When I was writing The Age of Influence, I realized that there had to be a different way of categorizing the types of influencers that existed other than mere followers. More followers doesn’t simply equate to larger influence. That’s why I created a new way of categorizing influencers that I’d like to introduce here.
Below are the two main types of influencers, which each can be further divided into five or so different sub-categories for a total of nine different types of influencers that you can consider as part of your influencer marketing program.
Let’s now take a deeper look at the two types of influencers. These are influencers who are classified based on the number of followers (the traditional way of looking at influencers), and the ones classified by level of brand affinity (which and more and more brands are a proponent of).
Influencers defined by the size of their following
Within the marketing literature, most of us think about the number of followers an influencer has. These classifications are assigned based on a general range of follower counts. Each influencer “size” has different advantages and disadvantages from a marketing standpoint. They also vary significantly in terms of their influencer marketing cost of engagement. Influencers at the top of the scale can demand hundreds of thousands of dollars, while those at the bottom will work for free product or a nominal fee. Let’s take a look at these types of influencers, and when you might choose them.
Most of us think of super famous people when the word “celebrity” is mentioned. There’s no doubt that people like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, basketball player Michael Jordan, and executive Jeff Bezos are famous. However, they aren’t necessarily “celebrities” from an influencer marketing perspective. Rather, a “celebrity” in influencer marketing circles is someone with more than a million followers on their social media network of choice and they derive their influence primarily from social media, not television or elsewhere as do those who have done traditional celebrity endorsements do.
Keep in mind, some famous people are also “celebrities” from an influencer marketing perspective. For instance, Kylie Jenner is very effective as a social media influencer, and her posts cost a million dollars or more. Within the music industry, Beyonce is another example of famous celebrity influencer. The reason that these women are celebrities in both senses of the word is that they have used their headliner status in the entertainment industry to gather large audiences on Instagram.
While celebrities are one of the types of influencers you can consider, they might not give you great influencer marketing ROI. Think about it this way: a lot of people follow them to see the latest updates, such as a concert tour. Here, most people won’t engage with the content. They’ll just note when the next concert tour is and buy a ticket. Celebrities aren’t necessarily effective as influencers for small brands, and they tend to be too expensive for this demographic, as well. This is the chief reason why small and medium sized brands generally choose other types of influencers.
The next size down for size-based types of influencers is the macro influencer. Marketers classify macro influencers as those with a social media following between half a million and a million. These influencers are more cost effective to hire, and their audiences still dish up a lot of quality engagement. That’s true because their personal brands tend not to be tied up in offline fame, like you’ll see with some of the celebrity influencers. People probably aren’t going to check them for concert announcements that have nothing to do with a secondary brand.
For macro influencers, one of the most effective things you can do is often the product collaboration. With this kind of influencer marketing campaign, you’re letting the influencer design a version of your product. One place you see a lot of this is in the beauty industry, where an influencer might help develop an eye shadow palette. Another common use of this technique is in fashion: Adidas does a lot of these with macro influencers, and they tend to sell out very quickly. At the end of the day, macro influencers are still expensive, but they tend to get a better ROI than celebrities. In addition, they help you build brand recognition.
When referring to types of influencers, the “middle influencer (or mid influencer)” is one that has a following of 50,000 up to half a million followers. This group has significant advantages from a marketing standpoint over those who have a larger following. While not cheap, a mid influencer isn’t so expensive to hire that you risk breaking the bank. They tend to have a relatively engaged audience, and their niche can be a bit smaller.
Why is this important? Middle influencers don’t have as wide of a focus as the celebrities and macros. Instead, they tend to have a group that is relatively focused on a particular niche. So, rather than being a celebrity travel influencer that goes everywhere they can think of, a middle influencer might specialize in going to far corners of the world. Their audience might be a bit more adventuresome, or prefer backpacking, for example. For the right kind of brand, they’re highly cost effective.
With micro influencers, you’re looking at an audience between 10,000 and 50,000 followers. Generally speaking, micro influencers have a highly engaged audience. This audience tends to be more niche even than your middle influencers, or else the influencer hasn’t built up their following as much. One example of a micro influencer audience might be a member of the goth culture. There aren’t many of these people in the first place, so an influencer in this space won’t have a ton of followers. Another example might be someone who likes to build models of full sized objects. While this is an increasingly popular hobby, it isn’t one of the biggest ones out there.
Last of our following-based types of influencers is the nano influencer. These people tend to have between 1,000 and 10,000 followers, and are just starting to monetize their influence. In fact, they often get approached by a brand for the first time at this level. You’ll want to coach them on how to make winning campaigns, but many of them love to learn. Also, they’re very cost effective: sometimes, throwing them a few freebies with conditions will get the job done. Finally, their audience tends to be the most engaged of all. It’s not surprising that nano influencers are trending these days.
Affinity based influencers
Besides classifying influencers by the number of followers they have, there’s another way to categorize influencers: by the affinity they share with a brand. In other words, these influencers are based on how well they know, like, and trust your brand.
The aha moment for me was in the development of nano influencers. If a someone with digital influence can have as few as 1,000 followers on a given social network, look around you. I won’t say that digital influence is everywhere, but there are plenty of people that already know and even like your brand that you should be prioritizing in your influencer outreach.
Let’s now look at the brand affinity model to describe these types of influencers.
Employees and Partners
When we discuss types of influencers, it’s inevitable that employees and partners will be discussed. As marketers, we have to deal with a few challenges for these people: some companies don’t want employees talking about work. While the more senior managers tend to enjoy more freedom, front line workers sometimes have restrictive social media policies to contend with.
However, if you can swing it this type of influencer is a wonderful resource. Think about it this way: the better your company does, the less likely it is that the employees will see job cuts, layoffs, and furloughs. Especially in these uncertain times, this is a golden incentive to help the company do well. By letting employees or partners act as brand advocates, you’ll get free publicity that is one of the many benefits of influencer marketing for everyone involved.
Using employees as influencers does come with a caveat, though: they won’t want to just distribute your marketing material. Employee networks really don’t care about the latest promotion or flash sale. They’ll get those announcements on their feeds as paid social, or maybe, as banner ads. Plus, it’ll turn everyone off if the page becomes a shameless plug. Instead, ask your employees to talk about the product they help produce, or the latest initiative they’re helping to spearhead. While not every company is in a position to do this, it’s a great place for many to start.
Another way you can leverage employees and partners as influencers is by demonstrating corporate responsibility. For example, maybe you have an employee who experienced a serious illness while working for you. While laws in many countries require employers to provide leave time and other job protections, your company may have gone above and beyond. Or maybe, the employee’s work group banded together and sent flowers and cards to the hospital. By letting the employee brag about the great treatment he got from the company, you’re improving people’s impression of your brand. These impressions are priceless, and they’re appropriate for most companies. Just make sure HR is on board.
These are exactly what you’d think: people who buy your stuff. In order to use these types of influencers, you’ll want to reach out and see who is active on social media. If they already exercise influence for pay, so much the better. Because these people are already your customers, they’re more enthusiastic than the average influencer who is introduced to a brand by the marketing department. In other words, they spontaneously purchased your stuff and are now talking about it.
To engage customers as influencers, consider a sort of testimonial or review format. In other words, ask them to talk about their experience using your product. This can take different forms depending on the type of product you have. For instance, a tutorial is great for beauty products or craft materials. Travel-related products lend themselves well to pictures and blog posts. Finally, B2B brands lend themselves to this type of influencer marketing especially well. Business customers want to know that a product works well and resolves the pain points they might have with existing equipment.
Fans and Mentioners
These types of influencers might not be your customers, but they interact with your product. For instance, lets say you have a technology company that produces very expensive products. When something is released, there’s a long line to buy the item. However, because of the expense, not everybody can afford to buy it. A fan might be someone who can’t afford to buy the product, but they think it’s awesome and if they could afford it, they’d buy it. Luxury cars are another example of this sort of product, as is expensive jewelry. They might also not be able to buy something because of compatibility issues of some sort. Give someone like this a discount on your product, or let them try it out for free. So long as their audience would find the product relevant, they’ll probably give you a great recommendation.
Mentioners are similar, but less enthusiastic. For instance, they might mention your brand when comparing it to something else. Or, they might be testing out related products but not yours. Let’s look at one example in the automotive field. Maybe this influencer is an auto mechanic, so he fixes a wide variety of cars. Although he doesn’t drive your brand himself, he does fix them. Maybe at some point, he mentions that fixing your cars is easy with the right parts. You have a mentioner who might be willing to plug the car itself or tout the value of branded parts.
Low/No Brand Affinity
Generally, these are the types of influencers who discover your brand because you approached them. For this demographic, the sponsorships tend to be more transactional. However, that isn’t to say they’re useless for influencer marketing. After all, some influencers start at this stage and become major brand ambassadors or enthusiastic fans. Discovering something new is part of the fun of being an influencer, and you never know when you’re going to find the next greatest thing. Just be careful that you know what you’re dealing with, and that expectations are clearly mapped out.
No matter what size types of influencers you choose to engage, it’s important to take their affinity with your brand into account and prioritize those that at least know and like your brand. Using those with low levels of affinity is fine for some campaigns, but you’ll need to have others who are on fire for your brand if you want to incite authentic word of mouth marketing in social media.
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