It all began with everyday people, consumers like us. We would hear of a new product or offering based on a friend’s recommendation and we would buy it. This was called word of mouth marketing. We trusted our friends experience with said item and therefore we were more inclined to purchase the same thing due to this advocacy from a close confidant. Overtime, the concept of word of mouth marketing has ballooned into what we know today as influencer marketing. So what really is an influencer? This post will explore the rise of influencers, the qualifications to actually be considered an influencer, and finally the evolution of these influencers into paid icons who are only continuing to capture more and more brand marketing budget share.
The Rise of Influencers
Social media brought about the age of influence, where compelling Instagram accounts could garner thousands to millions of followers simply by posting aesthetically pleasing content within a specific category. The interesting thing about these popular accounts on social media and, paradoxically, the power of it all, is that a social media user chooses to follow a specific account or not. The choice rests in the consumers hand, and is not forced upon them in the manner of traditional advertising. This unique element of social media turned regular people into the perfect brand advertising opportunity. If brands could exchange their product, or pay those individuals with high follower numbers to post about their products and advocate to their loyal fans, what better way to reach their target audience and influence their purchase behavior? Thus, regular people with notable followings became influencers and a new era was born.
Who is considered an influencer?
The actual qualifications to be considered an influencer are debatable and constantly evolving. Over time influence has been broken out into segments under that single umbrella category to better describe the type of influencer an individual may be referring to. Three primary categories currently exist:
- Micro influencers (50k followers or less): Anyone with a couple of thousand followers. Typically considered hyper niche, these Micro influencers engage frequently with their audience and tout strong relationships as they can have more intimate interactions with fewer individuals.
- Macro Influencers (more than 100k, less than 1 million followers): A couple of hundred thousand followers will push you into the Macro range of influencers. Many influencers today sit in this range.
- Mega Influencers (over 1 million followers): Typically this category is often reserved solely for celebrities as follower count minimums begin in the millions. However, certain influencers have reached these numbers and created a new type of celebrity, one born from instagram – social celebrity.
Within these categories segmentation goes even further, describing influencers by the type of content they most frequently post. This is usually verticalized by things like lifestyle, beauty, fitness, etc.
Check out some examples of influencer types here.
The Age of Influencer Marketing
Now that we have established how influencers have come to be and the different types that exist, what does all of this mean for advertisers? Quite simply, influencers have completely changed the marketing landscape. They have introduced an entirely new tactic and format into an industry that is still trying to understand how to make sense of pre existing ones.
Historically marketers operate off of a campaign mindset. They activate for a period of time and then pause, evaluate and activate again, sometimes using the same agencies, software providers, or vendors, but more often than not mixing it up all the time. Loyalty has not been a word well known in most marketers vocabularies. This mindset does not work with influencers.
The influencer community was built off of authenticity and user control. As mentioned previously, and emphasized strongly again, influencers exist because their follower base genuinely enjoys, resonates, and relates with their authentic content and voice. This means you don’t just use them once but rather over and over again. Stephanie Agresta, EVP, Managing Director of Social Media at Weber Shandwick put it best,
“Influence is much more than a score,” she says. “This is about reaching people not just because they’re connected, but because they serve a role within their online community. It’s up to brand managers, marketers, and communications professionals to use influence tools to learn more about the social landscapes and the people who affect their markets. As the findings here point out, brands cannot think episodically about influence or influencers. This is not a campaign based discipline. While tools are helpful, the practice of IRM (Influencer Relationship Management) is about ongoing engagement and community building. Today, that can happen at scale.”
We all thought influencer marketing may have been a fad or a trend, however we’ve come to realize this phenomenon is not going anywhere anytime soon and has had a larger, long standing impact than initially predicted. Social media created the Influencer, influencers created influencer marketing, and Influencer marketing has drastically altered the marketing industry. What will be next?