I may be new to writing about digital marketing, but I’ve been working in and around it long enough to know the industry is littered with the kind of buzzwords that would earn me a rebuke from my editor if I used them.

The term ‘influencers,’ however, is one of those rare cases where there isn’t really a suitable alternative. Not one that gets to the point as quickly and clearly, anyway.

So as we’re stuck with this buzzword for now, let’s take a closer look at what it all means and how you can use influencer marketing to reach your target audience. 

What is an influencer?

The clue is in the name: essentially they are individuals who have the ability to influence the opinions or buying decisions of your target audience, largely thanks to their social media following.

This could be through a Tweet, like this example of Stephen Fry promoting a campaign for Prostate Cancer UK:

Or a YouTube video, as when Asda hosted its own channel featuring already established YouTube stars such as Zoella:

Why do you need influencers?

The premise is simple: rather than having to rely on your existing audience to promote your brand, you get access to a much larger audience via people who are already popular with your potential customers.

Take the Asda example above. While Asda might be near the top of your list for a low-budget weekly shop, people are less likely to sign up to its YouTube channel unless they have a penchant for worryingly cheap poultry.

But by creating a channel that has only limited reference to the brand (see the image below) and having established YouTube stars create videos for them, Asda has gained nearly 150,000 YouTube subscribers and clocked up 6.8m views since the channel launched.

Mum's Eye View stats

“But what about the sales?” I can hear you (probably) asking.

According to Asda’s senior director of marketing innovation Dominic Burch, the Asda links had a 1% click-through rate, with thousands of those clicks turning into sales.

Not bad going when you consider they’re not exactly the trendiest of brands, and it’s safe to say they wouldn’t have had anywhere near that impact without the help of those influencers.

Who should you target?

The natural temptation is to go for people with the largest following. But as with everything in digital marketing (and in life, if you want to get philosophical about things), it’s a little more complicated than that.

Forbes came up with the following formula:

Influence = Audience Reach (# of followers) x Brand Affinity (expertise and credibility) x Strength of Relationship with Followers

All three of the above factors are clearly important, but the second one is particularly interesting.

It’s not enough for somebody to have a large number of Twitter followers, or even a large number of highly engaged Twitter followers. If that individual doesn’t have expertise and credibility that relate to your target market, they are never going to be a good choice of influencer for your business.

Sure you might get some added brand awareness, but how many of those newly enlightened people are actually going to buy your products or services?

Take the fashion industry for example. Stats quoted in one of our recent round ups show that fashion bloggers have greater influence over buyers than even A-list celebrities like Taylor Swift. 

I suppose the point I’m making is this: finding influencers is not just about approaching the most famous person who you think might be willing to promote your brand. Yes your boss might love you for it, but it’s not really a marketing strategy in itself.

You should choose influencers based on their ability to make your specific target audience take action that benefits your business.

How do you find them?

This is probably the part that most people struggle with. Your CEO comes up to you and says he’s read all about your competitors’ success with influencer marketing, and now he wants you to replicate that success. 

Okay, now what? For some businesses it might be fairly obvious who the influencers are (or at the very least a quick stint on Google will find the answer). For others, it might seem akin to finding a needle in a very large and confusing haystack.

Thankfully there are a number of tools that can help you find the most relevant influencers in your industry without too much difficulty or need for prior knowledge.

BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo is one of the most popular tools for finding influencers, partly because it’s so easy to use.

As you can see from the image below, I’ve typed in ‘food’ as a (very generic) search term and the tool returned a list of influencers (mostly food bloggers in this case) based on a number of key stats related to page authority, follower count, and engagement levels. 

BuzzSumo search results

Followerwonk

Followerwonk is another nice tool for finding Twitter users related to your business.

I typed in ‘food writer,’ with ‘UK’ in the location field. The results are in the image below. As you can see, the tool has returned a list of relevant UK-based food publishers who you could target.

Followerwonk search results

There are a number of tools out there that essentially do the same thing. Just find the one that works for you and start playing around with it.

You should soon be able to build a decent list of target influencers based on your business and what you’re trying to achieve. 

What’s next?

Now that you’ve researched and found your influencers, it’s time to approach them and see if they’re willing to work with you to promote your brand.

But if I start getting into that I’ll have taken up more than my fair share of your time, so I’ll save it for another post.