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what is an influencer

Erin Smith - March 25, 2016

What is an Influencer?

When I first came to TapInfluence, one of the biggest challenges initially was explaining to my friends and family what I did. It would have been simple to say “software developer” or “saleswoman”. “Influencer marketing content specialist”, on the other hand? Not so much.

What is influencer marketing?” they’d ask. Or even more simply: “What is an influencer?”

If you’ve ever found yourself similarly stumped, this article will help. We’ll dive into our working definition of “influencer”, provide key characteristics that make this group unique and powerful, and bust one pervasive myth that may be causing confusion.

What is an Influencer?

On a basic level, an influencer is a real, relatable person who has attracted a loyal following on their blog or social media channels. We call them “influencers” because by inspiring others to follow them, they’ve earned the power to move those followers to action. Influencers can be powerful partners to brands, campaigns, and social causes, because others listen when they talk and care about what they have to say.

Unique Value

Influencers attract and keep followers because their work—whether it be a fashion-foward Instagram account, a funny Vine profile, or a recipe blog—provides unique value. People gravitate toward influencers for instruction, inspiration, entertainment, or advice. Many of the most successful influencers are those whose work falls into just a few categories—food, crafts, fitness, etc.—which we call “verticals”. Specializing in this way makes it easier for followers to find influencers who speak to the topics that specifically interest them.

Engaged Audience

The first step toward making a new friend is to find a person with interests similar to your own. The same holds true for influencers; influencers are passionate about their work, so their work attracts followers who share that passion. For this reason, people don’t just passively observe influencers. They connect with them on a personal and emotional level because they’re deeply invested in the content they produce. This connection means that an influencer’s opinion or recommendation is….well, influential to their followers.

Authentic Image

Influencers are self-made success stories; people who turned their creative outlets into beacons that others rally around. They pour personality into their work. A recipe on a food blog is a story, not just a list of ingredients and instructions. A reader might learn not just how to bake an apple pie, but also how the influencer baked it for her now-husband on their first date. A handbag on an influencer’s Instagram will likely be displayed like this:

what is an influencer
Tam from HelloFramboise.com, rocking a fabulous tote to the art museum on a crisp fall day.

Rather than this:

what is an influencer
Madonna for Louis Vuitton. Because we all recline on sofas in our underwear and dangle $3000 handbags from our stiletto heels…

As a woman shopping for a handbag: do you identify more with Tam’s depiction or Madonna’s?

Influencers don’t make it impossible for you to put yourself in their shoes. Their work is representative of life. People are drawn to them because they can relate.

Are celebrities influencers?

While celebrities are certainly influential, they don’t provide the same value that influencers do. Why? Because a celebrity’s authority is a product of their fame, whereas an influencer’s “fame” is a product of their authority.

Is your head spinning? Think of it like this: beauty vlogger Em Ford rose to Internet fame as a result of her well-produced and instructive makeup tutorials on YouTube. Taylor Swift became famous as a country and pop music singer, and has since landed an endorsement deal for CoverGirl. Who would you turn to for advice while searching for a new foundation?

With celebrities, there is often a significant disconnect between the work (as an actor, musician, etc.) that attracted their audience and the products they align with. So, while I love Eva Longoria because she was hilarious in Desperate Housewives (which I watched religiously for 5 seasons—no shame), I’d probably look past her Sheba cat food endorsement when shopping for my kitten’s dinner.

The bottom line: influencers are real people who are really good at something and earned the respect of others because of it. Their voices can be a powerful channel to help you drive your brand’s message home to your consumers in a way they will welcome. Are you interested in partnering with influencers for your next campaign? Our influencer marketplace is home to over 40,000 of them, and our end-to-end software solution can enable you to manage influencer workflows at scale. Download our complete Guide to Influencer Marketing Automation and learn how to manage all 5 critical components of a successful influencer marketing strategy. Click below to grab your copy.


what is an influencer