Whether you work in content marketing and social media or even just casually browse the business side of Twitter once in awhile, you’ll have seen the term ‘influencer’ tossed around a lot. Jack Simpson at eConsultancy defines “influencer” as a buzzword, but admits that it “is one of those rare cases where there isn’t a really suitable alternative”.

I agree with Simpson; it is a buzzword, but it’s one that’s actually useful. Influencers are a powerful force in the world of social media, and any successful strategy for using Twitter or Instagram for business is going to require you to identify and leverage influencers in your field.

This can be a bit of an intimidating prospect, especially if you’re just finding your feet with social media at large. When it comes down to it though, it’s really quite simple, once you have a good idea of what influencers are and why they matter.

Okay, so what is an influencer?

What is an Influencer

Rather than asking “what is an influencer?”, we should probably be asking “who is an influencer?”. Influencers, after all, are people (even if they’re brands, they’re still operated by and for people). social@Oglivy points out that “there are many faces of ‘influencers’”, including:

  • Journalists
  • Academics
  • Industry analysts
  • Professional advisors
  • Celebrities
  • Individual brand advocates

Influencers can be other brands and professionals, or they can be “ordinary” individuals who happen to have successful, highly visible social media accounts. Depending on what your business does, and who your audience are, the types of influencers you’ll want to leverage and connect with varies a lot.

Put simply, an influencer is exactly what it says on the tin: someone who has, or exerts, influence over other people. In social media terms, this means that they influence opinion, and can cause posts, hashtags and brands to gain traction with a wider audience.

This usually means that influencers have a lot of followers. In fact, anyone with a lot of followers is bound to wield a lot of influence. However, it’s important to bear in mind exactly who they have influence over. Kyle Wong, writing for Forbes, explains that:

“Influence isn’t just having a lot of followers. It’s also driven by expertise and credibility on subject matter and the relationship between the influencer and his or her followers.”

Per TwitterCounter, of the ten accounts on Twitter with the highest follower counts seven are celebrity performers, two are tech based platforms (YouTube and Twitter itself), and Barack Obama. Similarly, according to Statista, on Instagram, nine of the top ten accounts belong to celebrities, while the most followed account is Instagram’s own.

Top Twitter AccountsImage Source: TwitterCounter

While all of these accounts have follower counts in the millions, they are not necessarily relevant to any and all businesses. Suppose, for influence, that you’re a plasterer. While it might be impressive to get a retweet from Katy Perry, and it would appear in the timelines of all 95.7 million of her followers, it wouldn’t help your bottom line much: very few of those 95.7 million people are going to be looking for a plasterer in your area.

On the other hand,  you might well want to seek out retweets and engagement from accounts like Silver Trowel Ltd or Bromley Plastering. Why? Because they are accounts with a relatively high number of followers that tweet about things related to plastering. This means that they are influencers in the field of plastering.

What all this means is that there is more to being an influencer than simply having social reach. The key is that a relevant influencer operates within the niche that you’re trying to sell to. This means that they wield influence over other users that are interested in the kinds of things your business does, and the kinds of content you are posting on your blog on social media accounts.

This approach works for more or less any business. You simply have to figure out what keywords are relevant to your business, and find the accounts that are posting content related to them. Connecting with these relevant influencers will help you gain exposure to an audience that will not only help you increase your count of fans and followers, but grow your brand and drive customers to your site  as well.

It’s also worth noting that there’s more to being an influencer than having a lot of followers. As Dagmar King at Marketwired astutely points out, a real influencer also needs to be trustworthy, to display thought leadership, ability to engage, to drive their audiences to action, and to post valuable content to their account.

Alec England at Centerlyne adds that the difference” the difference between a real influencer and a social media user that wants some extra cash [is] whether or not their followers care about their content.”

Of course, someone who does all of those things is likely to have a lot of followers – but it’s not a perfect correlation. Still, it’s important to investigate and carefully identify quality influencers before you attempt to connect with them.

But why do they matter?

Why Influencers Matter

As I’ve already touched upon, connecting with influencers can help you improve the standing on your brand, not only on social media platforms but also in general. By connecting and engaging with influencers in your field, you can not only gain fans and followers but also build your brand and improve your bottom line.

Some content marketers and business owners might be a little hesitant at this point. Maybe they’re thinking they’re doing okay at this point, so why do they need to change anything? Perhaps they think that appealing to outside influencers is unnecessary, and everything can still be done via in-house marketing?

Well, all of those things still work – to a degree – but the fact is that audiences are growing more and more savvy to advertising and marketing strategies. That’s basically the point of all content marketing – it works in ways that traditional advertising doesn’t, because there’s a lot more to it than simply advertising your business, your products, and your services.

Influencer marketing is another form of content marketing that reaches your potential clients and customers in a way that traditional advertising and marketing strategies can’t.  As Ivana Taylor at Little Bird explains, “your customer listen, engage with, and follow influencers’ advice” – in a way that they simply don’t listen when you advertise to them.

You also shouldn’t overlook the advantage of social reach. Unless you’re a very major brand, you likely don’t have as many fans or followers as your key influencers, and that gives them a bigger audience than you have. So, even without taking other factors into account, more people will see them tweet or post on Instagram about your business than would see you do so yourself.

The element of trust is also important. Even if your audience does trust you, even the least initiated of social media users is going to think of a post on your company Twitter or Instagram account promoting your own products and servicing as being tantamount to an advertisement. An influencer, however, operates at a remove that makes it feel different to people who consume the content.

Because of that element of distance, influencers can interact with your potential customers in ways that you just can’t. Put simply, it’s almost like the difference between an advert and a review, and your audience is likely to react to it accordingly.

Ultimately, though, none of this really matters unless you’re connecting with the right influencers. Social reach and trust don’t matter if the people you’re influencers are reaching aren’t interested in what your company has to offer.

Interested in reading more of our articles on influencers? Check them out there:

How to connect with influencers on social media

Influencer Interview: Lauren Bath – Australia’s First Professional Instagrammer

Influencer Interview: Healthy Happy Habits

Influencer Interview: Traveling Honeybird

Influencer Interview: Bemused Backpacker

For help identifying influencers and handling the other challenges of social media and content marketing, get in touch with Hey Sippy today!