You were there, once: the first day of school in a new shirt. A shirt that made you proud but that your mother dismissed as suitable for only a vagabond or ailing rockstar. You wore it anyway. You took that risk. And when you received that one head nod from a respected cool kid in a crowded hallway, your mother’s hateration evaporated. Confidence restored.
In that instance, two people you valued delivered a message. The first was your mother—we love her, of course, but she’s disconnected from middle school culture and would never have won that debate. Her guidance remained a moot point.
The head nod from the cool kid, of course, was all that mattered. Had it not been a nod, but rather a mockery of your fashion choices, you would have skipped Algebra to burn the shirt in the bathroom. But you earned the nod—and you trusted it, because at that moment your peer understood you.
What, then, marks the difference?
The power of influence.
Influencer Marketing: A new school term for an old-school concept
Influencer marketing is a hot topic at the moment, from the center of the marketing industry to its furthest edges. But like many buzzwords and trendy ideas, influencer marketing—like content marketing and semantic search and millennial pink—is mentioned more than it is understood.
What is influencer marketing?
At its most basic, influencer marketing is the classic celebrity endorsement, but placed into a contemporary, content-driven marketing campaign.
We do not need to define the word “marketing”, but the concept of an “influencer” can, at first, appear more nebulous and novel. In short, influencers are people with refined personal brands and trusted, enthusiastic audiences. They can be traditional celebrities or relatively ordinary people who have managed to amass large amounts of faithful followers on social media.
Influencer marketing is thus the process of identifying, researching, and engaging the influencers who create high-impact conversations about your brand with your customers and potential customers.
We know the purpose of marketing, and we know that the ROI of any marketing initiative is measured by an action on the part of the target audience—whether that is a business lead, a sale, event attendance, or an email registration. While an influencer marketing strategy doesn’t deviate from that end goal, the stark difference is where it begins.
The Relationship Between Influencer and Influenced
A good influencer has intentionally built and positioned their own personal brand to be trusted by their market audience. Where most marketing strategies have to dedicate time to garner attention, an influencer keeps that level of regard and awareness with their audience through regular digital engagement, consistently delivering genuine interactions within their realm of expertise.
Influencer marketing offers the potential to unify marketing, public relations, digital marketing, and social media through powerful and relevant relationship-based communication.
What Makes an Influencer an Influencer?
Perhaps, for you, the mention of influencer immediately conjures up images of reality stars and fitness teas. Perhaps it sparks images of millennials and their craft espresso, of selfies and skin care, of shoes and satin.
But influencer marketing is more than likes and retweets. It’s more than a cult following and accompanying numbers game. An influencer’s true power is two things: trust and credibility.
Like the classic celebrity who you imagine you know—the ones you imagine is your friend, the one you believe in and trust—the influencer has built a foundation of truth between themselves and their specific audience. This is not something easily translatable in traditional advertising tactics. The influencer is not the sellout; they are the friend you wish you had, the one who sells you something because they believe in it.
It’s not all about the number of followers
One big misconception about influencers is that they are always people with massive, exponentially expanding social media followings. To be an influencer is more than a popularity contest.
Consider that followers do not equal fans. The masses might be watching a celebrity’s every move, but that does not mean they trust or like or respect that person. A follower count hardly ensures that anyone is listening. Look at your own social media accounts and count how many people you follow whose opinion you would never value, whose recommendations for products and services you would never even consider.
It’s about the right followers
If the followers of an ostensible influencer aren’t the audience that your brand needs to get in front of, then their count is a moot point—no matter how many likes they produce. An influencer is someone who has the power to genuinely change the perception of others.
Do not mistake celebrity for influence
This distinction—followers versus genuine fans, awareness versus respect—is the difference between a celebrity endorsement and influencer marketing.
In the marketing industry, the celebrity endorsement model pays to attach to that celebrity name. In doing so, a wider net is cast without much control over who it’s reaching. The guarantee is to reach many, whether they’re who you meant to reach or not.
Meanwhile, the influencer marketing centers around a specialist with a smaller circle of trust and organic word-of-mouth, based on honest and genuine experiences.
With celebrity endorsements, the price tag is on the fame. With influencers, it’s on the relationship.
How does an influencer rise to influence?
In most cases, an influencer wields their power within specific networks and communities. They have social clout in their communities, oftentimes gained via strategic and intentional behavior, designed to build a foundation.
But this is not something that happens overnight. The rise from user to influencer is one of climbing and updating. Some archetypes of the influencer journey include:
- The LinkedIn VIP: Typically, a LinkedIn power user whose career trajectory has earned them accolades. They offer professional insights via LinkedIn updates—a.k.a. “broetry”—and career-focused content. People in their field take notice and some take action, with comments, and vouch, disagree, support, ultimately they engage. Soon enough, those LinkedIn insights escalate into TED Talks and that LinkedIn VIP’s name on an industry-specific conference brochure. could bring in more participants than free lunch. These days, we’re getting more accustomed to the viral influencer. The ones that have achieved that revered level of social clout by way of a one-off incident.
- The YouTube Star: Even YouTube stars have had to build their platform and establish trust. Think of Karina Garcia, affectionately dubbed ‘The Queen of Slime”, who saw success nearly overnight with her YouTube videos of DIY slime tutorials and experiments. Since then, Karina has received over 860 million views on her channel and has continued to grow her following with over 6 million fans. Her creative credibility and reach among slime fanatics have garnered partnerships with big name brands like Disney and Coca-Cola. She’s even branded her own slime kit for Target, proving that influencers are themselves a brand regardless of how they’ve arrived at the stage.
- The Instagram Model: Oftentimes, a fashionista with cool clothes and a unique look. Note, of course, that in today’s world, people are more likely to trust the model who is distinct and genuine, rather than someone who seems too perfect to be real. In most cases, an Instagram celebrity is someone who has their own distinct style and cultivated brand. They know the best hashtags to connect with their community and to grow their following on a daily basis.
- The Candid Snapchatter: Like the Instagram model mentioned above, many Snapchat influencers are people known for being candid and real. They gain influence by being ordinary, rather than by positioning themselves as celebrities.
- The Twitter Troll: Someone to stay away from, in most cases. Twitter is a great example of followers-versus-fans in action. Many interactions on Twitter are fueled by rage and politics, with outrage carrying people through their day.
Regardless of their particular rise to influence and their social media platform(s) of choice, an influencer is someone with reach, credibility, and some ability to sell both their personal brand and the brands with which they work.
The question now, of course, is not how do I become an influencer? Or, if it is, you came to the wrong place.
The real question is this: how can your brand find the right influencer?
How do we find an influencer for our influencer marketing campaign?
One decision you have to make is whether to use a tool or to find an influencer on your own. While there are many tools and services out there designed to help you track down influencers, it’s likely that your own organic research will have more impact and reliable results.
Here is an overview of finding the right influencer:
- Create a spreadsheet to track your influencer outreach, with columns including a) social media platform b) niche c) follower counts d) typical engagement e) contact info
- Look for influencers already familiar with your brand. The best case scenario is someone who already likes your brand or could easily see the appeal in it.
- Make an effort not to reach out to influencers who have already worked with competitors, as that will likely waste both your time and theirs.
- Reach out via DM or email to gauge their interest. Engage in conversation, with an endgame of negotiating a partnership.
From there, of course, it’s important to have some method for measuring success and efficacy.
How do we measure influencer marketing?
Are your influencer marketing campaigns profitable? Are you reaching your goals? While working with influencers sounds exciting and sexy, it means nothing without results.
A few ways to measure your influencer marketing:
- UTM Parameters: Depending on your own experience with analytics platforms and tracking tools, this may be something where you need help from an analyst or SEO buff. In short, you should assign specific parameters to the URLs shared by all your influencers to track attribution and actions of visitors resulting from influencers.
- Promo codes: Giving influencers unique promo codes is an excellent way to track attribution. Every time a customer uses the code provided by a specific influencer, you can directly and accurately attribute the revenue to its origin.
- Hashtags: Create a hashtag specific to an influencer and suggest that they introduce it to social media. From there, you can track how the hashtag catches on with their followers. Even if you can’t specifically correlate it with sales, you can watch your influence spread through the waters of social media.
Of course, anyway that you choose to track your influencer marketing is perfectly acceptable. What matters is that you establish some kind of KPI, as any good marketing campaign needs a metric by which to be judged.
Remember that the cornerstone of influence is trust
There’s a reason brands like influencer marketing: it’s effective. However, like any kind of marketing, it’s only effective when done right. There no quick wins, no promises, and no guarantees.
If you want to achieve success with an influencer campaign, take the time to do it right. Find the influencers with real followings, the people with genuine audiences who care about what they say. Partner with relevant influencers.
Remember that influencers want you to partner with them, but only if it’s beneficial to everyone involved: the brand, the influencer, and the influenced.
Think back to the story of wearing the shirt to school. You want to be that shirt. Your mission now is to find the cool kid who wants to wear it.