What Is an Influencer? Troubled Times Demand a Fresh Formula

Opinion: It would behoove us to have a working agreed-to definition

There must be an easier way to figure out if someone is an influencer francescoch/iStock

What do Justin Bieber and former President Barack Obama have in common? These hunky (to their followers!) men each lost more than 2 million followers in Twitter’s recent purge of fake accounts.

And just a few weeks before, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Unilever global chief marketing officer Keith Weed announced a three-step plan for cleaning up the ecosystem of influencer marketing that included removing misleading engagement. His call to arms: “We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever.”

With this sort of scrutiny on the role of influencers in social media marketing—real, versus purchased or fake influencers, micro versus macro, bots—Shareablee thought it might be helpful to bring about some definition as to exactly what an influencer is, at least by our measurement.

While there is no hard definition as to what exactly constitutes an influencer, Shareablee uses numeric cues to assist. We offer our approach here as a guide for the industry to base their decisions upon.

The first thing we look at is to assess the nature of influence. What does it actually mean for an individual to be capable of influencing other consumers to take action? Do influencers influence sales, attitudes, opinions, time spent, or nothing? Influencers are genuinely people with complex backgrounds and attitudes, so each must be assessed individually.

From there, Shareablee measures influence based upon three factors:

  1. Reach: Is this an individual whose actual metrics warrant brand interest and trust? While there is a trend for micro-influencers, they need to be carefully monitored—and amassed—to have real impact.
  2. Real connection: Does this individual have an audience who already cares about the potential partner? (Meaning: If an audience cares deeply about beer and you want to talk to them about wine, it may not be a good fit).
  3. Impact: Did the campaign move the needle for the advertiser when it comes to key performance indicators, in a measurable (and predictable) way? For this factor, Shareablee evaluates whether the influencer’s content is created consistently, regularly, and have they found their voice or is what they are posting about all over the place? The next step in assessing impact is looking at data on how that influencer is on the rise, stalling or trending downward. Engagement relative to audience size is another part of assessing impact. For example, an influencer with a following of 100,000 people, of whom 50,000 regularly engage, is worth more than an influencer with 1 million people, of whom 10,000 regularly engage. And while it is wise to take into account a normalized view of engagement, size does matter: How big is the overall buzz, enthusiasm and level of activity that this influencer is creating? Is it big enough to even be worth it to the brand in terms of scale? (See my point about reach.)

Combining these and other subsidiary elements, Shareablee’s influencer score can be used to quickly determine the real impact of a potential influencer—prior to an engagement, not just after it. As Twitter’s big clean out and ongoing revelations of false accounts adding zero value to brands shows, it’s time to apply a logical and more measured approach to choosing social influencers. Fortunately, cross platform social data, when used effectively, turns social influencer connections into wisely placed, effective and measurable campaigns.

As has often been said in our industry, if you can’t define it, you can’t measure it. And if you can’t measure it, you can’t monetize it.

Tania Yuki is founder and CEO of social intelligence provider Shareablee.