Chapter 2: Identify & Select Influencers

How and where to find the right content creators for your brand

Finding the right influencers is often one of the most challenging tasks for many brands. There’s a plethora of influencers nowadays – how do you hone in on the right ones for your brand? Choose an influencer with minimal engagement, and you’ll waste precious budget; choose a micro influencer with no significant following, and you’ll risk overpaying. There’s also all this commotion about fraud in the industry: fake followers, fake engagements, fake influencers – how do you combat that?

There’s a fundamental rule you must understand when searching for influencers: 

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Pro Tip

There is no correlation between follower count and actual influence. What truly determines an influencer is their connection level with their audience.

For too long, and still, to this day, people overemphasize vanity metrics – follower count and engagement rate – when identifying influencers. This myopic focus led to a surge of accounts with fake or purchased followers and engagements, leaving marketers with no immediate means to identify legitimate prospective influencers. 

With that in mind, you must consider whether an “influencer” truly connects with their audience. For every profile, ask yourself: “Does this ‘influencer’ have a genuine relationship with their fans/followers/community?” Or is their “digital likeness” truly just an aesthetic – yet faceless – facade? Authentic influencers engage with their fans. A true influencer is hopping on their IG story and talking to their community, creating a dialogue and a conversation. They’re sharing the ins and outs of their life. They post relatable photos and videos and speak to their followers – not at them. They engage in the comments section, answer questions, and give advice. They connect with their community.

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Pro Tip

Having a profile with aesthetic, eye-catching content and legitimately (or not) high engagement rates does not make this person an influencer!  

Far too often, brands mistakenly classify a profile with impressive follower/engagement stats as a genuine person of influence. They structure a partnership and soon realize that the audience has no true purchasing power or doesn’t care to take the recommendation of a “profile” they aren’t connected to. 

There are no automated tools that can identify the right influencer perfectly. Observe an account carefully before hiring an influencer. Look at the number of replies, shares, and reposts. But find out if the influencer is actively engaging with others. Are their posts relevant to your business? 

The last question you should yourself when deciding whether to work with an influencer: does this person connect with their community/audience?

Let’s dive into the more tangible components you should know when searching for influencers for your program. We’ll break this into the influencer and the influencer’s audience.

Define Your Target Influencer  

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Influencer Types: Defined

One of the first steps in your ideal influencer search efforts is to define the type of influencer you’re looking to work with. We define the influencer type by separating them into tiers based on follower or subscriber count. Choosing the correct tier for your campaign depends on your objectives, budget, and team capabilities.

The general consensus has split them across five tiers: Nano, Micro, Macro, and Mega (which contains a subcategory for Celebrity). Each type has its own set of characteristics and characteristics that define them.

Tier
Followers
Defining Characteristics
<10K
Brand advocates who already admire and engage with your brand. e.g., one of your top customers
10-50K
Experts and beloved individuals of their respective niche or community.
Macro
50K-1M
Mini-celebs or social media stars with a considerable level of recognition within a community.
Mega
1M+
Social media superstars, highly recognizable across multiple communities and the general population.
1M+
A subset of ‘Mega’ that includes music artists, athletes, actors, and any traditional celebrity whose notoriety was built solely on social media.

Influencer Types: Which Is Best for Your Objectives?

Tier
Pros
Cons
Campaign Objective
Nano
Highest engagement rates, authentic audiences, trustworthy, cost-effective. Will accept product in exchange for posts.
Low reach, potentially inexperience with brand deals, content quality risks.
Content
Engagements
Conversions
Micro
High ER, ample audience size, good content creators, cost-effective. Often accept product for post.
Crowded thus harder to identify target influencer, most susceptible tier for influencer fraud, more labor intensive to manage.
Brand Awareness
Content
Engagements
Site Traffic
Conversions
Macro
Well-established personal brand, experienced, excellent content creators, extensive reach.
Lower ERs, typically less connected with audience, higher-cost, often work with agents, prone to bot followers.
Brand Awareness
Content
Site Traffic
Conversions*
Mega
Massive reach.
Very expensive, diverse audience thus not all will fit your target demo, very prone to bot followers, agent involvement.
Brand Awareness
Content
Site Traffic
Conversions*
Celebrity
Worldwide reach, credibility, ability to strengthen your brand’s image.
Extremely expensive, highly prone to bot followers, agent involvement, potential PR risk if any inappropriate public behavior.
Brand Awareness
Content
Reputation

*Note: this tier structure mostly applies to Instagram influencers and might not hold true for other social networks.

Influencer Location

It’s important to know where your influencer resides.

Location is important for a few reasons. If your product cannot be shipped internationally or you do not want to initiate a global campaign, you’ll want to ensure that prospects live in the same country. Sometimes profile location data might be incorrect, or their recent photos may be deceptive (just on vacation), leading you to assume an influencer is based elsewhere. While this is likely an infrequent occurrence, it’s worth noting.

Additionally, is your product more relevant in certain regions? If you sell surfboards, you’re probably better off focusing on content creators who live along the coast. Or if you manufacture meat-alternative foods, you’ll likely benefit from starting your search in more progressive cities. It’s worth noting that these are not strict rules; rather, these are a few generalized scenarios to help you understand why influencer location is necessary to factor into your search efforts.

Are They Brand Safe?

Ensuring an influencer and their content is brand safe is a crucial assessment every brand must make. The “checklist” for what to look out for is the same for any brand. Keep this checklist front of mind and do your due diligence when auditing an influencer’s social media profiles. Look at the media they’re uploading, how they speak in captions, comments, or tweets, and try Googling their name to see what results. You should ensure the influencer (or their content) meets the following requirements:

  • The content is NOT racist, sexist, or discriminatory.
  • The content is NOT inappropriate or reckless. This is a judgment call, depending on the context of your audience and your brand’s definition of ‘appropriate’ (e.g., cursing, dicey topics of conversation, suggestive content 
  • The influencer is NOT currently or recently partnered with your direct competitors. Followers can view this as tacky, shun the influencer for being a “digital billboard,” and is not the best look for any party overall. The exception, however, is if you intend to switch the influencer’s brand affinity towards your brand, which you should only attempt after previous partnerships have had time to settle.
  • The influencer should have the same values as your company. Each content creator will have his or own ideals and opinions on the world. Ensure that the influencer you’re scouting carries themselves in a similar fashion that you would expect of employees of your brand. 

A quick skim of their recent content will give you a legitimate understanding of who they are and the kind of content they produce. Don’t lose sleep background checking every micro influencer, but do take the time to audit any of your big partnerships closely. The last thing you want is a band of Internet detectives spreading rumors about and doxxing your prized influencer, only to have the public backlash eventually spun onto your brand for ‘supporting’ them.

Do They Match Your Influencer/Buyer Persona? 

Most brands have an idea of what their perfect influencer “looks like” – and if asked to characterize them, they’ll often describe a mirror image of the type of person they’re currently posting on their Instagram. This idea is undoubtedly sensible and practical but risks underrepresenting many other potential influencers they can–and perhaps should–test working with. 

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Pro Tip

The influencers outside a brand’s “ideal influencer persona” are typically overlooked because they don’t match the persona aesthetic.

Don’t fall victim to this oversight; there’s a high chance that many of those influencers deemed “unfit” still fall right within your target demographic, as does their audience. The story’s moral here is to not limit your influencer selection criteria to only profiles that mirror your brand aesthetic. However, strict “brand aesthetic fit” criteria would suffice when the campaign objective is specific to content generation you plan to use on your brand-owned and operated channels.

Example: Tom’s Tees

Let’s use a hypothetical scenario to help clarify this further. Our fictitious company, Tom’s Tees, is a direct-to-consumer apparel brand that makes quality, well-fitting t-shirts for men. MuscleCarManny is a popular automotive vlogger with a loyal following of young, millennial men – your exact target demo. But Tom’s Tees has branded itself more akin to the stylish, city-living, young male professional. 

Manny, however, is a more uncomplicated guy who spends most of his time vlogging his passion: restoring classic American muscle cars in his garage. Manny is a typical gearhead who doesn’t care about getting his hands dirty. But don’t let this description fool you; he is still a millennial, maintains a robust YouTube channel, and is no stranger to online shopping. As any guy would be, he’s also in need of some new t-shirts to wear when he’s not working in the shop, and you’d best believe his 250k loyal subscribers are a lot like him. 

So the question arises: is this someone you want to partner with?

To reach as many new customers as possible, consider looking outside your “typical” influencer to find the hidden gems. Trust us on this one.

Audience Demographics

Identifying influencers that align with your target demographic or match your brand persona is only half the battle. You’ll also need to analyze an influencer’s audience, which is arguably even more important since these are the individuals you’re looking to target and turn into eventual customers. Despite finding a seemingly perfect influencer to work with, you might find that their audience demographic isn’t ideal for your product, brand, or overall campaign goals. The easiest way to conduct an audience analysis is through an online audience analysis tool.

A variety of options are available, just a Google search away. However, if such tools aren’t within your budget, you can always request that an influencer send over their account’s audience insights. Most social networks make this information available to content creators.
Asking a potential influencer for audience data is essential to determining reach and influence.

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Pro Tip

 A quick note about international audiences. Proceed with caution if you discover a content creator’s audience is heavily weighted in Brazil, China, and Turkey, as they have been epicenters for fraudulent followers, engagements, and other bot activity.

What to Consider When Reviewing an Influencer’s Audience Data

Age

An audience’s age spread strongly correlates with purchasing power and brand/product relevance. If you’re selling a higher price-point product, you’ll want to ensure the influencer has an audience with enough disposable income even to consider purchasing. Or is your product or brand geared toward a specific age group? Certain age groups may favor and gravitate towards specific social networks, so knowing which social app captures your target demographic’s attention is vital.

As for relevance, it comes down to whether the product you’re selling resonates with the audience and their age demographic. It wouldn’t be ideal to advertise a collegiate/greek life apparel brand to an audience of thirty-somethings. Sure, you might land some alum customers, but is that really moving the needle?

We must also consider the potential audience age skew of the content creator. An influencer’s audience may be younger or older than they are but still fit your target demo. Sweet! You may have just discovered a fresh new set of potential customers. Does your influencer have followers that will help build your brand with valuable consumer insight?

Gender

You also need to consider the audience’s gender split. For example, if you offer a product primarily for men, you will want to target influencers that appeal to men. However, for holidays and special occasions like Valentine’s Day, you can also tweak a simple marketing message toward a more female audience, such as: “Girls, you gotta get this watch for your guy. Trust me, he’ll love it!.” Promoting your product to the opposite gender can work well with highly giftable products. 

Diversity in your marketing with LGTBQ+ influencers will appeal to a more LGBTQ+ audience and could open new doors for additional customers. In this blog post, we cover working with LGBTQ+ content creators whose audience identifies with them.

Location

Knowing where an influencer’s audience lives is also essential. If your brand only ships domestically, working with influencers with a sizable international audience wouldn’t be in your favor. On a smaller scale, if your product has specific geographical use cases, such as ski/snow gear, ensure your target influencers have an audience close to the snow.  

Audience Quality

There is no denying that influencer fraud exists, especially as it relates to purchasing followers or engaging in suspicious activities that artificially inflate follower count. Unfortunately, there are a lot of methods where influencers appear to have followers that don’t exist. Screening prospective influencers will save you time and prevent you from signing a disadvantageous deal, and it only takes a few seconds.

Here are few things to pay attention to when evaluating the quality of an influencer’s audience.

Audience reachability

Audience reachability is the percentage ratio of followers among your creator’s audience who can see influencers’ posts in their feeds. What percentage of their followers follow less than 500, 500 to 1000, 1000 to 1500, or more than 1500 creators? The reach is much more competitive with 1500+ influencers, and you need to be suspicious of followers that have such a large number of influencers in their feeds. (An exception to the rule is celebrities and mega influencers.) It’s important to note the likelihood of attention your influencer will receive from their audiences. The more influencers a follower pays attention to, the less likely they will see your content in their feed. It would be best to strive for more followers in the <500 and 500-1000 range.

Non-Organic Growth Patterns

Some accounts have jumped to upwards of 10k followers overnight. This extreme bump usually indicates purchased followers. However, in some rare circumstances, it could be a legitimate increase caused by viral content or some other notable event that took place and led to a surge in followers. Make sure to investigate whether this surge seems legitimate or suspicious.

Likewise, some influencers will follow accounts that, in turn, follow them. Once they have received their “new follower” benefits, they go back and unfollow all the accounts, which is an inauthentic audience. Pay attention to fluctuations in the ebb and flow of a content creator’s audience that seems higher than the standard.

Follower Growth/Decline

You can only learn so much from data representing a “snapshot” in time. Take time to review your prospective influencer’s engagement numbers. If you look at their follower or engagement rate trends for the past six months (or a year or two), you might be surprised that they are slowly declining. They may have dropped from 1.2M to 1.1M followers over six months, which can represent a more significant issue. Perhaps they’ve lost the connection with their audience or are losing relevance. Follower decline is not the end; it is simply another data point to watch. Use your best judgment taking these issues into account to make your decisions.

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