Influencer Identification: How To Make the Right Choices For Your Program


While the concept of leveraging influencers to drive successful communications programs is by no means a new one, I’ve noticed a significant increase in influencer programming.

And while I do agree that influencer-driven marketing can be impactful if done correctly, I’m often disappointed in the lack of rigor behind the process of identifying the strongest online influencers for a campaign – and less-than-satisfactory results of some of these programs confirms my concern.

Companies and brands that are choosing the influencers they work with based on the fact that they know them, or recognize them as a presence in their industry, or by the number of Twitter followers they have – are missing the boat. And if they’re paying these folks for their support, they are likely spending their dollars poorly. (click-to-tweet)

The wrong reasons to form alliances with influencers:

  • Because you know them: Many influencers make quite a bit of money by simply being “an influencer.” They attend all the right conferences and build up their networks among agency pros and strategists, who in-turn tap the influencers for their client programs. The problem becomes that they tap them for program after program for varying brands and products from shampoo to frozen food to cell phones. In this way, their endorsements become diluted. And even if they could avoid dilution, they end up marketing a wide variety of products to a concentrated circle of followers, limiting the reach of their message and failing to target the right audience for the right brand.
  • Because they have a presence in the industry: Commanding authority among industry insiders often does not translate to influencing consumers. And offline influence, which is frequently the type of influence these insiders wield, often does not translate to online influence.
  • Because they have a large following: Just because I follow someone doesn’t mean I read all of their posts, and just because I read their posts, doesn’t mean I share them with my own network – and it definitely doesn’t mean I am influenced to purchase a product. A significant potential audience doesn’t necessarily translate to significant impact. When working with influencers, quality trumps quantity in most cases (though quantity does still matter, as you’ll see below).

So if these are the wrong reasons, what are the right ones? Like any good research, influencer identification requires sound methodology.

Here are some best practices we employ when initiating influencer identification projects:

First, be clear about program objectives. For example, if promoting the virtues of dining on beef, do you want to work with influencers who will influence moms and dads? Foodies and chefs? Restaurant operators? In other words, don’t try to be everything to everyone.

Next, develop a scoring system through which you can standardize criteria on which potential influencers will be ranked.

Finally, follow the three R’s – Reach, Relevance and Resonance – developing individual scores for each as well as an aggregated overall score:

  • Reach: Number of followers (while this shouldn’t be the only measure, it does need to enter into the equation)
  • Relevance: How relevant are they to your target audience; how often do they converse about the topic you want to be influential within
  • Resonance: How much engagement do their posts drive

Developing a methodology and an algorithm with which to score potential influencers drives stronger results once a program is launched, and also contributes to accountability, helping support decisions with concrete evaluation metrics.