Written by Bobby Montgomery
The concept of a social media influencer, or influencer for short, is relatively new (as in the past 5 or so years.) There certainly was no curriculum that covered being an influencer or even social media when I was in college. Back in my day, which was only fifteen years ago, we still had flip phones, but they could send text messages!
The concept of an influencer is a spin-off of a blogger – a person who writes about various topics on a regular basis. Blogging first became a thing in the late 90s, but didn’t see any real popularity until after the turn of the century…now I really feel old – I graduated high school in 2001. As the concept of blogging expanded from technical writing to include travel, food reviews, and random facts about people’s pets; brands began to notice how the creators were developing larger and larger followings. Not only were people seeing blogger’s content, they were there because they actually cared what this person has to say. Ads quickly found their way onto pages, but businesses saw an even better avenue to promote their own brands: have the blogger write about and recommend their product! I doubt anyone would argue against the idea that the value of a personal recommendation far outweighs a random ad that pops up on a page.
My wife, Heather, started a blog 11 years ago as a sort of fitness journal to help keep her accountable with her running training. She started as Running With Sass, but later rebranded to allow her more freedom in what she wrote about. Social media platforms started to grow and we joined Instagram. As time passed, we began to see a shift from blogging to advertising brands through images and messages on social media. Instagram has long since become the platform we use most often.
Now the term influencer is widely used. An influencer is someone who has developed a relationship with an audience and uses that relationship to promote something. (Definition according to Bobby). The concept isn’t new by any means – it’s just that new platforms have been developed and the terminology has changed. Paying a football player to say they are going to Disney World is a message delivered to people who can be influenced by that person to positively accept a message through the medium of television.
Some influencers refer to themselves as content creators, brand representatives, ambassadors, bloggers, etc. and there are a TON of platforms out there these days including Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Twitch, and many, many more. Influencers create and post content, attend event, “go-live”, post stories, create pins/tweets/posts, write, engage with audiences, and a host of other services aimed at promoting a brand or message.
So how does it work? What does it mean to work with a social media influencer? Think of it like a billboard: a company wants to capture people’s attention for brand awareness or to communicate a message. The brand hires the influencer to post a picture that includes the product/message or has the influencer write about their product in the text section.
Example A: New Awesome Restaurant wants to get the word about that they are open for business. The restaurant only has a handful of followers on their brand new Instagram account. They decide to hire three influencers to partner with them. The restaurant hosts the influencers for a meal and pays them to each post a picture to their static feed and do three to five stories each while they are there. Each influencer takes pictures and videos and then shares them on their accounts which results in a much wider group of people seeing what the new restaurant has to offer. A side product is often the restaurant has fun and quality images that show up when people search relevant content.
Example B: A clothing brand wants to advertise their fall lineup. They hire influencers to model their clothes and post relevant pictures wearing the brands clothing. The arrangement can include an angle the clothing brand is going for such as wanting the pictures to include spending time with family, urban settings, or surrounded by fall decorations.
While there are many “kinds” of influencers for a variety of niches, it all comes down to promoting something through a medium believed to get the attention of your target audience. If you hear the term micro or macro influencer, that’s just a loose classification of the size of the influencer’s following.
- A micro influencer is used to describe someone with less than 20,000 followers (though the number of followers could be as high as 50,000 as there is not set definition).
- A macro influencer is often someone with a huge following and could be more than 20k, 50k, or some even reserve it for those with over 100,000.
- A nano influencer is used to describe those with really small followings (less than a thousand or less than 5,000). It’s worth noting those followers may be very loyal and engaged, so don’t overlook them just because of numbers.
- A celebrity influencer is just that, a celebrity.
Continuing with definitions, let’s include:
- Reach- the number of people or accounts that a message can get out to. The higher the reach, the more people are likely to see the content.
- Engagement- The amount of interaction an audience has with a post. This can include, comments, likes, shares, saves, etc.
I hope this has helped give you an idea of what an influencer is: a marketing tool.
This is our first draft of making a beginner’s guide. We welcome feedback on what else you would like to know or what you think should have been included.