How Brands Can Identify the Best Influencers

Opinion: Here's how to find influencers who will move the needle for your brand

The use of celebrity endorsements has a long and interesting history. To market his china and pottery in the 1760s, Josiah Wedgwood solicited the endorsement of royals to set his products above the competition. It worked. Wedgwood china was perceived as more valuable than other china, even though it was essentially the same.

When Queen Charlotte used his plates, Wedgwood elevated his own status to “Potter to Her Majesty” and milked it by selling at exorbitant prices to nobles, and then later at reduced prices to the middle class. It was a brilliant marketing strategy then, and it hasn’t changed much over the centuries.

Today we call personal endorsements “influencer marketing,” and it’s not limited to celebrities. Now that everyone has unfettered access to almost everyone in the world, ordinary people are becoming internet-famous on the strength of their looks, personality, topic authority or lifestyle.

Brands have noticed. Even the biggest brands are turning to regular people, just like you and me, who have built highly engaged audiences.

Brian Mechem, co-founder and chief operating officer of influencer marketing platform Grin, explained:

Anyone with an online personality has the potential to be an influencer brands want to court … but it takes hard work, focus and attention to develop the trust necessary to be effective. The right influencer, with the right audience, can have a huge impact. But hiring just any random person with a big following is a great way to waste your advertising spend.

Here’s how to find influencers who will move the needle for your brand.

Know your audience: Make a list of influencers who reach the same audience interested in your industry. Does the influencer’s audience reflect your ideal customer? If you’re keeping close tabs on your customers and using predictive analytics to build a profile of your most valuable prospects (and you should be), you already know quite a lot about the audience you want to reach. Look for popular influencers on the social media channels where your ideal customer most likely to be active.

Understand the influencer potential of your industry: Influencers are in demand. Not every industry attracts a passionate, engaged audience, but many do. Some great (and broad) examples: travel, family and parenting, alcohol, food, beauty, fashion, technology, cars and health.

Some bloggers combine intersecting topics, like Table for Two. In addition to writing about recipes and reviews of local restaurants, Washington, D.C., food blogger Julie Wampler chronicles food in her travels, adding an extra layer of interest and expanding her audience, which also expands your audience.

Evaluate reach: The most effective influencers have 10,000 to 100,000 highly engaged followers. You don’t need—or even want—a Kardashian. It’s more important to find influencers who are authentic and engaged.

Check their skill set: Successful influencers use different media. People who post graphics and infographics, make videos, livestream and produce podcasts are more likely to attract shares and engagement than those who do only one thing. A talented creative will spice up your social media efforts with polls, questions and opinionated stance on industry issues.

Gauge impact: True influencers produce content that people want to share and link to. Look for great headlines, interesting tweets and interesting content.

Look for a mix of content: Successful communicators mix it up. Great blogs have evergreen content that tends to be a bit more stodgy, short clickbait content with an immediate “newsy” feel and in-depth content that thoroughly explores a subject. Great Pinterest and Instagram accounts offer photos and graphics that evoke a feeling and invite comment, through subject or quality.

Go local: Brands that have customers in limited areas can use micro-influencer marketing on a smaller scale by tapping people popular in their immediate areas. Retailers in the legal marijuana business, for example, are likely to have more success with people who have a few thousand followers in a state where weed is legal than with a YouTube star with 100,000 global followers.

Embrace personality: If it fits your brand and demographics, look for influencers who stand out by being unique, enthusiastic, quirky and inventive.
Jenna Marbles is one of the top influencers on YouTube. Her brand is all about quirky personality.

Be consistent with your image: Brands build a careful image, and your influencers should fit. Avoid people with online mood swings unless your brand is chaos. If your audience is happy family and your influencer suddenly starts posting angry, bitter posts about their personal relationships, you risk alienating the audience you’ve earned. Check the influencer’s history for consistent voice and messaging.

Successful influencers work at being interesting, growing their networks and connecting with brands and other influencers. When you land a great influencer, be sure to back them up with reciprocal publicity. It’s a two-way street; you grow your own brand as your influencer grows with honest, authentic and not overly commercial engagement.

Sherry Gray is a freelance content writer from Key West, Fla., currently suffering in the suburbs of Orlando. She is a science geek, a social media junkie and an unapologetic fan of all things bacon. Follow her on Twitter: @SheriSaid.

“Influencer” image courtesy of marekuliasz/iStock.