What Is a Social Media Influencer?

The buzz word of the past few years has been influencers and because of its buzzword status it has taken on a meaning so bland, it is almost useless. An influencer is literally any person with influence. That can be a celebrity or the owner of a local business who influences what people wear in a small town. However, a social media influencer is a specific type of individual who has influence across social media spheres. They are also a key part of growing your  business’s online presence and more importantly your social media following.

A social media influencer is one who exerts influence over an audience of any size on any variety of social media platforms.

However, as I argue in my forthcoming book “You Don’t Need Social Media Unless You are Doing It Right: A Small Business Guide to Social Media” that type of influencer isn’t necessarily relevant:

The most effective influencers are not the people at the bottom with one follower, nor are they the people at the very top with all the followers. They are the people who have moderately sized followings and who have audiences in more than one circle.

Think about it this way:

  • The person at the apex of an influencer pyramid (i.e. the “most important name” or the person with the biggest following on a topic) has a lot of authority but they only talk about one thing like sneakers.

  • The person at the bottom of the influencer pyramid might talk about a lot of things or about a singular thing but they likely have too few followers for it to be worth your time to engage with them.

  • The real influencers who provide brand value are those in between the bottom and the top who have influencer in multiple segments i.e. sneakers and ice cream and have a moderate to decent number of followers. These are connectors.

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell defines connectors as, “a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances.” Steven Johnson, in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, discusses this social construct even further. He argues that it is not just that connectors are sharing information across different groups – it is that they are sharing information that comes from a different context.

This difference is context i.e. someone who is not just an ice cream enthusiast but also a lover of crime dramas  and 18th Century Chinese art helps an idea to permeate new information networks that create idea spread. Not only do ideas spread that way but that as ideas or concepts cross groups, they begin to innovate and change other people’s ideas.

People’s ideas change because they are being hit with information that is new and novel to them. This is the real way that you change broad scale perception and why you begin an influencer approach.

You need your topic to spread into new audiences where it would not otherwise spread because you only have access to your limited audience. When you identify connector-influencers (who from here out we will simply call influencers) you are able to scale your ideas out to audiences where these ideas, in part because they are new, can make a broader impact.

The growth of an idea then comes not from the size of the audience following a specific person but rather their ability to transmit ideas across multiple channels. These people are more effective than other types of influencers because they possess the ability to cross-pollinate.

A real social media influencer is someone who helps a message spread through crosspolinating it across different channels. As you begin to source influencers, you should be looking for not just those at the apex of their relevance but for those who are connector-influencers and can help your idea spread outside of your segmented audience.

There is a fascinating TED talk by Dave Troy who maps social media maps with geographic maps and shows the ghetto-ization of ideas within social communities. Therein, we see the role of the connector-influencer brought to life as they are someone who quite literally traverses social divides. That is the social media influencer who matters. That is the one you want to create partnerships with as you grow your channels and think about new and different means of growing a social media following.

So, I ask you: how are you developing your influencer plan? What are you doing to ensure that you are finding connector – influencers? I will discuss this more in the next post.

Cross-Pollination Thinking About Social Media Like a Biz Dev Manager

When people talk about social media they focus primarily on the platforms. What they speak less often about is the community i.e. the intangible focus of the primary platforms. Community is ultimately the creation goal of social media and we believe we need this community because it will do what?

That’s right: drive sales.

Like all communities, though, it has a relatively finite size. There are only so many people who will have known of or heard about your brand and that size of people will not increase rapidly but slowly as new people are introduced or discover your brand. The community rate of increase can be scaled up by introducing things like advertising or by thinking about community in the same way that a business development manager thinks about growth.

Business Development focuses on identifying and creating partnerships that can be leveraged for driving revenue, increasing distribution or enhancing a product. These are principles that can be similarly used to increase and enhance your social media channels to also drive revenue, increase distribution and enhance a product (in this case the product would be your social media platforms). If you take this partnership based model, you can begin to grow your community exponentially by also dipping into the communities of other people.

Social Media Growth Through Partnershsip

The dark blue spaces show where you overlap in your community and this is where you should begin to identify other communities that may be of interest to your current community and where you have the potential for growth. However, you have the possibility of getting the entirety or a large portion of the rest of the partnership community if you execute the partnership in the right way. This is something that people routinely forget.

In the next post, we will share how to identify partnership opportunities, find the right partners, build social media partnerships and put this into practice.

Have you tried this model to grow your audience? Learn more in our e-course coming soon!