Is influence and having a large following a must have for social media professionals today?

The answer is: depends.

Yes, we are still seeing tons and tons of articles, podcasts, and even roles now being created for influencer marketing. Influence on social media is not only influencing the profession as we see it for marketing and public relations for example, but the economy as well. It’s become part of the DNA of the field, but it also is transforming into a specialization that is filled with some concerns, yet opportunities if done right.

Let’s address the number of followers issue when it comes to social media. We are still seeing the criteria within the industry if you are hiring for a certain speaker, getting partnerships with brands and organizations, and other amazing opportunities.

This is definitely being played out of  course in other high profile industries like the entertainment and sports arenas. Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) mentioned how her social media following was a deciding factor for her when it came to acting jobs. Crossfit athletes have used their own social media following to help grow the sport, which of course leads to more partnerships, endorsements, and other great opportunities.

With all of these opportunities up for grabs, it is somewhat like the Wild, Wild West for people to get these opportunities. Forget the days of FOMO for getting the latest and greatest tool. Instead, the FOMO is missing out on these paid partnerships and experiences in some cases.

Another issue that keeps coming up is how EASY it is to buy followers, likes, and comments to present the “false” image of influence. Kerry Flynn from Mashable wrote this great article about this, and how brands (and professors) need to be aware of this. Not only is this considered to be unethical because it is presenting yourself in not a truthful light, but also it can be linked in some cases to fraud.

I think it is important to note that numbers may not always be important to focus on, but influence (your ability to persuade others to take action) does. This was something Gary Vaynerchuk emphasized in this post.

So, how do you determine if someone is “really” influential?” Here are a few tips:

  • Look at the numbers. See if the following accounts match with the interaction on the platform. If they do not, this raises some questions of credibility and trustworthiness. We are seeing more and more people discussing this in the community, and in some cases, calling out professionals who have made their name as “influencers” in certain areas.
  • Evaluate the health of their community online. This is something where we are seeing a lot of influencers create their own groups and communities to expand their reach even more. You may want to see if 1) an influencer has even done this or 2) if they did, how are they engaging with their audiences? Are they interactive and engaging, or are they using them to promote themselves?
  • Evaluate them on whether or not they are “staying in their lane.” This is another issue we are seeing with influencers. Sometimes they label themselves as an influencer, or now we are seeing the emphasis on being a “content creator” to be more prominently used for keynote speaking engagements and introductions. Aren’t influencers and content creators the same? Not necessary – so you want to see who is staying true to what they are able to bring to the table for brands and campaigns, and who is trying to rebrand themselves as something else.
  • Look at not how many people are reaching out to the influencer, but see what they are saying. Sentiment analysis is not only used for brands, but can be used to evaluate social media influencers as well. Are the messages that are being sent to the influencer “real” – or are they artificial in nature? Looking for language patterns is going to be important here to determine who is real in the audience group, and who isn’t.
  • If you are looking for influencers, you may want to check and see if you are reaching out to the right group. This is what adidas did – they were able to determine bloggers, instead of athletes, made for better influencers for their brand based on their analysis. Taking the time to do extra research is going to be necessary in making sure you are reaching the right people with the right spokesperson (or in this case, influencer) for a campaign.
  • “Call those who have been buying followers, likes, etc. out.” I would say there are many ways to approach this. I know there are some people who have done this in private FB groups and other closed networks. Others have done this publicly. I think these conversations could be done privately, but it is important to educate others on not only why this should not be done, but perhaps brainstorm ways this could be addressed and tied into ethical policies for the profession.

In summary, we are going to continue to see more people get star-struck with the notion that these influencers are above everyone else. Yes, they may have a strong following and numbers that showcase their reach, but that is what they are leveraging: their reach. Are they marketing their knowledge and creativity in the industry? Perhaps – there are some amazing people who are in the business and are truly brilliant with how they engage their audiences. These are ones who are successful.

There is definitely a necessary combination for an influencer to be successful. Content is still going to be crucial to have, along with having a strong brand voice and a dedication to fostering an authentic community. Yet, until the industry and others call out those who try to dope and pull a fast one on the industry with their tricks on presenting false influence and credibility, this will continue to be an issue.

Hope you all are having a great day!

Best Wishes,