In today’s digital world, people have more access than ever before to the opinions of other people. This ability to share information in an instantaneous fashion means that your brand – for better or worse – will probably be discussed on a social media site. To make sure that the right people are saying the right things, considering the benefits of reaching out to influencers is key.

WHAT IS A SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCER?

In the most basic sense of the term, an influencer is someone who has a large group of online followers, and has influence over those followers’ opinions and buying decisions. In a slightly more specific sense, an influencer is a person who is popular, famous, or considered an expert in his or her certain area. For example, any celebrity might be an influencer; a journalist might be an influencer; or even a well-known community member might be an influencer.

To make the term even less generalized, thinking about an influencer in terms of power of engagement – or the number of people who engage with the influencer on a regular basis – rather than just the number of followers alone is important.

SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCERS DEFINITION

Social media influencers are those influencers mentioned above who make a big splash on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+. A great article published in SocialMediaToday breaks social media influencers into five primary categories – the networker, the opinion leader, the discoverer, the sharer, and the user.

The networker is the social media influencer who has a wide reach – he’s on every social media platform known to man, has a friend list that will make you feel bad about yourself, and updates his status about once every five seconds. The opinion leader isn’t as popular as the networker, but his followers think he’s credible, and believe in what he says. After the opinion leader comes the discoverer – also known as the trendsetter – who does exactly that: sets trends. The trendsetter is the first to like something new, knows about everything popular, and sees a YouTube video before it even goes viral.

The two final social media influencers are the sharer and the user. The former is the reporter, or the person who distributes information about a brand in the form of articles, journals, or other news report. The latter is your average Joe, the person who uses a product and talks about it with his social circle. While the user doesn’t have a huge following or much influence on a large audience, he still does have weight over those in his network, making him an important influencer to keep in mind.

WHAT MAKES AN INFLUENCER INFLUENTIAL?

Those who are considered social media influencers acquired their status for a reason, not by chance. Influencers have certain characteristics that make them stand out as thought leaders and those who have authority over buyer decisions. The key characteristics of a great influencer include:

Trustworthiness: The primary, and most important, aspect of a great influencer is that they’re considered by their followers to be trustworthy. By establishing a reputation as a person that makes great recommendations or knows what trends are hot, an influencer slowly builds authority with his followers. If trustworthiness fades, then the level of influence will simultaneously decline.

Great Communication Abilities: Good influencers are effective communicators; if they weren’t, their reach wouldn’t be nearly what it is. Influencers talk to others in the online world, expand their social circles rapidly, and are the first to offer an opinion or review about a brand.

Value: Even if you are a great communicator and are honest and trustworthy, if you aren’t held in high regard by a large (we’re talking tens of hundreds) group of people, becoming an influencer can be difficult. One of the reasons that influencers have the influence they do is because their opinion is considered valuable for whatever reason. Maybe they’re someone famous, like Bill Gates, or maybe they’re someone who has worked really hard to establish a name for themselves as an influencer, like Liz Strauss. Regardless of why, an influencer possesses a certain value that makes their words worth the weight of gold when it comes to an opinion on a brand.

HOW TO GET INFLUENCERS TO WORK FOR YOU

There’s no doubt about it: influencers are one of the most important aspects of a successful marketing strategy, because word-of-mouth marketing (i.e., the opinions about a company as stated by a consumer) is one of the most effective ways to reach people and increase brand awareness. As such, getting industry influencers to boost your social media outreach can rev up your marketing campaign overnight.

The first step that must be taken is finding relevant influencers that you can reach out to. Keeping it realistic is important – it’s unlikely that Oprah or Jay-Z is going to offer your small business an endorsement. However, community members, local celebrities, or even thought leaders (like popular bloggers), can be potential influencers. And you don’t have to do it alone – online tools such as AdvoWire are designed to help you build meaningful relationships with those who can act as social media influencers.

Once you’ve found a few influencers that would be worth reaching out to, it’s time to make contact. Rather than bombarding their inbox with an endorsement request, approach the task while staying cool and collected. Social media sites, specifically LinkedIn and Google+, are a great way to make an initial connection. Introduce yourself, and build up a friendly reputation.

Finally, if you want an influencer to share your brand’s content, your content has to be worth sharing. If you aren’t already utilizing content optimization strategies, you need to start. By creating something unique and interesting, engaging or captivating, you’ll inspire people to share your content without even having to ask. To keep the trend going when an influencer does share your content, make sure you express thanks to foster a great relationship. Lastly, you should use a metrics-measuring site like Google Analytics to track the number of people talking about you online, how many visitors to your social media site you’re receiving, and what people are saying about your brand.