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Influencer marketing has evolved from being an experimental channel to one of the most powerful strategies in a brand marketer’s arsenal.
As the influencer marketing market matures, a number of distinct categories of influencers are emerging. In this article, I provide frameworks for classifying the different types of influencers available to your brand. I answer the question: who is an influencer?
What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing represents a seismic shift in marketing – from ad-powered tactics to people-powered programs. It consists of brands developing relationships with key individuals to promote their brand message. Rather than buying an ad to reach people, brands collaborate with an individual to reach audiences through their online channels.
We call these individuals influencers.
So, who is an influencer?
We define an influencer as an individual with an online presence who has the potential to influence the opinions and behaviors of your target audience.
Based on that definition, the pool of available influencers is gigantic. Facebook alone has over 1.5 billion monthly active users. The NeoReach search engine has identified over 3M influencer profiles across social media network. To help you navigate this space, I’ve designed a model to help you segment the pool of available influencers.
4 types of influencers
1. Content creators & bloggers
This category includes individuals who rose to prominence by creating online content. They have developed a following via their blog or any of the major social platforms including YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, YouNow, Twitch, and Snapchat.
Some also have a niche (or Industry Vertical) – think gaming, beauty, fashion, et al. – but this is not always the case. They all, however, tend to be tastemakers for sizeable communities, and provide some form of online entertainment or information.
Examples include fashion YouTuber Chriselle Lim, Instagram photographer Theron Humphrey, and mommy blogger Pamela Maynard.
These are the influencers that have attracted the most attention from brands and have become the new celebrities for millennials.
2. Traditional celebrities
The lines between social content creators and traditional celebrities is becoming ever more blurred. For now, however, traditional celebrities are individuals who have achieved fame via “traditional” channels – music records, Hollywood movies, TV series, sports, etc.
Notable examples include Taylor Swift with 75 million followers on Twitter, Cristiano Ronaldo with 115 million followers on Facebook, and Kim Kardashian with 78 million followers on Instagram.
Historically, the most popular online channels for traditional celebrities have been Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Recently, however, many traditional celebrities, like DJ Khaled, are leading the social exodus to Snapchat.
Although traditional celebrities often have a very large social media reach, there is evidence suggesting that content creators and bloggers have greater influence over their followers.
3. Thought leaders & industry experts
These are individuals who have achieved respect and influence based on their expertise or track record in a specific subject matter. Influencers in this category include venture capitalist Marc Andreessen and marketing guru Seth Godin.
They tend to be blog-based, but some rest their authority on social channels such as Twitter or LinkedIn.
These influencers must be approached differently than other influencers. As industry experts, they will heavily scrutinize any potential endorsement before giving it, and most of them will not accept payment for the endorsement.
4. Micro-influencers & brand ambassadors
These are everyday people who are hired by brands to increase brand awareness or sales. Brand ambassadors have small social media accounts and generally do not reach many people beyond their core group of family and friends. They generally include happy customers and employees.
The advantage of working with micro-influencers is the increased depth of relationship between the influencer and their followers. However, the major drawback is that since each micro-influencer has a small reach, in order to reach a large audience one must coordinate a lot of micro-influencer relationships, which can be resource constraining.
Additional influencer categories
In addition to categorizing influencers by type, there are a couple more ways to segment the pool of available influencers. These include:
- By industry vertical: fashion, gaming, digital marketing, etc.
- By channel: YouTube, blogs, Snapchat, etc.
- By audience demographic: gender distribution, age distribution, location, etc.
- By follower size: The exact tier boundaries vary, but most marketers agree that influencers can be grouped into top tier (over 1M followers), mid-tier (20K-1M), and micro (under 20K).
The lines between the influencer categories are blurred. Yet, each influencer segment has a unique offering. Running a powerful influencer marketing program requires a strong campaign strategy, which includes proper influencer segmentation.