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How to Identify the Right Social Influencers

Social Influencers

Identifying key social influencers is an important aspect of any social marketing strategy. They can greatly expand your reach, and they’re not called influencers for nothing — they influence their following!

The hard part is identifying the right influencers. Just because someone has many followers, doesn’t mean they’re a great influencer for your brand.

Michael Jordan has been the greatest influencer for Nike Basketball (and it’s reflected in the financial terms of the endorsement deal), but he probably wouldn’t be the optimal influencer for a B2B enterprise software company.

With that in mind, here are the two ways to identify the right social influencers.

Top-Down Approach:

Because we’re Seattleites, we’ll use our man, Russell Wilson, for this example. Russell Wilson has a Klout score of 89, and millions of Twitter and Instagram followers. When he shares, a lot of eyeballs see it. He’s a brand influencer in the traditional sense: star power, good characteristics for just about any brand, huge following…and generally expensive.

Russell Wilson Endorsements

Baker St. Advertising, who analyzes athletes’ marketing potential, says Wilson’s 2014 endorsement earnings were likely in the $5 million to $7 million range. While he’s not yet at the Peyton Manning or Tom Brady level of marketing power — and even though the Seahawks are getting him on the cheap for the time being (rookie contract) — I think it’s fair to say that he’s not going to be an inexpensive social influencer.

If you’re going to go the top-down influencer route, make sure you pick an influencer that’s truly relevant to and matches the values of your brand. As is true for all marketing, authenticity is massively important.

How to Identify the Right Social Influencers

Superstar influencers are expensive, but they cover a lot of ground in one fell swoop. Even with low organic reach (let’s say 5%), a tweet from Russell Wilson will get about 60,000 impressions. This type of influence is largely a numbers game. If you start with a large number at the top of the funnel (like 60,000), it’s likely that some will trickle through to the bottom of the funnel, no matter the efficiency. But again, your influencer’s ability to authentically share your brand, will dictate how efficiently customers go through the funnel. For brands, getting the right person to promote your brand is tough to predict and has a huge impact on the marketing efficiency. Maybe Russell Wilson’s future pans out as all of us Hawk fans hope and he becomes the greatest quarterback ever. Your investment would massively benefit. But on the other hand, he could get into some sort of scandal tomorrow fingers crossed that he doesn’t and his influence could tank.

From a data-driven perspective, the top-down influence approach is risky — big upside, but also potential for a big, expensive flop.

Bottom-Up Approach:

On the other hand, a bottom-up approach can continually be analyzed and optimized without tremendous additional investment, but requires a ton of data.

Using the football example, an active and popular amateur football coach may have a Klout score in the 40s. While there’s only 32 starting NFL quarterbacks (and many aren’t active on social media), there’s thousands of football coaches at lower levels. They also have a surprising amount of influence on their teams’ players and families. To a group of twelve year olds, if the coach says, “real football players wear [brand],” the players are going to go home and tell their parents to get that brand the next time they need cleats, socks, shorts, etc.

Of course the amateur football coach character can apply to all brands. For a fashion brand, it could be fashion bloggers or the fashion-forward friend in every group — the one who, when she shares, her friends pay attention. For a car brand, it could be that guy who is always in his garage restoring old cars — the guy that knows cars. These are what we call “micro-mavens”. Even though they may have just a couple thousand followers or fewer, they have a big impact over what their followers do. They are efficient sharers.


Unlike superstar athletes and celebrities, these people are reachable through more typical channels — no agents or representatives involved. They see and react to social ads just like you and me. The point is, they make for great targets for social marketing campaigns. It’s just up to you and your social analytics tools to find the ones that are best for your brand.

Rather than going to a service like Klout and searching for high Klout scores within the ‘sports’ category or ‘football’ category, the bottom-up approach starts with your brand. Ask yourself (or your social analytics), where are our social conversions coming from? Are you seeing traffic and conversions from a particular blog? Or from a specific Facebook or Twitter user?

Website Twitter Influencers
This chart from Simply Measured’s Website Influencer Report shows the top 10 Twitter users driving traffic to your website.

Additionally, by staying on top of the conversations you care about and by doing your social media research, you’ll be able to develop a sense of who is influential (or at least who talks a lot) within your niche.

Admittedly, the bottom-up approach is challenging because this data is much more granular than a couple of Instagram pictures from Russell Wilson or a tweet with a special influencer URL.

By tracking how content is shared across social platforms, we can tell a brand that when Person A shared Content B, 40 of their 400 followers clicked on it, and 20 converted — Person A is a micro-maven who should be targeted.

While Person A on their own won’t move the needle that much, aggregating hundreds of influencers like Person A is extremely powerful. (Social networks also have minimums for custom audience/tailored audience targeting.)

Both approaches to identifying influencers have their pros and cons. With the right resources, both are very powerful for driving conversions from social media. Ideally, by using both the top-down and bottom-up approach, you’ll be able to cover a lot of the influencer spectrum and do some really powerful social influencer marketing.

Extra Credit

For more advice on Influencer marketing, download our 2015 Influencer Marketing Guide by following the link below.

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Brewster Stanislaw

Brewster Stanislaw

Brewster is Head of Attribution at Simply Measured, where he builds products to help marketers measure and increase the business impact of their social efforts. He joined Simply Measured through its acquisition of Inside Social, a venture-backed social analytics startup where he was CEO and Co-Founder. A reformed financier, Brewster worked in equity sales and corporate finance before realizing that zeroes and ones are way more interesting in code than financial models. He is a Seattle native and is passionate about Seattle sports teams and contributing to the startup ecosystem.

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