally consumed) and testing of gadgets, technology and toys (anything from Bluetooth speakers to jet packs) or Alexandra Lerner who uses Instagram to talk about yoga and wellness, while collaborating with brands who want to reach her audience.

Micro-influencers could have as few as 500 followers/subscribers but most have between 10,000 -500,000. You name a topic and there is someone out there who has built a following around that subject. One of the challenges of influencer marketing is that it’s a bit like the wild, wild west. In some cases, the influencer will have a media kit, pricing, and contracts. In other cases, you will have to work with the influencer to define the rules and deliverables of the campaign because they haven’t formalized their process yet.

This can be a very effective tactic, but it can also go south in a hurry. Next time, we’ll explore some best practices for working with influencers to make sure you get a great ROI from your efforts.