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What is a Social Media Influencer? Full Definition 2022

Table of Contents

  • The definition of “influential”
  • Who we could define as the first paid influencer
  • The definition of the modern influencer on social media
  • What qualifies someone as an influencer?
  • What is an example of a social media influencer?
  • The power of social media influencers – defined
  • What exactly does a social media influencer do?
  • Is being a social media influencer defined as a job?
  • Do influencers make a lot of money?
  • How influencers wield their influence: A definition
  • Defining the different categories of influencers
  • Influencers as defined by social media platform
  • Defining the most popular fields influencers work in
  • Conclusion

The term “influencer” is everywhere now, and it seems like every kid (even many adults!) wants to “work as an influencer” today.

But, is there any substance behind that term?

Or is “influencer” just another buzzword from the young generation? 

Let’s get rid of the ambiguity surrounding that word.

We’ll take a deep dive into the definition, what an influencer is, what they do, and how it all works.

Diving in… 

Who is an influencer? Broadly speaking, you’re considered an influencer if you have authority on a given topic. People listen to you and they’ll even emulate you because they respect and look up to you.

The definition of “influential”

What you do when you influence someone is “to cause someone to adopt or change a behavior, belief, or opinion.” 

When you’re an influential person, you can have this effect on a considerable number of people. You could call them your followers.

This influence can be used for many purposes. An influencer can steer his or her followers to take certain actions, start thinking in a certain way, or start taking out their wallets.

You can use influence for good or bad. While many influential people are ethical and responsible, some are not, and they can lead their followers to make bad decisions

Who we could define as the first paid influencer

While influencer marketing has been booming in recent years – its market size shot up from CHF1.7 Billion in 2016 to CHF13.8 Billion in 2021, the concept has been around for a very long time. The first recorded paid celebrity endorsement, what we could call the first case of influencer marketing in modern times, was Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who got hired to publicly endorse the Turkish cigarette brand Murad, in the year 1905.

The definition of the modern influencer on social media

The nature of media and celebrity has since transformed – but influencer marketing is going stronger than ever.

Nowadays, it’s no longer just celebrities who are acting as influencers endorsing products to their fans. Today influencers come in all shapes and sizes (as we’ll talk about later). Anyone with a sizable audience on social media who is trusted for their expertise, or even just liked for entertainment value, holds the power to change minds and should be considered an influencer. 

They can steer people’s opinions and buying decisions – because they are liked, and/or have authority in their niche. 

Brands love influencers, because their endorsements are a great way to generate awareness and build trust with an audience they might not otherwise be able to reach as easily and convincingly.

This has opened up great opportunities for those willing to put in the work to become social media influencers. Today, many have the goal of working in this unique type of “job.”

What qualifies someone as an influencer?

Anyone with at least a few hundred followers on social media, whose posts get good engagement from their audience, can be considered an influencer. Also, their content should be focused on a specific topic which they build authority around. 

This way, their audience knows to trust their opinion on this specific topic.

What is an example of a social media influencer?

Every niche has influencers. For example, Taulant aka T-Ronimo is doing comedy and entertainment with passion on Instagram.

The power of social media influencers – defined

Influencers can do for a brand what a regular ad can’t do as easily. They can give an authentic endorsement that their audience will actually trust and follow.

“We want to do business with people or brands that we like and have forged a bond with over the years.” – Robert B. Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

This is why more and more brands are realizing the power of influencer marketing.

Alex Bolen, the chief executive of Oscar De La Renta, said: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that our handbag business has taken off through our engagement with the influencer community. Our production has doubled.”

Influencers get people to act – namely, to pull out their wallets in good faith. And that makes them very powerful. Even if they only have a modest-sized following.

What exactly does a social media influencer do?

It might look easy from the outside. Just take selfies with some products and rake in the money! Right? 

But there’s a lot that has to happen behind the scenes when you’re an influencer:

  • They create and manage their personal brand and their accounts
  • They craft their strategy and plan content
  • They prepare for shooting video and images – clothes, make-up, lighting, choosing the right locations and angles
  • They’re constantly engaging with their audience
  • They deal with existing brand partners and acquire new ones
  • In short: They run a legitimate, full-time business, often with multiple employees

Is being a social media influencer defined as a job?

If we’re being precise, influencers are not employees, but rather entrepreneurs. They are their own small, or in some cases, mid-sized, business. They themselves are responsible for creating everything surrounding their brand, managing it, and growing it. 

Even if they’re working with an agency or in a long-term contract with a brand, they have more responsibilities than many traditional employees. 

In this case, they are acting as a business that is contracting with another. 

Do influencers make a lot of money?

In many cases, yes. Typically, different-sized influencers make between CHF 200 and CHF 100,000 per post. A-list celebrities can even make up to CHF1 Million for one social media post! 

How much exactly they make depends on the niche, audience size, the influencer’s likeability and ability to sell, content quality and frequency, and what kinds of contracts they manage to get from brands.

Four ways influencers can make money

1. Doing affiliate marketing

The influencer endorses a product in their content, and they receive a percentage of any resulting sales.

This type of commission-based marketing is also performance-based.

The more sales the influencer drives, the more they earn for themselves. This is often done through giving out promo codes to their followers that they can enter to get a discount with a brand. The sale is then tied to the influencer’s affiliate account. 

Another way to do this is by providing a special link for the audience, but this works better on some social media platforms than others.

2. Getting money for each post

You can also come to an agreement where the brand is paying for each “sponsored post” published on your account. The difficulty here is to settle on a price beforehand. This depends on the size of the influencer’s reach, their ability to negotiate and the brand’s budget.

3. Entering into long-term contracts with brands

These relationships can last a year or more. 

The influencer agrees on a certain number of campaigns, pieces of content, mentions etc. and receives payments in return for the duration of the contract

This can be a nice stable income, which in many cases is quite welcome for the influencer who has to always be hustling for next week’s deal.

4. Receiving free products

One of the perks of the social media influencer lifestyle: 

You often get free products to try out and possibly recommend to your followers. In most cases, these products will be yours to keep.

How influencers wield their influence: A definition

Here’s how an influencer’s influence actually plays out in the real world:

Influencers are connectors

They are like nodes in a network that bring together their followers, fellow influencers, and brands.

Because they are experts and leaders in their industry, their power to connect others is immense

This comes with a lot of responsibility on the part of the influencer, by the way. If they start burning the people who trust them by repeatedly giving bad recommendations, their status as an influencer could become permanently damaged.

Influencers are informers

It’s what the internet has been all about since the beginning – efficiently spreading relevant information. 

Today, social media influencers play an important role in spreading information: They keep their fans up to date with new items, developments, and even breaking news. Usually the information being spread by individual influencers is organic and more trustworthy than corporate sources. 

According to a recent survey, influencers are the most trusted source of information and the most influential in the decision-making process, even more so than trade exhibitions or word-of-mouth recommendations.

Moreover, they curate information from different sources to make it more digestible for their audience.

And so, these influencers play a key role in spreading information and relevant messages!

Influencers shape opinions

While engaging and informing are vital aspects of an influencer’s job, ultimately wielding power is about influencing people’s opinions. And influencers are great at it. They’re charismatic, authoritative, and persuasive. 

Their influence on the audience’s opinions can be immense, particularly if they stay timely, knowledgeable and relevant, make good content, and are careful to not misuse their followers’ trust.

Defining the different categories of influencers

Nano-influencer: Under 5000 followers

You can be a nano-influencer with some hundred social media followers, without much celebrity status. 

These influencers are still a welcome business partner for certain brands, because they don’t command high payouts, or are happy just to receive free products in return for endorsements. This means they can hire many nano-influencers for the price of one macro-influencer.

More importantly, their audience, often made up of mostly their close friends and family, are extremely engaged and trust their opinion greatly. When they recommend something, it holds a lot of weight!

Micro-influencer: 5k-100k followers

We know that bigger isn’t better with influencer marketing, and working with a micro-influencer is a sweet spot between authenticity and affordability on one side and popularity and reach on the other. 

Also, these small types of influencers are usually more available. While most of them do get a fair number of offers, they are usually not overwhelmed with brand deals flooding their inboxes. 

Micro-influencers are the definition of niche authorities. They are experts in their topic of choice and educate their modest following on everything surrounding it. Again, engagement is very high with these micro-influencers, because their audience feels more like a family than a huge disjointed crowd, as big celebrity accounts often do.

Macro-influencer: 100k-1m followers

This is where we get into the territory of massive reach. If a macro-influencer recommends your product, you can be sure that it’ll hit hundreds of thousands of eyeballs. Accordingly, macro-influencers have higher prices, less availability, and higher standards than smaller accounts.

But, crafting the right campaign with a macro-influencer can drive serious awareness and sales, so – done right – it can be an amazing vehicle for business growth.

Mega-influencer: Over 1 million followers

These are actors, musicians, and other A-list celebrities. 

Celebrities might have a huge audience, but often have less influence than smaller influencers: They appear less authentic and often don’t have as much authority and expertise in niche topics.

They are also picky, often difficult to work with, and very expensive. Many brands therefore prefer to work with multiple smaller influencers instead of one mega-influencer.

Influencers as defined by social media platform

Bloggers

The original online experts. Bloggers go deep on their chosen niche topic, and people rely on them for research and product reviews. Some blogs grow so authoritative that they turn into publishing companies rather than simple websites.

Yet, in the beginning, was the single influencer – the one you go to find out the latest and best information around the topic they’re an expert in.

YouTubers

YouTubers use the visual and auditory channel to do a similar thing to bloggers: Educate and inform their audience. But, YouTube videos also usually have more entertainment value than blogs – and influencers use that power to build huge, loyal followings. YouTube videos are usually longer than videos on TikTok and Instagram.

Brand sponsorship can take different forms: Brands can simply get a shoutout at the start and end of the video. In some cases, the influencer will make an entire video testing a product or incorporating a product into the story of the video. 

There are many opportunities for brands to appear – and they love it!

Podcasters

With podcasts being the longest form of online content, they draw a very interested and loyal audience. Hence, sponsoring a show can be very valuable for brands.

Instagrammers

The advent of Instagram’s platform for sharing images and short-form videos is when influencer marketing really blew up as a business.

Viral Instagram Reels are flashy, fancy, and engaging. A strategic product placement or endorsement by the influencer can do wonders for a brand’s marketing efforts

Sponsored Instagram posts are also a great way for influencers to get paid – often handsomely. 

So today most young people aspire to become influencers themselves because they see the cash and status it can bring.

TikTokers

This is the hot young platform, and home to a lot of up-and-coming social media influencers. While TikTok is a more fast-paced platform, people still grow to love and associate with their favorite creators. This opens the door to brand endorsements and influencer sponsorships, similar to other platforms.

Defining the most popular fields influencers work in

Here are some of the niches that influencers choose – most of these are trending, have a large audience, and can be very profitable to create content around.

1. The Business and Money-Making niche

Many people want to be an influencer in this niche, and their quality and ethics are on a spectrum. You can make a lot of money by teaching others about money. There are endless resources and tools to recommend that you can earn substantial commissions for.

2. The Beauty niche

One of the most popular niches for young, often female content creators to be an influencer in. But also becoming more and more important for male creators.  

3. The Fitness and Health niche

This niche is always going strong. It’s also competitive. Many different people have the goal of being health and fitness influencers. Fitness is also a very visual topic, so is well suited to social media.

4.The Cooking and Food niche

People love to look at recipes and cooking videos online – and influencers will provide! Some of these food and cooking accounts grow to millions of followers.

5. The Tech niche

There are always new and expensive products to review. This niche is quite competitive, but can offer great payouts to influencers.

6. The Travel niche

Travel seems to be an evergreen niche that is coming back in 2022 and beyond. Influencers can partner with tour companies, airlines, hotels, and car rental agencies to turn documenting their travels into a money-making activity.

7. The Fashion niche

Fashion modeling nowadays happens more on social media than it does at fashion shows or in print magazines. Consequently, there is good money to be made for influencers representing luxury clothing brands or as affiliates selling accessories, for example.

8. The Parenting niche

This niche is growing as more people get their information from trusted online influencers than from books or other traditional sources, even on topics such as parenting.

9. The Lifestyle niche

A broad, and popular niche. Creators can pick from a number of topics. Although it takes something special to stand out in this niche. An influencer has to be charismatic, successful, creative, or a combination of those in order to make it in this niche.

10. The Pet niche

It seems like cute kitten pictures and videos have always been the most popular thing on the internet. It now goes so much further. Pets have their own Instagram accounts, dog training gurus are everywhere. The growing pet niche is still a good niche to get into.

Conclusion

We hope this helped clear up the question of what an influencer really is! 
If you’re thinking about becoming an influencer yourself – or you’re a business curious about if using influencer marketing might be a good idea for your business – feel free to check out our other articles on these topics or join the email list to receive the latest news and trends around influencers and influencer marketing.

Author: Megan Bozman, Owner @Boz Content Marketing