If there’s one buzzword in online marketing that has defined the past decade it would be ‘influencer’. It seems that there are suddenly a host of influencers working with Instagram and social media. Who are they, where did they come from and what do they bring to the party?
Becoming an influencer can be incredibly lucrative. Many people have made a career out of it. For example, influencers such as Ania B – who work in the fashion sphere – and DIY influencers ‘The Sorry Girls’ are big hits with Instagram and YouTube audiences. The latter proving that influencers are not just about food and fashion.
So what makes an influencer? Let’s begin by discussing what an influencer actually does, and why they are important to the online business world.
What is an Influencer?
The definition of an influencer differs among sources, but we like this one from Influencer Marketing Hub as it describes the influencer’s role as:
“An influencer is someone who has the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience and/or a following in a distinct niche, with whom he or she actively engages. The size of the following depends on the size of his/her topic of the niche. It is important to note that these individuals are not merely marketing tools, but rather social relationship assets with which brands can collaborate to achieve their marketing objectives.”
The important bit is there are the end; with the mention of social relationships. Social trust in online marketing is a vital aspect of the campaign. A brand needs to be seen to be trusted by people who are notable. Take a step back to the pre-internet days when advertising was largely television-based. Brands were promoted frequently by celebrities. These days, the internet and social media are the marketing tools of choice, and influencers have become celebrities for the 21st consumer.
Influencers can be classed differently by their following, by content, and by the level of influence that they possess. Let’s look at each of these categories to understand why they are important.
The Four Types of Influencer
Social media is the domain of the influencers, and the more followers an influencer has, the more power they can wield in marketing terms. The media splits influencers into classes based on this, and these are:
Mega-Influencers: there is no fixed level at which someone becomes a mega-influencer. But the rule of thumb in the industry is that a person must have over 1 million followers on a given platform. These people are stars of the film and TV world, or musicians and sportsmen and women. They work with major brands, via an agent, and command massive fees.
Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is among the mega-influencers, as are musicians Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, plus the likes of Selena Gomez and Beyonce. Household names who command presence and are seen as trusted.
Macro-Influencers: there are two types of person in the macro-influencer bracket. These are celebrities who are not quite A-list but command a following of more than 40,000, and online experts or authorities who have gained a following through their knowledge and expertise, or those who have gained a following through v-logging content. They are among the most popular influencers with marketeers as they grant a high level of social trust.
Amy Jackson – who goes by the name Fashion Jackson – is among the top macro influencers, as is design guru Alexandra Champalimaud. They are followed for their content and knowledge, and they tend to work with up-and-coming brands in their niche market.
Micro-Influencers: the micro-influencer is an everyday person who has built a following of more than 1000 people. They have done to through providing expertise, authority and knowledge in a niche area. Micro-influencers are rapidly becoming the preferred type of influencer with modern growing brands. They appeal to Generation Z who are the biggest online demographic, and who are keen on new content and fresh ideas.
Fashion is a key market for micro-influencer such as Trey Bryant, who has more than 35,000 followers for his fashion blog. Lauren Carey, with a similar number of followers, blogs about her travels around the world and is an inspiration for those who want to visit exotic places.
Nano-Influencers: the nano-influencer has a small number of dedicated and devoted followers. He or she will be an acknowledged expert in a niche subject. This type of influencer is of little use to larger brands, but may be a cost-effective way of getting to a specific target audience for businesses in their market sector.
We now know what an influencer does – work with brands to promote social trust online and improve brand awareness – let’s look at how they do it.
How An Influencer Helps a Brand
Each of the four defined types of influencer can help by partnering with a brand. The least influence is exerted by the nano-influencer, and the big brands want to work with the mega and macro-influencers. How does an influencer promote the brands they are working with? There are many platforms to use, and the following are the most common.
The many social media platforms are a target for influencers, yet the one that is most effective is undoubtedly Instagram. What began as a simple photo sharing platform has become a giant of the social media world, and now offers profiles for creators and for businesses. This makes Instagram the perfect place for influencers and brands to partner for maximum promotional opportunities.
Instagram is populated by the Generation Z crowd, the youngsters who are among the most prolific users of social media. This is the demographic that understands, trusts and follows influencers. Hence the widespread use of Instagram in promotional campaigns. It’s worth pointing out that there are potential legal pitfalls when influencers openly promote a brand, they are required by advertising standards agencies to state clearly they are being paid. This is covered here and we recommend you read it if you plan to hire an influencer.
The blog is a great tool for promotional purposes, and is part of the armoury of any successful influencer. Blogs are simple to keep updated and have made the career of many influencers, especially those in the micro-influencer group. Guest posts on influencer blogs – whether written by the business owner or the influencer – are a popular method of getting brand exposure. Even if the blog has just 1000 followers that’s 1000 more people exposed to the brand. For smaller growing businesses there are plenty of opportunities to partner with micro-bloggers for added brand awareness.
We keep mentioning Generation Z – defined, for the record, as those born between the mid-1990’s to the early 2010’s – but that’s simply because they make up the target audience of a great proportion of growing businesses. Generation Z loves video content, and any influencer using YouTube as a platform, either for fun and entertaining content or to present a V-log, is always of interest to businesses looking at this demographic. YouTube has made stars of many users, and is a prime promotional platform for influencers.
Podcasts – an audio broadcast – is perhaps not as popular with influencers as the above options, but for truly niche sectors this method is quite widely used. The nano and micro-influencer will be the main user for this medium.
We’ve shown that influencers use a variety of mediums to get their message across. we also need to look at how they make a living from merely being an influencer.
How Does an Influencer Get Paid?
Let’s start with the Mega-influencer, who we know is likely to be a worldwide superstar and a household name. These are people who command fantastic fees for associating with, advertising or becoming an ambassador for major brands. They can bring in million-dollar fees for promotion work or sponsorship.
While macro and micro-influencers may not be party to such valuable deals, they can still make a serious living from being an influencer. A micro-influencer, for example, may be part of an affiliate scheme. They promote the brand, and each time there is a click-through from their content, they get a commission fee. This is a common and sometimes lucrative set-up.
Influencers in the micro and macro bands may also be paid for sponsored posts – remember our point about the legal aspect of being paid to promote a brand – either by way of an upfront fee or as commission on the traffic the post generates.
They might command a fee for being an ambassador to a brand or be given a retainer. They could put their face and name to books, courses and other publications from which they take a proportion of sales.
The sale of commissioned content – exclusively for the brand – is a further method of payment, and influencers often offer their own merchandise to followers.
Free products or services may be part of the payment for influencer endorsement. While most influencers will not match the earnings of the superstar examples, many have become very wealthy by finding a niche and enticing brands in that niche to use their services. How do you become an influencer? Let’s cover this subject next.
How to Become an Influencer
Before we get into the detail it’s interesting to note that there are companies which have been founded specifically to work as the go-between for influencers and businesses. These companies could be considered a form of agent for up-and-coming influencers, and can be crucial in forming profitable partnerships. It would be sensible for someone looking to become an influencer to investigate this option.
How to become an influencer? First you need to decide the market sector you are interested in working in. This should be something you are passionate about and genuinely interested in. It could food or travel, fashion or gadgets, cars or sport. The sheer variety of markets is astounding, but we recommend you look for one that is not over-populated.
For example, the fashion market is simply awash with blogs, videos and social media pages. It is a popular area for influencers as fashion is important for many people, and there are plenty of brands to pair with. However, if fashion is your choice, we recommend you make a specific decision as to a certain type of look or even garment, as it’s a difficult market to break into.
If you already have a blog with a following you can look at monetizing that. For example, let’s say you blog about high-end watches and have built up a following of a couple of thousand people. This is a niche market and a specific one. You could consider reaching out to smaller luxury watch brands and offering your services as an influencer. Any smaller niche market that covers luxury or specialized products is a good place to start for the budding influencer.
The key to success is being able to present a genuine air of authority and show a large number of followers. Once you have an audience of thousands, brands may start to take an interest in you. If you’re sitting on an audience of greater than 10,000 and have not made an attempt to monetize your blog or other channel, we suggest you consider it, as there may be a brand out there that could benefit from working with you.
All four categories of influencer can play a large part in brand promotion. Especially in niche markets and those that appeal to the internet-savvy Generation Z. While most influencers fall into the nano and micro brackets, there are opportunities for people with experience and knowledge of products and services to become an influencer and help build a brand. We hope we’ve managed to explain sufficiently why influencers are important to the modern business, and why you may want to become an influencer.