Get to Know the three Varieties of Influencers
February 18, 2021 8 min read
The opinions expressed by the entrepreneur’s contributors are their own.
The following is an excerpt from Jason Falls’ Winfluence: Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand, which will be released on February 23rd via Entrepreneur Press. Order your copy now on Amazon | before Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Bookstore
In my experience, the average Joe or Jane consumer, who is influenced by them, divides them into three main areas:
1. People they know.
2. People who are like them.
3. People trying to convince them.
The “people you know” group includes family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and anyone else with whom you identify in your personal and professional life. These are people with whom they have a real relationship and whom they trust closely.
I don’t know my mayor or Oprah personally. They belong in the next group. “People who are like them” can mean that they live in the same city; are similar in age, gender, or any other population group; or share a common trait like supporting a specific sports team, musician, or even a product. This group can also reach out to celebrities, politicians, media members, or other notable people with whom they identify. The trust factor here results from their sense of identity. They might trust a product recommendation or news, opinion, or idea they share, but they wouldn’t necessarily take them out for dinner.
“People trying to convince them” includes anyone who does not belong to the first two groups and tries to sell, convince, convince or otherwise influence them. Trust is hard to come by here. In fact, I would argue that when a consumer develops trust in someone in that group, that person or organization automatically moves to the second group. This is where your business starts when you address potential customers. So the trick is to switch to one of the first two groups. That’s a rudimentary explanation of the impact marketing has.
Let’s say you and your brand are not included in the first group. You can safely stay in group three and be content with interrupting your day to force a transaction down your throat. While advertising can certainly be effective, it is often transactional and costly. However, your impact on marketing should be to make your way to the second group.
This is a powerful reminder that perhaps the most important step in the marketing process is knowing your audience. You need to know which people, organizations, companies or brands they identify with, have an affinity with and trust – and why. This knowledge will be an essential part of your success in achieving this second group status.
See Also: HBO’s “Fake Famous” Documentation Makes Influencer Marketing Go Wrong
How to align with people like them
What are the possible avenues of affinity and trust? Breaking down the different people, organizations, companies, and brands that consumers are more likely to trust can help you get a sense of where to find your influencers. Just as you have visualized circles of influence around your brand, consider your target customers and their circles of trust. According to Jay Baer and Daniel Lemins “Chatter Matters: The Word of mouth 2018 Report,” the following resources are typically considered to be the most trusted:
1. You yourself.
2. Brands you are familiar with.
3. Friends and family.
4. Online reviews.
5. Expert reviews.
6. Discounts or coupons.
7. The media.
9. Posts by friends on social media.
10. Brand posts on social media.
The only caveat is that these answers were derived from a question of who people trust for advice and insight when making important purchases. Even the vaunted Edelman Trust Barometer is designed to look at trust in employers and brands. We want to understand who or what resources consumers generally trust.
My hypothesis is that a consumer’s circle of trust begins with our family and friends. We trust them for product recommendations, but we also trust them to babysit our children.
Next we have peer groups. These could be our classmates at school, the people in our Bridge Club, or even colleagues in a professional LinkedIn or Facebook group. You have earned our trust over time through conversations and connections.
The next circle are community members. This could be someone who lives in the same city – you know them or you know them – but it could also be colleagues in your industry who you may have met at trade shows or conferences. These people share a range of experiences or values so they will have valuable advice for you. Next come experts and service professionals. This includes your doctor, lawyer, accountant, thought leader in your industry, speaker at a conference, and others with a high level of expertise on the subject. You may not know them personally, but you respect their experience and opinion on certain matters.
Beyond subject matter experts, you are reaching out to trusted media representatives, which in my opinion also include people with online influence. Note that I am not referring to celebrities who have their own ring further out in our circle of trust. I’m speaking of reporters, critics, reviewers, and even entertainers with niche topics whose content we seek to inform our lives. So if you come across Gordon Ramsay cooking a recipe on TV and are influenced by it, he’s more likely to be classified as a celebrity. If you proactively follow Ramsay and all of its content online, it will fall more into this category of trusted media and online influencers.
This ring is usually where you’ll find bloggers and marketers trying to break down people with influence into smaller groups like “micro” or “nano”. However, remember that with Winfluence you are looking at influence from a broader perspective, not just those who have it on social networks. Don’t get caught up in the classification game. Brands come next in the circle of trust. The goal of this term, which I don’t like – “influencer marketing” – is usually to instill consumer trust in online influencers until you can become one yourself. However, many brands have already won the trust of their customers through excellent customer service, solid products or appealing and useful content. That’s why I gave them their own ring.
Consumers trust some brands, but they find it harder to trust the next level: advertising and what I call “professional persuaders”. Professional persuasers include salespeople, government lobbyists, affiliate marketers, and the like whose sole job it is to persuade you to buy a product or an idea. They don’t care about you as anything other than a potential customer.
Celebrities simply fall out of this ring because you wouldn’t trust most of them for qualified opinions on product recommendations and other topics. Research into ads with prominent speakers consistently shows that ads with them are less effective than ads without. Valerie O’Regan, a Cal State Fullerton political science professor who studies the impact of celebrities on politics, wrote in a 2014 article that young adults are more likely to listen to non-celebrities when deciding, for example, how to vote .
After all, the outermost ring is for strangers. Few of us would trust a stranger to watch our purse or backpack while we went to the bathroom in a restaurant, but we could choose to try KFC’s new preparation on their recommendation. This underscores an important provision about the consumer’s circle of trust: the circles for one person may be different for another. Some people trust celebrities far more than, say, the media. Some don’t trust brands at all, which means they wouldn’t even appear on their table. And yes, under certain circumstances even our own circles change as the stranger in front of us in the supermarket may just persuade us to buy a ticket to the Powerball that day.
Related Topics: Why Consumers Care About Influencers, and Why You Should Be too
The line between media and online influencers and celebrities can also become blurred, as we indicated in the Gordon Ramsay example. So keep in mind that the circles can shift or vary depending on the target group or target group member. However, this categorization is my attempt at a general view. Also, keep in mind that these are all sub-categories under the larger “People Like Them” category. These are the people who influence your audience. The more influence you can have over the inner circle of family and friends, the more effective your influence will be on marketing efforts.