We have all of this micro-fragments under this big "umbrella" of influencer, with only some of those micro-fragments really having the ability to make impact on a brand's marketing objectives. Could this be why finding the right influencer is one of the top challenges of marketers?
What is an influencer? From my experience, the term itself has become meaningless and far from its origins. When I first started working with influencers, it was pretty easy to assume that someone with 5,000+ followers on Instagram or YouTube was influential - so describing an "influencer" as someone with an online following, was usually 95% accurate. The terms could be synonymous without being misconstrued.
For starters, as a whole - we lacked in photo skills. Or I should say, we were "on par" with each other, all using the newly launched, 2 year old Instagram and Youtube to post our lunches, selfies and home videos.
To have amassed any kind of following at that time, there had to be some draw beyond the quality of the photo - it was about how someone actually used the platform and whether their content had value. The "influencer" was the person who posted obtainable inspiration, bonus points if you made it easy and tell us what products you bought and used. The "influencer" was the person who posted not only the food they ate, but their thoughts on the food and where locals could enjoy it. These were the kind of accounts amassing a following, and these were the kind of accounts that were attractive to brands for marketing purposes because they were online "pods" or communities around specific passions that could amplify word of mouth marketing FASTER than we have even been able to accomplish without the internet.
So companies monetized influence. In my opinion, the monetization of influence was like the Big Bang. It exploded "influencer" into a it's own micro-fragments where it "could" mean someone with an online following - but it could mean a lot of other things too.
The greater the scale of influence (size), the larger the pay out. The incentive led to a focus on AUDIENCE SIZE over the QUALITY of that following. The incentive also lead to "influencer" being a covetable, and potentially easy to obtain way to make money on social media, popping out "clones" that only saw and acted what they saw on the "surface" of being an influencer. We had the glitz, the glam, the spoilage, the exclusivity - blurring the boundaries between influencer and socialite.
It's not to say that AUTHENTIC community was not being built after monetization - it's just that the term "influencer" could no longer be synonymous with someone online with a large following. There are very real instances out there where large following does not translate into content value or the actual dictionary definition of what "influence" is and therefore the term "influencer" became disjointed.
The other (WILD) thing I saw happening was that "influencer" started to become less synonymous with online community and more synonymous with product pushers. Less about trend-setting and leadership and more about business and money. The ability to simply talk about a product because you are somewhat qualified, does not always translate into "influence", so the word continued to become more diluted.
We have all of this micro-fragments under this big "umbrella" of influencer, with only SOME of those micro-fragments really having the ability to make impact on a brand's marketing objectives. Could this be why finding the right influencer continues to be a top challenge of marketers?
I think so.
So I ran an observational study. (aka. I watched and reflected)
My goal was to find a new definition of the term "influencer" - a term that helped me better match the type of influencer I was targeting when developing strategies and casting the right participants. I wanted an easier way to tell "talent" what to aspire to be to secure great brand deals.
This is what I found: Influencers are those that have the power to move people toward a certain call to action - without that power, they are simply content creators. Influence is established, typically through the practice of establishing trust, credibility and believability by long-term, consistent content storytelling that builds authority within a specific set of topics. There is a deeper, emotional connection between an influencer and their audience when the influencer has a clear purpose, seeks to build an inclusive community around their content, and provides some kind of value to their audience.
Without the ability to "move" audiences, the only capability is to make them "aware" and these are two very different goals when it comes to the expectations of campaigns and influencer marketing programs.
"Value" is such a broad term - and "effective" influential people still encompass both the Kim Kardashians of the world in the same breadth that it includes your next door neighbor with 2000 followers who lost 100lbs of weight and shared the whole process on social media.
So I went on to further group (and trademark, cuz this is kind of a big deal!) 7 DIFFERENT PROTOTYPES that make up the VAST majority of REAL influencers - including WHAT their value is to their audiences and what brand goals they can help achieve - to help better align your programs and talent choices to your various marketing goals.
Note: Influencers can fall into more than one box or overlap, but usually have at least 1 category that they are strongly associated with. Celebrity was purposely left off of the trademark, so it has been excluded for now. I also perceive this as a work in progress, so if you have ideas for categories, shoot them via email at email@example.com
The sharer is someone who you come to rely on to share information (note: I did not say brands.) Most active social media users fall into this category. They may not claim to have expertise in what they are sharing (they may be learning themselves!), but they had a great experience with something, and they make things visible for others to see and try. The sharer also refers to creators who have built community around vulnerability and sharing emotion. While this category most commonly overlaps with another, some creators can build audience simply by sharing. Example: @itskrista is a podcast host. Though Krista has certainly gained expertise in areas, she builds community around sharing the expertise of others and learning. @loveandloathingla is a lifestyle blog in which Caroline is continuously sharing the best spots for fun in LA. + : Conversion based initiatives, community based brand awareness
The expert is someone who has deep experience in what they are sharing. They may have had success with a feat, like body transformation, building a business, applying makeup, navigating heartbreak, writing a book, overcoming hardship or sickness, traveling... the list goes on. Their credibility is usually built through the consistent sharing of the process behind the feat that can teach audiences how to achieve the same thing. Though I’ve used TOP expert examples, you don’t need to be at the TOP to be an expert. You just have to have above average knowledge on how to overcome a particular feat. Example: Dr. Mark Hyman is a doctor who produces educational content around functional wellness, Gary Vee is a top entrepreneur and business owner who teaches success in business and life.
+: Conversion, Co-Creation, Education, Brand Awareness, Authority, Credibility, Endorsement
This person has an eye for visuals that people love. They may even be artists, photographers or designers. There is something so attractive about what is aesthetically pleasing. These people may have feeds full of really beautiful photography or art. This category is unique in that aesthetics don’t always equate to true influence outside of the creative design of content. Sometimes we only like this content because its value is its beauty. We see people focus on ‘aesthetic’ of popular categories like fashion, beauty and travel without adding deeper value that allows them to have the credibility and believe ability necessary to engage and influence in their category. The value they offer is in the actual aesthetic of the photo. These are people who we often like the photo, but if they tried to sell us what was IN the photo, we may not care. However, if they sold us photo tips or their art?.. Positive Example: Artist, PostWook is a designer influencer who also sells art on line. +: High Quality Content, Design, Brand Awareness, Conversion & Community Based Brand Awareness (when design related)
The advocate has a very powerful stance around what they believe in, and use their power to push forth an agenda usually hoping to create societal change. They may share and may have expertise in a certain subject area, but these creators and what they post is often rooted in specific missions and lifestyles. Examples include veganism, body positivity, climate change, etc. They build credibility through daily habits, choices and experiences that are visible and align with their mission that are made visible. Example: Trash is for Tossers, Lauren is an advocate for the #ZeroWaste lifestyle and CEO of the Package Free Shop. Jameela Jamil, a celebrity who advocates powerfully for political and social change. +: Conversion, Community-Based Brand Awareness, Credibility, Endorsement, Co-Creation
The Pioneer was the first, or one of the first, to do something no one had done before. They may have jumped on a new platform when it was brand new. They may have done something unique in how they used social media. They make up the least of the influencer population, but they are known for always doing new things. Example: Joe Rogan, I consider one of the OGs of podcasting and interviewing. Dude with Sign, was the first to say what everyone is thinking in a very consistent media format - cardboard sign.
+: Mass Awareness, Creative Co-Creation, Endorsement, Advertising
The idealist lives a life that many only dream they could live. We are drawn to these influencers because we live vicariously through what they do - they provide value to us by giving us an experience we may only get through online content. (These influencers aren’t creating how to live like me content...) Unlike an expert, what these creators experience may not be in reach for many of us - but we are engaged with the thought of it and emulate in more subtle ways. Example: Loki the Wolf Dog is an account from the perspective of a dog and family that are nomads traveling in the continental US, Hanzian Bus is a family (Hannah + Ian + Baby) that turned a school bus into their home and drives it all over the country. +: Creative & Inspirational Storytelling, Mass Awareness, Creative Co-Creation, Endorsement, Brand Capabilities / Use Cases,
The entertainer lives to entertain. We are drawn to these types of creators because it’s like watching mini movies. Maybe they make us laugh (like the entirety of my Tik Tok feed) or maybe they make us cry - but in some way their entertainment relaxes us and keeps us engaged. Entertainment is the phenomenon behind meme accounts, magazines, music accounts and some of the biggest YouTube creators. Like physical stages - social media is a stage for these types of entertainers. Example: Ugh its Joe, Joe is a comedic YouTube video producer, The Fat Jewish, meme account turned business mogul +: Creative Storytelling, Mass Awareness, Creative Co-Creation, Endorsement by association, Brand Capabilities / Use Cases,