What is an influencer exactly?
Less than two years ago, it was a relatively niche term used by marketers to describe industry titans.
We’re talking Oprah. Tony Robbins. Donatella Versace. Mark Zuckerberg.
In an incredibly short time, the term “influencer” has evolved greatly. Anyone with any level of influence now falls into this marketing category. However, it was previously only reserved for thought leaders and celebrities.
Today, thousands of social media users have built steady income streams by leveraging their loyal followers.
How did this happen?
1.The Evolution of Influencers
- The world is fueled by both person-to-person connections and perception.
- Everything from the words we use to the clothes we wear is inspired by our (sometimes subconscious) desire to live like, look like, or just plain be like the people we admire.
Let’s be honest: it’s been this way forever.
But over time, we’ve gone from imitating older siblings and the cool kids at school to taking inspiration from sports figures, movie stars, and even D-list celebrities.
Almost everyone who was alive in the early ’90s remembers Gatorade’s “Be Like Mike” commercial starring basketball legend Michael Jordan.
Take a look.
The film starts with footage of Jordan killing it on the basketball court, reminding everyone why they wanted to be like this charismatic, uber-rich athlete.
Here’s the thing:
No matter how much Gatorade fans drank—they could never really be like Mike.
Celebrity endorsements have been around for years. What’s more, these campaigns are based on the fact that people can emulate the lives of their celebrity heroes by buying into the dream.
One product at a time.
Endorsements made by influencers tell consumers that they CAN be like them.
Take the same vacations…use the same hair products…eat the same fast food…follow the same process.
The strongest influencers often create opportunities for their community to feel connected to them.
This illusion creates loyalty.
- Michael Jordan’s fans felt connected to him because “he played to win” for them.
- Oprah spent her career “connecting” with her viewers.
In short, we have a strong tendency to be influenced by those who portray the kind of life we’d like to be living.
Thanks to social media, celebrity appeal is even greater.
This is largely due to the fact that they let us fully into their lives. The glamour is fun, but the everyday realness is equally enticing.
Chrissy Teigen has nailed the “behind-the-scenes” Snapchat vibe. As a result, her fans love her more than ever.
As our traditional celebrity influencers took to social media, the illusion of “perfect” faded. People want to connect with something real. The celebrities who understand how to become an influencer are more real than ever.
You may still wanna Be Like Mike (or Chrissy) but marketers now know that more than anything…
You want to believe they’re just like you.
The New Online Influencers
- To whom are we looking for fashion cues and makeup tips?
- Who are some of the most popular personalities offering life advice?
- Where are we spying the hottest home trends?
The likely answer to these questions:
A social media influencer.
So what does this new industry influencer look like?
- Well, a lot like you and me.
- As the internet continues to close the gap between celebrities and ordinary folk, we as a society are becoming more and more interested in what’s actually attainable.
- We want to follow people who look like us because duplicating their success feels possible.
And it is possible.
Look at Liz Eswein. She first signed up for Instagram in 2011 and began posting pictures of New York City, where she lived, just for fun. As her following grew, so did interest from brands hoping to place their products in her photos.
Source: Instagram/Liz Eswein
Back then, she got $50 per promotional post. These days she commands as much as $15,000 per sponsored shot.
She didn’t care about how to become an influencer. She’s not a celebrity. And that’s the draw.
Seems like influence is not the rare commodity it once was. Such is the power of social media—and so goes the ever-changing nature of inbound marketing.
How to Become an Influencer Today
Now that you have a solid grasp on what it really means to be an influencer, you know there’s a lot more to it than a few thousand followers.
The most noteworthy influencers embody a variety of things, including:
- Thought leadership in your industry
- An authentic personal brand
- Consistent social media presence
- Patience, persistence and strong collaboration skills
- An eye for trends in a changing media landscape
Let’s dig into each one of these further.
1. Thought Leadership in Your Industry
- Thought leadership is defined by Forbes as “an individual or company that is recognized as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.”
Positioning yourself as a thought leader is based on these key factors:
- Finding and knowing your audience
- Providing them with valuable, unique content
- Speaking to your audience in a relatable manner
Even B2B thought leaders should publish
- insightful content in an authentic voice
- get involved in industry groups
- be active on the right social networks
2. An Authentic Personal Brand
The more authentic and real your brand building is, the more likely you are to connect with current and potential followers.
- Avoid talking about your life in a sales-y way and focus instead on relatable elements that others likely experience.
- More than anything, your brand (aka YOU) should feel accessible.
Take a cue from airline mogul and businessman, Richard Branson, the first LinkedIn influencer to reach the 1 million follower mark.
Source: Twitter/Richard Branson
3. Consistent Social Media Presence
- It’s proven that the best way to reach your audience is through social media.
- Major channels include Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Each of these platforms are used in notably different ways.
Facebook Groups are especially influential.
- Attribute this to the fact that Facebook’s algorithm liberally shares Group Posts in members’ News Feeds.
- Twitter remains relevant as a platform for possible influence in certain industries more than others. While you may not see as many foodies or fashionistas there, service professionals are everywhere (marketers included!).
- Other notable social media platforms include LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+. If you’re looking for how to become an influencer in the B2B space, you’ll want to be active there as well.
4. Patience, Persistence and Strong Collaboration Skills
You likely already know that you can purchase followers, likes and comments on Instagram. These “black hat” practices have spread far and wide. More than a few “influencers” are just faux accounts propped up on false engagement.
Doing it right means having patience and persistence. Connect with people by engaging with them honestly!
Respond to comments. Support others. Collaborate!
- Speaking of collaboration, the goal for any successful influencer is to generate partnerships with brands.
- Brands who are vetting potential influencers want to see what they’re potentially working with.
- A great way to showcase your ability to influence your community before you’ve landed your first real deal, is to create your own partnership opportunities with others.
Regardless of your niche, get creative and collaborate as often as possible. Not only will this organically grow your audience, but it provides examples of your partnership capabilities to big brands.
5. An Eye for Trends in a Changing Media Landscape
When it comes to how to be an influencer, the last important factor relates to trends in media.
- Thought leadership in your space is all about sharing your take on relevant trends and possibly even setting new ones.
- Understanding the changing media landscape ensures you’re on the right platform at the right time as technology and platform trends evolve.
With an increasing desire for authentic engagement, brands are creating endless opportunities for online influencers.
Even traditional media has jumped on board. As a result, Instagram influencers are being featured in print and television advertising almost as regularly as models and celebrities.
If you’re wondering how to become an influencer, follow these tips:
- Share original thoughts.
- Be authentic.
- Be consistent.
- Have patience and persistence.
- Finally, stay ahead of the trends.