An Influencer Is an Influencer Is an Influencer?

Roses“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” is a Gertrude Stein quote we’ve all heard reminding us things are what they are no matter what you call them.

In the communications world, however, the term “influencer” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing. One communications practitioner may define and apply the influencer concept in a way worlds apart from a second practitioner, though both are trying to harness influencers to change ideas, motivate new behaviors,  reach potential buyers, etc. one of three ways:

  • Communicating to influencers, to increase awareness of a brand or cause within the influencer community
  • Communicating through influencers, using influencers to increase awareness of a brand or cause amongst focal groups/target markets
  • Communicating with influencers, turning influencers into advocates of the brand or cause

Obviously, strategies to harness influencers would be very different depending on how you intend to tap them, not to mention who you think they are. Nevertheless, the term influencer seems to be thrown around indiscriminately these days as communications practitioners adjust to changes in technology, especially social media.

My personal take on the influencer equation is definitions/contexts generally lump into three broad categories:

  • Household names: celebrities, musicians, artists, and politicians who are assumed to drive thought and action of people they have no direct association with.
  • Thought leaders: networked, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable people who can ignite passion for your brand or cause in your community (otherwise known as tastemakers, social precincts, opinion leaders, uberinfluencers, 1 percenters [but not in the Occupy Wall Street context], 10 percenters, focusers, etc.) These people personally know the people they influence, although the ties that bind them may be weak.
  • Interpersonal influencers: people who focal groups/target markets regularly interact with and who influence their decisions (e.g., neighbors, friends, parents, teachers, coworkers, religious leaders, etc.). These people may live in relative obscurity within their communities. They, however, know well the people they influence and the ties that bind them are strong.

Bottom line? Influencers are not the same, even if communications practitioners refer to them with the same name.

What do you think of influencers? Are they the best route to a focal group/target market? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

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About Monica

Monica specializes in strategic communications, web and new media, and print materials with an international or multi-cultural context. She has worked on national public outreach campaigns targeting multi-cultural audiences and has conceptualized, written, and/or designed multiple websites. Monica also has written, edited, and/or designed high-profile newsletters, brochures, and reports, including some prepared in collaboration with the White House. She holds a bachelor’s in journalism and a master of international service with a focus on international communication. Monica is based in Washington, D.C.