By Darren Gilbert

The result of declining trust is that the power to influence has shifted from a brand to the consumer. With social media, that influence has only increased.

What exactly is a social media influencer?

As a term, a social media influencer seems straight forward. At its root, it’s someone on social media who has the power to influence someone else to make a decision. Pointing that out may make it appear as if it’s a negative thing. But it’s not.

However, for social media marketer, Theresa Potratz, as a term, ‘social media influencer’ is taboo. “When I hear the term I think of Margaret Thatcher saying ‘Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

The real influencers, according to Potratz, are the ones who have amassed a large following on their own right. “They are engaging their community and providing valuable insight,” she says.

Don Anderson, regional MD for We Are Social, Singapore, agrees: “They [are those who] have managed to acquire a distinct and broad following, typically by adopting a unique approach to their communications, interaction with the community and/or presence in, or knowledge of, a particular industry or subject area.”

Who is worth their salt?

In order to become a Webfluential Influencer, you have to have more than 1000 followers on Twitter. This makes sense. As Nate Smitha points out in an article for Simply Measured, the foundation of influencer is reach, resonance and relevance. And that comes with many followers.

However, a number doesn’t necessarily make you a good influencer. Or more importantly, an effective one.

For one, you can’t measure a good influencer by the amount of their followers. After all, you can buy followers. Instead, it’s about how they communicate with their audience. Anderson explains: “When identifying and engaging influencers … focus on [the] platforms they present on, their communications approach (tone and voice), and follower engagements.”

Potratz is another to not look at audience size first. “I want to see their name in a variety of publications. I want to see them post regularly. When they are present, their value increases as more or a known entity in the industry.”

How do you use them effectively?

So then how should brands be using them?

“Before marketers engage with influencers, they need to be certain of what they hope to achieve,” says Anderson. Influencer engagement programmes have some similarity to celebrity endorsement deals in that the terms of engagement need to be clearly stated from the beginning.

“Marketers also need to respect the relationship that influencers have with their followers,” continues Anderson. These relationships are largely based on trust and thus those influencers you approach will try to present a sense of authenticity, which creates a deeper bond with their community.

At the same time, don’t fawn over people, points out Potratz. “Find someone who cares about their own brand and has the same goals as you do.” After all, as both Anderson and Potratz say, this is about building relationships. Influencer programmes are not one-off affairs.

“These are relationships that should be nurtured, grown and enhanced over time,” says Anderson.

Are you a social media influencer? What else should brands be made aware of? Tell us in the comments below.