When it comes to marketing, we are a long way past just seeing a product and hearing an announcer tell us the virtues of using or owning it. Of all of the aspects of life that social media has changed, one of the most profound is in how, as well as why, we purchase certain products. On one hand, through the current Facebook scandal, we are seeing further evidence of how social media data can be used to allow for more accurate targeted marketing; conversely, by allowing like-minded people to communicate, we are also seeing how- through connectivity – third-party individuals can influence the actions of others. It is the players in this second category that gives us today’s word – influencer.
Essentially, an ‘influencer’ is an influential person who, through his celebrity, industry knowledge and experience, or social media presence, can have an influence on the actions of the consumer / user. The word comes to us through the Old French influence, which is actually an astrological term referring to the ‘streaming ethereal power from the stars in certain positions that act on the character or destiny of men’, and the suffix -er, denoting ‘a person having to do with’. As with many other terms in modern technology, the word itself is much older – arriving in English in Henry More’s 1664 work, A Modest Enquiry into the Mystery of Iniquity, writing: “The head and influencer of the whole Church.”
Regardless of what platform we are using, most of us are already connected, in some way, to an influencer. For example, YouTubers obsessed with entertainment information are likely familiar with Lilly Singh (better known as IISuperwomanII to her audience of 11 million), horror game commentator Mark Fischbach’s videos have been viewed over 7 billion times by gaming enthusiasts, and, at this stage, most everyone – no matter what platform – is familiar with Grumpy Cat. Given, these are examples of macro-influencers, but there are also micro-influencers, who have smaller widespread audiences but are more involved and, potentially, more trusted by their audience – even down to the level of product reviews on Amazon.
Looking specifically at social media, there is actually a science behind influence as well as influencers. In their work, The Influentials (2003), Ed Keller and Jon Barry discuss what make influencers, well, influential, noting that they are typically activists, social media connected, trusted by others, have multifaceted interests, and at the forefront of a trend. No matter how they are classified, they’re definitely not leaving anytime soon – 90% of people report trusting peer recommendations, while on 33% trusted what they saw in regular product advertisements.