Social Media Strategy: What Makes an Influencer?

influence marketing
what makes an influencer
Image courtesy of TapInfluence

In social media, finding influencers, getting them talking about your brand, and mobilizing their social networks are critical for successful marketing strategy. While all connections act to amplify your message by engaging with your brand on social media, influencers have a megaphone that increases amplification well beyond that available through regular connections. Today, we’ll discuss what makes an influencer.

Yesterday, I attended a webinar where Brian Solis presented results of a survey of marketing and advertising executives to identify characteristics of influencers and develop strategies for harnessing their power to promote your brand in social media.

the art of influence

Surprising Results

One aspect I found interesting from this presentation is the overwhelming fact that, contrary to popular belief, popularity does not necessarily translate into influence. Respondents from the survey equated influence with the ability to direct action among followers. Respondents specifically cited Lady Gaga as having popularity, while Bono has influence.

However, what the results seemed to be saying is that popularity is potential power that doesn’t necessarily translate into influence.

What respondents seemed to overlook is the tacit influence of popular individuals. While Lady Gaga doesn’t often use her popularity to drive action because she doesn’t advocate specific actions, she still has a major influence on fashion, music, and other experiential behaviors due to her popularity. Granted, that popularity might not translate to a broader influence over her followers. Likely, that limited influence results from a lack of credibility outside her lane.

Meanwhile, Bono, with his extensive engagement with a variety of causes, has credibility across a broader zone and his influence likely travels well outside his occupation.

Lady Gaga’s fans try to emulate what she wears, where she shops, what she eats, the brands she prefers …  While she may never actually recommend these brands, by simply consuming them, she anoints them with acceptability. We call this tacit influence.

This tacit influence is very powerful and somewhat insidious since consumers don’t really feel manipulated the way they do when influencers actively advocate for a brand. When anyone, be they celebrity, influencer, or just the man on the street, recommends a brand, there’s at least a hint of skepticism about their motivation for making the recommendation. That the recommendation was paid for rather than being genuine.

With tacit influence, consumers think the influencer’s consumption decisions are their own and a reflection of their own style. Using tacit influence, thus, is more sustainable as it gets incorporated into the everyday culture of consumers.

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What makes an influencer

Brands don’t often make an influencer, although using a personality in a marketing campaign might give them influence. More likely, at least in today’s digital world, influencers arise through efforts to gain a following. For instance, an influencer might gain a following by posting content seen as valuable to a large group of people. Some influencers have popular YouTube channels or Podcasts where they share entertaining or informative videos.

The reward for garnering influence is often a good income as businesses seek to activate the influencer.

Creating an influencer marketing campaign

Identify Influencers

Another surprise from the survey with serious implications for businesses attempting influencer marketing is that traditional measures of influence might not effectively identify influencers.  For instance, easily measured behaviors such as the number of re-tweets and the size of an individual’s social network may have little impact on true influence.

dangers of influencer marketing

Instead, factors impacting a person’s social influence are more likely a function of the quality of content they produce, the relevance of that content to their social network, and the quality of their network.  Relationships are important and so is the online reputation for individuals and brands to be influential. Thus, just talking a lot may not translate into having a lot of influence.

Advice for Successful Marketing Strategy

Here are some strategies for finding influencers.

  • People who post interesting content
  • People who are thought-leaders
  • People who are authentic
  • People who are deep conversations rather than just lots of conversations

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But, identifying influencers is not enough. You must invite them to engage with your brand authentically.  Harnessing them to talk about your brand with their network will create positive associations and support your brand strategy.

Influencers expect compensation for their engagement with your brand. Influencers have spent time and effort to build their social network and they need something in return for spending social capital to promote your brand. This may mean paying them either in cash or free products, but it may be as simple as just being grateful for their willingness to talk about your brand. Hence, part of your marketing strategy monitoring social networks to detect people who provide positive reviews of your product to tell them you appreciate them.

If your brand is paying influencers, either directly or through in-kind compensation, new rules require they disclose this compensation. Disclosure is a two-edged sword, however. For while disclosure might follow the rules, it also makes any brand endorsement suspect as followers weight the impact of the compensation on their veracity of the endorsement.

Qualities of a good influencer

Given the issues raised above, firms need to find influencers who are:

  • Passionate about their brand
  • Knowledgable about your product, your market, and your competition
  • Articulate
  • Understand how to employ their influence without being too heavy-handed
  • Have a good personality and be likable
  • Have a large, engaged following with a group matching your target persona(s)

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