influencerNever before businesses and opinion makers have paid more attention to what is known as online, digital or social “influence”. Identifying influencers has become an obsession for many marketers who aim to ‘use’ the influence of online influencers for their marketing goals.

The debates about online influence are numerous. What is it? How do we use it? How do we measure it? Has Klout anything to do with it? How do we approach influencers? Instead of adding yet another viewpoint and throwing with definitions, let’s take a look at what online influencers themselves think and want. Note that an influencer is not the same as a thought leader although both often ‘overlap’.

LEWIS PR Benelux and Dutch Silke van Dongen of the ‘Fontys Economische Hogeschool‘ in Tilburg, interviewed 28 online influencers in several B2B and B2C areas.The in-depth interview approach sheds light on what online influencers are and what they like and dislike. So, next time you try to approach an influencer, after reading this post, you will know what to do and what not.

Approaching online influencers the wrong way

The interviews show that many businesses indeed approach online influencers but very often they don’t know how to do it properly. Could it be quite a few marketers don’t know who the online influencers they try to engage are? Could it be they define online influence in a quantitative way? Finally, is it possible marketers see online influencers as merely instruments to achieve their goals now and then? I think we all know the answers to those questions.

What is an online influencer according to LEWIS PR? Everyone can share his opinions about products, services, business or specific topics nowadays. A ‘real’ online influencer is someone who has the potential to alter the attitudes and sentiments of others, more than “others”.

They are often strongly opinionated and have a large network. However, the ability to influence how others look at products, brands or certain matters, is more important than the abstract numbers. Especially since online influencers tend to be highly specialized in a specific domain.

Do you know what a relevant influencer is?

Although there are certainly cultural differences, it’s interesting to see that over a quarter of the interviewed online influencers didn’t consider themselves as such. Two of them said they matched the description of an online influencer, when interviewed, but never thought of themselves as influencers before.

That’s important because it means often, depending on the specific topic and ‘culture’, the online influencers are not those that call themselves influencers nor those who make the most noise. Furthermore, chance is you will not find them in quantitative systems such as Klout either.

Important online influencers are opinionated hard workers and socially active. However, they are often so active and passionate that they move and shake without even realizing it. You cannot influence people if you care more about your influence than about your passion and opinion.

So, what is an important online influencer? It is someone who is relevant for what you would like to achieve and who is relevant for the people he or she influences. It is more about quality than quantity.

Get personal, be relevant and start with a little respect

Now, guess what? The main complaint of the interviewed online influencers that constantly get approached by businesses, is that more often than not the information they receive from marketers is not….relevant for them. Furthermore, they hate being approached in the impersonal ways most businesses approach them.

Is it possible that important online influencers are people of flesh and blood who seek relevance, value, appreciation, personality and relationships? You know the answer. Act accordingly.

And here is a final thought: if you really want to identify influencers look beyond the number of retweets they get. Think cross-channel but more importantly look at the quality instead of the popularity of what they do. Furthermore, look at the relevance of the people they influence. However, this requires you to get up close and personal with them instead of looking at them as numbers; and to actually listen to them.

Instead of asking yourself how you can use ‘relevant’ online influencers, ask yourself what they would love from you first.

  • It starts with knowing them (as in seeing what makes them tick).
  • Do not send them things they don’t care about (example: don’t ask an influencer to share a mediocre infographic if you can see they’re not really into infographics to start with).
  • Answer when they reply in a negative way but suggest something they value more (yes, really, you should reply when they reply).
  • Show that little bit of r-e-s-p-e-c-t for their passion and the social capital they have built, often without knowing it.

Hey, isn’t that the same with customers? Understanding what they would love from you before deciding what you think they might love from your perspective and show some respect by at least knowing them a bit first?