Influencer marketing is becoming a widely popular way for brands to spread the word about their products or services, and one of the newest avenues for companies and individuals alike to rise to the top when compared to their competitors. Sound new to you? Influencer marketing happens on a daily basis in your own life.

Have your friends ever let you know they tried — and loved — the restaurant you recommended? Have you ever gone out and tried a certain food or drink that your friend told you about? Made a purchase based on the recommendation of someone you respect or trust? In each of these scenarios, the people who made the recommendations are the influencers — people who have established themselves as the authorities or leaders in a certain area and are willing to share the knowledge and expertise they’ve gained over the years.

Word-of-mouth marketing is nothing new. For hundreds of years, people have relied on their friends and colleagues for information on everything from health and wellness to child-rearing dining, and religion. Just recently, though a formal trade association was formed to pull together the top leaders in word-of-mouth and social media marketing. WOMMA started in 2004, and over the last 12 years, has become a leader in pulling together the industry’s leaders for advocacy, training and education, research, and networking. They’ve found that online word-of-mouth marketing produces one-third of measured business impact, a fact that has caught the attention of marketers looking to add influencer marketing to their toolbox.

Pulling in the Power of Social Proof

Do you remember the times your mother used to ask the unforgettable question, “If all your friends jumped off a building, (or cliff, or other tall structure), would you jump, too?” Her infamous words are the proof that social proof is an active part of many people’s everyday lives.

Influencer and word-of-mouth marketing are both so effective because they reel in the power of social proof, or social influence, which occurs when people make a decision or take an action they assume to be correct because others have done so. This is a more powerful route than many realize. Nielsen found that 92 percent of worldwide consumers said that they trust earned media, like word-of-mouth or reviews from family and friends, over any other advertising form.

This powerful advertising tool was studied as early as 1935, by Muzafer Sherif, who asked individuals to gauge the distance a light source was moving, or appeared to move, as an autokinetic effect made it appear to shift, when, in reality, it never moved. Each individual gave a personal response, which remained consistent over several different attempts. A few days later, the individuals were grouped together, and the group came to a common estimate. Following the group exercise, individuals were once again presented with the light experiment and asked to state the distance the light moves. This time, rather than stating the first number they’d guessed, their answer changed to be more consistent with the group’s judgment.

These individuals were using the bias of others to define their reality, and multiple studies since then have proven the same — social proof, or showing how many people have done or liked something, can be a strong influence when people are making purchasing decisions.

Key Characteristics of the Best Influencers

There are five different types of social proof: expert, celebrity, user, wisdom of the crowds, and wisdom of your friends. Influencer marketing pulls, primarily, from the first three categories, as these are individuals who are highly regarded as experts or users of the product or brand they are promoting, or are celebrities who have a more expansive reach than the average person.

Influencers may fall into two categories: a broad influence that leads individuals to seek out their opinions in multiple categories or subject areas, or a highly focused niche that makes them stand out from others in their industry. Understanding more about influencers will help you make the best choice when seeking out the best person for your influencer marketing plan.

Influence vs. Reach

Influencers are known as such because they have an expansive reach. Their reach, however, isn’t what makes them an influencer. They have a qualified reach — a reach that matches the demographic of the brands for which they are influencing. An influencer wouldn’t use their pull for one political candidate when their demographic overwhelmingly supports the other party. When you’re looking for an influencer, look for one whose followers match your target audience and demographic. Then, start to share their content. As they start to notice you are sharing, they’ll begin to do the same for you.

Influence vs. Marketing

Influencer marketing may be a type of marketing, led and strategically shaped by marketers, but the influencers themselves aren’t marketers. They are content creators, bloggers, reporters, and analysts. They are CEOs and leaders, pioneers in their fields who aren’t afraid to speak out on an issue that affects their specialty.

Marketers, on the other hand, are skilled at defining and reaching their audience, but the end goal is typically focused on sales or selling. Influencers, on the other hand, want to inform. They want to open up the lines of conversation, and will use what they’ve learned or experienced with a brand to make their voice heard. Seek out an influencer who is able to guide and lead, rather than one who just shares your content without any commentary. Instead of “selling” them on your brand, make sure the content you share is relevant to them, and adds value.

Influencers vs. Advocates

Influencers are advocates — but not all advocates are influencers. An advocate is someone who pushes for and cheers on their cause or area of interest. They appreciate the subject, they cheer on the subject, and they recommend the subject, but they aren’t necessarily the ones that push their friends and families to purchase.

Influencers go behind the scenes to find and publish new information, open and spark new conversations, and ask thought-provoking questions. They might challenge the company for which they are using their influence to branch out or provide new details about their products. More importantly, they are memorable. They stand above the crowds and lead.

Experts in their Specific Fields

Influencers don’t fall into the “jack-of-all-trades” category. They are masters of their highly specific focus area and know the ins and outs of their niche. Not only can they take technical, complicated material and break it down for their followers to understand, but they’ve got such a deep understanding of their field that they can predict future trends and capabilities, with the ability to gauge the direction of the field. They can direct the conversation, respond to rebuttals to their research and pieces, and command the attention of everyone interested in that exact field.

Responsive and Engaging

In your social media management, you’ve surely stumbled across someone with a tremendous following. Look at Candace Payne. Never heard of her? Possibly, burt you’ve surely seen or heard about her video. In May, she went to return a shirt to Kohl’s, and picked up a Chewbacca mask in the clearance bin. She hopped on Facebook, went live with a video, and received more than 3.3 million shares, 1.6 thousand comments, and 2.9 million responses. The mask she wore sold out on Kohl’s Web site, at Target, and is going for four times the original price from private sellers on Amazon. In addition, Kohl’s got a huge publicity boost.

Payne responds to comments on her page, jokes with people, shows off the services she likes, and now has more than 845,000 followers on her Facebook page. An influencer is someone who is genuine, interactive, and accessible. They don’t respond to every comment, tweet or post on their page, but they are active and human, showing their emotions, excitements, fears, and sadness.

Top Ways to Find Influencers

Social Media

In your social media marketing, you’ve probably seen ads appearing in your news feed from people with posts that interest you or catch your eye. Good social media management involves knowing how to use the platforms to your best advantage; that includes utilizing the search tool to find out people in your industry with a high reach.

On both Facebook and Twitter, you can use the search tools to find influencers. Reviewing Twitter’s analytics and searching for your niche’s hashtags can lead you to the top influencers in your industry. On Facebook, and LinkedIn, you can search for and join groups for your industry and follow the people leading the conversations. On any social media platform, the influencer shouldn’t just have a high fan base, but should also have a high engagement rate.

Search Engine

Look up keywords and search for blogs and writers whose primary focus is the same as yours. Whether you use Google, a blog search engine like Blog Digger, Ice Rocket, or Technorati, or another search engine, pinpointing your brand’s keywords is vital to being able to reach your industry’s top influencers.

Tech Tools

There are plenty of sites that measure social media influence, like BuzzSumo, Followerwonk, Klout, Kred, Linkdex, Little Bird, and Traackr. Each has a specific focus, with some centered on certain social media platforms. Others provide a variety of reporting tools, and many offer multiple integrations. Once you’ve used social media and search engines to identify your top influencers, these tools will help you narrow down the best ones for your field.

Become your own Influencer

One of the best ways to promote your brand accurately and make waves in your industry is to become an influencer. Start by identifying your niche with a very focused, detailed definition, and center your research and content on that area. Stay consistent and patient, and don’t be scared to speak out. Working with a Los Angeles influencer marketing company like Stranger Social can help place you at the top of your industry and interject your thought leadership into your industry’s circles.

As an experienced Los Angeles social media company, we know how to find influencers and get your brand seen. Contact us today to learn how you can reach or become the top influencer in your industry.