We’re living in the era of the “social media influencer,” a powerful social media user capable of swaying people’s opinions, and therefore capable of attracting sponsorship and advertising revenue. In some cases, the “influencer” label is applied to genuine authorities who are knowledgeable on a given topic or active in a given community. Other times, it’s assigned to someone who has mass market appeal—and who therefore can make money by keeping their profile active.
While it’s easy to dismiss so-called “social media influencers” as self-aggrandizing, the reality is, it’s possible to run a legitimate business as a social media influencer. But what does it really mean to be an influencer, and how should we, in the social media business, consider influencers?
Defining a Social Media Influencer
Let’s start by trying to define what a social media influencer is. At what threshold does one transition from becoming a somewhat popular social media account to a full-fledged influencer?
The short answer is that an influencer is capable of influencing the opinions, and hopefully purchasing decisions of others. Technically that can happen at any level, but it’s helpful to think of this in terms of both quantitative and qualitative factors.
Quantitatively, we can look to the number of followers a person has. There’s no set of standards for this, but some sources suggest that an account with between 1,000 and 5,000 followers could be considered a “nano” influencer, or a burgeoning influencer. Between 5,000 and 100,000 followers can be considered a “mid-tier” influencer, and anyone with more than 100,000 followers can be said to have true sway.
We also need to think about how influential this person truly is. For example, a verified expert in a respected field might carry more sway with their audience of 5,000 than a vapid model who bought most of their 100,000 followers. Here, we need to consider how much authority and respect this person carries, the sincerity of their followers, and what kind of things they typically post about; an astrophysicist showing off a hot new pair of basketball shoes isn’t going to carry as much influence as a basketball player doing the same, no matter how respected they are.
Social Media Influence as a Core Business
Under these constraints, it’s possible for anyone, including you, to become a social media influencer, though no matter what, it’s going to take some work. On the qualitative side, you have to work to make yourself known as an expert in some kind of field. Most people strive for some area of specialty—a niche that they can truly master—to accomplish this. From there, you need to grow a following from the ground up, which means being active on social media near-constantly, reaching out to new people, engaging with your current followers, and above all, posting engaging content.
Once you accumulate enough followers, you could conceivably use your status as a social media influencer as a core business model. There are a few platforms with built-in ad monetization, but you’ll more than likely need to seek advertising or sponsorship arrangements with other brands. You can invite DMs and private messages for “business opportunities” and hope that brands come to you, or you can market yourself directly. Either way, you can expect to receive some money every time you review, mention, or directly advertise a product with a brand partner, based on the number of followers you have (and how good a job you do).
Networking With Influencers
However, most of you reading this will be more interested in the other side of the equation—leveraging the power of influencer marketing. There are many ways to make use of this; you can ask major influencers in your field to advertise, mention, or review your products, or you can collaborate with them on mutually beneficial projects. For example, you might co-author a new whitepaper on the state of the industry, or you could interview them on your podcast.
Whatever you choose, your success will be based on your choice. You’ll need to choose someone who’s not only noteworthy and respected, but also relevant to your field—and inexpensive enough to fit within the constraints of your budget. Take your time and review your candidates carefully to see the best possible results.
Don’t take all claims of being a social media influencer at face value, but do take the position and the strategies surrounding that position seriously. Like it or not, today’s social media authorities and superstars carry significant clout, and are capable of reaching far more people than you could without their assistance. Learning to harness this power for yourself, or trying to attain this power as an influencer in your own right, could be an enormously beneficial move.