Understand the 2 types and who your customers are in answering this marketing question
The two types of influencers are self-created and those whose accomplishments make them influencers.
BY ALYSON DUTCH
Influencers. It’s a new title, a trendy new career path and something every entrepreneur thinks he or she needs.
But unless you are a fluent Instagram user, they can be elusive, even guarded by agents and publicists.
How do you reach them? More important, how do you know if you really need them?
While we’re at it, what exactly is an influencer?
Influencers and social media are a small part of a marketing tool kit. Before embarking on the marketing journey, you must ask yourself who your customers are. This will determine whether influencers and social media are a choice for you.
New term, old concept
There are two types of influencers: self-created and those whose accomplishments make them influencers.
The first have indeed reached stratospheric levels of significance recently. This happened because the internet democratizes exposure to anyone. Prior to this, gathering an audience required being on radio or a film/TV stage to get exposure from a screen or airwave.
What kinds of businesses need influencers, and is this really something new? The answer lies in defining the meaning of influence.
Influence has existed since the dawn of time. It has taken the form of chieftains, warlords, royalty, presidents, prime ministers, celebrities, experts, educators, governments, religious beliefs and probably much more.
People are influenced by those they admire, see as a role model or believe have something to teach them.
Influencer campaigns can be powerful; the self-appointed type is indeed new. Before you start spending money thinking this is the marketing Valhalla for your business, let’s see how this fits into the basic tenets of marketing.
Humans follow humans
The No. 1 marketing method is word of mouth. I call it the “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of that” response.
When we hear about the inventive strawberry rhubarb or chocolate pudding shakes with handspun vanilla whipped cream that are served at the Shake Shack, this paints a delicious mind picture of what your experience might be like at that burger chain. If you hear this from someone you admire or respect (and you like food), the chance of your trying the Shake Shack is extremely high.
Because humans can sense when something is unbiased versus biased, the likelihood of you spending your lunch dollars at the Shake Shack are much higher than if you saw an ad for the restaurant or if an influencer you liked was paid to say nice things about it.
No matter what time we live in—with prehistoric cavemen or when we will have microchips implanted in our arms to open doors, this will be true.
Like animals that herd, bees that swarm and fish that school, we are territorial animals. We gather in places that we consider safe and with the like-minded. When one member of that tribe displays leadership, wisdom or style, others follow.
In the 1940s, Betty Grable was such a big celebrity that her legs were insured for $1 million. In a publicity stunt for a maker of nylons at the time, DuPont, her stockings were auctioned at a war bond rally and fetched $40,000.
Not always a good match
Influence is relative.
If you Googled “top 5 celebrities of 2021,” songstress Billie Eilish tops the list, followed by Demi Lovato and Justin Bieber. After their names are their social media follower statistics, signaling the type of audience to whom they appeal.
If you’re talking about science, the list includes those dominating in the fields of quantum physics and virology. If you have a scientific product that needs to become known, would you be worrying about your social media, or what YouTuber you should be using for your marketing campaign?
Let’s say that product is a cooling coil for a quantum computer, and cooling is one of the biggest problems to overcome for quantum computing engineers. Influencers for you will be engineers and product developers in computer science at IBM, Hughes Research Labs and Google.
If you got your product in front of these people, they become your influencers. These thought leaders or experts could make or break your business—and because they have accomplishments behind their notoriety, their opinion is worth its weight in gold.
This is an unbiased opinion. Reporters are paid to do the same thing. This is why public relations is so valuable.
Creative use of influencing
Apple does an annual state-of-the-state address. Google did one this year for the first time called I/O, in which Sundar Pichai—CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet—outlines what the company is up to and where it’s going. For a public company, this is similar to a shareholder letter that Warren Buffett writes in his annual report.
I recently watched I/O because a good friend of mine is the lead engineer at Google and is building the quantum computer there.
For all the different parts of Google’s business, the department leads gave presentations. But when it came to one of the most influential things that Google is doing (quantum computing), it hired a celebrity, Michael Peña, to pithily question my friend Erik Lucero about the nature of quantum computing. It was entertaining and made a difficult subject more understandable.
In this case, the influencer is Google, which is using a celebrity from another world of “Oh, yeah, I know who that guy is” to interface with a PhD physicist to express this. What a brilliant use of influence!
The influencers people speak of today are self-appointed and using the viral nature of social media to look pretty or sound fun and collect as many others to watch them. After they’ve collected an audience of followers, this provides value and they charge money to talk about your stuff to that audience.
This is not really that different than The General or Icy Hot hiring Shaquille O’Neal to be a spokesperson. But unlike influencers of today, he has become an influencer because he’s already had a career of stupendous accomplishments in basketball.
Remember the 2 questions
The biggest question about the self-appointed influencers of social media today is: Why are their followers following them? If that reason matches what you’re trying to do, it may be worth paying them to say what you want them to say.
Before you choose an influencer or tastemaker in your sandbox, however, the most important thing you need to begin with is: Who is my customer? Where does he or she hang out? Who do they believe is influential?
This levels the playing field of choices and is the only way that any business—whether it makes cooling coils for quantum computers or designer shoes—must do if one expects to build a business or even sell an invention.
Social media audiences
Even if your customer is someone who spends plenty of time on social media, he or she still may not be influenced by influencers. First, get clear about social media audiences.
- Pinterest tends to attract mommies and aspirational young women.
- LinkedIn is a business networking place.
- Twitter tends to be more international.
- Instagram is image driven and younger than the written-word- forward Facebook.
- TikTok is video central for pre-teens and teens.
- Snapchat is for younger audiences but specifically those who don’t want a lasting footprint of their posts.
- YouTube is a wide audience, and only videos.
- Weibo and WeChat are used by Chinese speakers for everything from IM to shopping and payment.
Each of those audiences are influenced by different things.
For example, iGen aka GenZ (ages 9-26 in 2021) will likely buy mascara from a beauty influencer who has been paid to say nice things about it and not think twice about the bias they were just suckered into. These young people grew up on social media, so culturally, they define personal worth by social media popularity.
A Baby Boomer or Gen X (57-75 and 42-56) would generally not be as wooed to buy and consider being paid to recommend or “sell out.” Two very different customers—neither better than the other but influenced differently.