There has been a question weighing on my mind ever since I saw Momentum World Wide’s recorded panel from Social Media Week: “What the F*** is an Influencer?” It was very thought provoking, not to mention they asked and discussed the question that every marketer has been thinking lately: What the f*** is an influencer?”

The short answer is that an influencer cannot be defined. You can’t force someone to lie down in an influencer mold and there they will stay for every campaign for every brand. You can’t quantify an influencer with a number like Klout or Twitter followers. In fact, an influencer is unique to every brand and brand’s campaign.

Here are my favorite points that Momentum’s moderator and panel brought up in the discussion. Though it’s an hour, I highly recommend listening to the whole thing here. If your boss is uneasy about you using an hour to listen to it, have them email me so I can explain how beneficial it is to your marketing strategy.

Numbers Are a Starting Point, Not the Defining Factor

Twitter followers, Facebook Likes, Klout and Kred tell us if someone is popular not influential. Popularity means that a lot of people will read their words while influential means that someone will trust their words and act on a recommendation.

These numbers can tell us an influencer’s reach which is a good thing to know but the decision making process shouldn’t stop there…

The “Hotness” of the Term

The term influencer is not grasped as easily as it’s thrown around. It’s like everyone is “doing it” but they don’t know how “to do it.”

It’s hard to put a number on quality so the focus needs to and is starting to shift to context and loyalty.

Influencers Are…

  • Different for every brand and every brand’s campaign
  • Aligned contextually with your brand
  • People with loyal followers who trust them
  • Individuals who have a quality audience before quantity
  • People with the ability to attract the right people to your brand
  • Authentic in their recommendations
  • Credible

Influencers Are Not

Though it’s extremely difficult to identify or quantify an influencer, it’s easy to determine what influencers are not.

  • Insincere in their mentions
  • People who mention your brand only because you paid or bribed them to (paid is okay as long as the influencer truly digs your brand)
  • In a genre different than your brand
  • Determined by numeric scores

Influencers are an Opt in Network

An influencer’s audience makes a decision to follow them. Unlike traditional and outdated brand exposure in which an audience didn’t have a choice but to see a commercial because they didn’t want to find the remote or didn’t have a choice but to see a billboard because it was “just there,” today’s marketing channels are opt in.

Because the audience wants to be there (there being Twitter, a blog post, etc.) they are soaking up a recommendation and when you find influencers who are good fits, their words can propel your brand along quite nicely.

Thanks to conversations and articles in the realm of Momentum’s panel, the shape of an influencer is starting to appear a little less foggy to marketers and PR professionals. When we have a clear understanding of what an influencer looks like, it’s time to locate the influencers for our brand or client’s brand. Luckily there are influencer targetting tools like GroupHigh to help you locate influencers based on any specs that you see fit.

What is the number one defining trait of an influencer for your brand? I’d love to get a discussion going in the comments below!