What is an influencer in the context of social media and why are they important?
Social media influencers have the power to influence people, to get in front of people and motivate them to action - whether it’s to engage with you, to visit your website, to buy your products or to try out things.
There are different types of influencer. They tend to fall into the following categories:
- VIPs - celebrities, sports stars, television personalities, big name politicians etc
- Bloggers/vloggers - content creators are big on social
- Industry thought-leaders - professionals well respected in their field
- Journalists/media - opinion formers
Influencers aren’t necessarily the people with the most followers - it’s the people who can inspire action that are the most important, although of course reach also plays a part. A blogger with 50K followers who is paid to push products might have lost the trust of some of their followers, whereas a new, emerging blogger with just 5K may have more influence over whether someone buys a product based on their organic recommendation.
It’s also important that their followers are engaged. There are Instagrammers out there with 10K followers that don’t engage with them and they may only get a handful of engagements per post. Alternatively, someone might only have 1K followers but invest loads of time engaging with them so that they average a higher percentage of engagements per post.
Influencers must also fit your brand - they might reach thousands of people but if those people aren’t your target audience, then they are unlikely to get you anywhere.
The more niche your industry the more influencers with smaller followings will be useful, particularly if you are a B2B business.
So an influencer must have three things:
- Reach - they must have built up a following
- Influence - they must be trusted and will inspire action in their audiences
- Relevance - they must reach your target ‘market’
How do brands work with influencers?
Influencer outreach can either be earned or paid. Earned means you can organically build relationships with them without a transaction of products or cash.
The bigger the influencer the less likely you are going to achieve earned relationships. And any work you do with them will happen off social media, generally by email going through their agent.
The exception to this is if you are a charity or social enterprise and your influencer cares about the work you are doing. For example, we have worked with MotherPukka and we could never have afforded to pay her. But we share a passion and vision for flexible working and supporting mothers in their careers and that shared passion has meant she works with us because she cares. Not all influencers have an ethical passion. Influencers with an ethical passion are often called ‘woke influencers’.
Thankfully, for small businesses and charities, there has been a massive rise in nano-influencer marketing. This basically means really small influencers.
There are no hard and fast rules on the size of following but there exists mega and macro influencers who are household names and celebrities with hundreds of thousands if not millions of followers. Micro-influencers usually have tens of thousands. Nano-influencers may have as little as 1000 to 10,000. But they usually have a highly engaged community, much higher than larger influencers. So what you lose in reach you gain in engagement. It’s often possible to build earned relationships with nano-influencers. The smaller the influencer the more chance you have of building organic relationships early in the career.
But how do you know how engaged their followers are? Take a look at their platforms and see how many likes or comments they tend to get on their tweets/posts in comparison to the size of their following. This can give you a hint as to how engaged their community is and how influential they are likely to be.
How to find the influencers for your target audience
You might already be aware of some key influencers in your specific area of work. If not, or to find even more, there are a number of ways to find the right ones for your audience.
- Find them organically. Google some industry keywords and look for content from thought leaders or popular bloggers or follow popular hashtags in your space. See who is sharing content and whose content is being shared by your target audience.
- Search Twitter lists. There are loads of public lists in a range of industries and areas so they are a good place to start. Also check out the Twitter lists of people you’ve already identified as influencers and see which influencers they are following.
- Monitor who the platforms suggest you follow. These could throw up potential influencers in your space.
- See who your competitors are engaging with. This is especially useful if they’ve been on social media for longer than you and are better established.
- Use clever third-party tools. While searching organically is effective, it can be a bit time consuming. To speed things up, there are loads of tools out there you can use from Right Relevance to Buzzsumo. If you do have the budget for bigger influencers then there are platforms out there that specialise in matching you to the right person such as FameBit.
Five steps to building relationships
So now you’ve found all your influencers, how do you build relationships with them? Not easy when so many other people are trying to build relationships with them too! Here are our 5 top tips.
- Commit the time. Finding, forging and then reaping the benefits of strong relationships with the right influencers makes a massive difference to how successful your social media efforts are.
- Get to know them. Keep an eye on their posts to understand what they are working on and what interests them. And, just as you’d do with an offline relationship, build up slowly - from likes and retweets/shares to conversations.
- Be choosy. Because it’s time consuming it’s best to build relationships with a handful of influencers rather than going for a scattergun approach and not getting anywhere.
- Give more than you take. Share their content. Comment on their content. You can also add their quotes (credited!) into your created content, and link back to their content. You could also think about approaching them for an interview.
- Build an authentic relationship. It takes time to build relationships online. Start early and give the relationship the necessary love and attention it needs. When you identify an influencer, do some research. Check in every couple of days, like and share their stuff, be nice, participate in conversations they are having online. Build an authentic relationship over time. Don’t spam them, @mention them and ask them to share your content straight off the bat, or tag them in photos they aren’t in. You can @mention them in relevant, value add content you have created or even cheekily ask for a share if that’s where you feel the relationship is at.
Sounds like a lot of work is it really worth it?
Influencer marketing grew from a $1.7 billion industry in 2016 to a $6.5 billion industry in 2019. Influencers have the power to build your brand awareness and to motivate your target audience into action. They can be really valuable to help you gain attention, credibility and 'talkability' for your business. A great relationship with relevant social media influencers can lead to their audience visiting your website, buying your products and championing your work. Here at Digital Mums we make sure we build and cultivate relationships with loads of brilliant people who are important to our target audience. And it pays off. A share from an influencer can really make a difference.
We have seen the success of our influencer guidance for the hundreds of small businesses and charities that have worked with our Digital Mums in training on our vocational training courses. However, only you can decide whether you want to invest the time.
For more useful social media stuff check out our free social media taster lessons, courses and podcasts here or why not sign up to find out more about our next Foundation in Social Media Marketing course here.