Influence is such an interesting word these days. It's been so overused and misconstrued that it can actually be laughable to look at some of the most recents place it has popped up. It seems the most popular way to define influence in the 'social media expert' world is by how many followers someone has, and, most recently, the person self-identifying as an influencer in their bio on LinkedIn and/or Twitter. Personally, it has always been a word that I have struggled with. An influencer, to me, is someone who has positively influenced a behavior or belief in someone else. Meaning, they have actually changed the way someone acts or thinks. You can see where this might conflict with the trendy definition of an influencer having a lot of followers. Here's the deal, someone can have a ton of followers on their Twitter and/or Instagram account, but not one of those followers could be into what you are marketing. If you choose to connect with influencer in the politics world, but you are selling bathing suits, what good is that going to do you at the end of the day?
Here are five questions you should ask before you sign an agreement with an influencer:
What Is Their Core Topic?
Why are people following this person and what are they talking about the most? Their core topic absolutely has to align with what you are marketing, or you have a very small chance of propelling an effective influencer marketing campaign with them. If you are selling bathroom products and they are an interior designer --> perfect. However, if you are selling bathroom products and they are a famous singer --> how often do you really think they are going to mention their toilet on social media? There might still be a large enough value for them to tweet a few times about your products, depending on just how famous they are, but it will not be the same value as an interior designer who is actively remodeling bathrooms speaking about your product.
How Do They Tweet And What Are They Tweeting About?
This is something that people often forget about asking until it's too late and their so-called-influencer is tweeting about being out drinking in between their tweets marketing a new health supplement. One of the dangers of influencer marketing is that you have little to no control over what the influencer tweets about outside of their tweets promoting your product/organization. Due to this, you want to be damn sure that you understand their 'Twitter vibe' before throwing your brand into the mix. Take a thorough look through all of their past tweets, making sure that none go directly against what you stand for as a brand. Even though most will understand that an influencer you are working with is not your brand, you better bet your brand will be held accountable for any off-brand tweet the influencer sends while you are working with them (and even after).
Who Actually Is Following Them?
There is a very easy trick to find out what kind of community your influencer actually 'influences'. Take a quick look at their 'Followers' list. If you see mostly (90%) profiles lacking profile pictures with crazy numbers in the handles, you have hit a dud of an influencer. This person has obviously purchased followers, or attracts spam-only followers. Now, I am not saying that if they have any of these types of profiles following them that they are a dud. Every influencer has a small percentage of these profiles following them because these 'bots' latch onto accounts with high followings. However, if it is a high percentage of these profiles (80-90%), you better bet something is off and you need to move onto the next influencer.
The other thing you want to look at is whether the majority of the people following them are actually people that would be interested in what you are marketing. Again, if you're selling bathroom products, and it's a bunch of ESPN sports fans following your influencer, they might not be the one for you.
How Do People Engage With Their Content?
This is tricky, especially since Twitter moved to a similar algorithm as Facebook where they only disperse your tweets to a tiny number of your followers. For examples, only .009% of my followers see some of my tweets. However, if you go to your prospective influencer's profile and there are crickets chirping, move on. If your influencer has multiple tweets within one glance of their timeline that have absolutely zero engagement, they might not be right for you.
Also, head on over to 'Tweets and Replies' and see if the prospective influencer responds to anyone on their timeline. If they don't, they are less likely to be an influential avenue for you, than someone who does respond to at least some of their followers.
What Other Brands Are They Promoting And Who Can They Promote In the Future?
Even if a prospective influencer isn't working with competitors, it can still dilute your brand message if they are working with any other brands at all, especially during the dates of your contract with them. Make sure you vet their current social media postings to make sure that they are not too brand heavy. The more their posts feel like ads, the less their followers will engage with the content. (This is something to keep in mind when you start working with influencers. Always makes sure the content you provide them feels like it is natural and coming from their voice, not your brand's.)
On the flip side of that, you might also want to consider adding in a time period in which the influencer cannot work with any of your competitors after the contract they have with your brand. I remember working on an incredible Instagram campaign with a group of influencers, only to watch one of the influencers have their very next Instagram post be for one of our competitors. Not cool. Always, always work some time into the contract in which they cannot work with a competitor.
These are just five tips to help you as you start thinking about what type of influencers you want to work with on social media. Influencer marketing is an amazingly powerful tool when it is used correctly. Make sure the influencer you choose truly influences their audience, and that they are authentically passionate about your brand. You cannot lose with that combination. Stay away from the self-proclaimed influencers and always do your homework. Influence is about changing behavior, it is not about popularity.
-Marji J. Sherman