The Business of Internet Influencers
What the authorities of the Internet can teach us about social media and branding
What are Internet Influencers?
Chances are you’ve encountered Internet Influencers (IIs) if you’ve read a popular blog or watched a product review through Youtube. IIs are those regarded with having a perceived knowledge or experience used to affect a group of people’s opinion and purchase decisions through the Internet. Typically, IIs take advantage of social media networks to engage people interested in their knowledge and advice, over time becoming a perceived authority on the subject. Bloggers, youtubers and even celebrities are all examples of some of the Internet’s most influential individuals.
While yesterday’s consumer may rush to make a purchase at a brick-and-mortar store, the same consumer today will likely look to the Internet to research the product or service before leaving his house. Over 80% of U.S. consumers reported being influenced in the decision to purchase a product or service by what they read or watched through the Internet*, thus placing incredible value on the role of IIs.
Why are Internet Influencers important?
Like players on the immense Internet field, it takes talent and strategy for IIs to keep the ball rolling. To completely understand how IIs develop such authority on the Internet, we must look at how they are first made. How do people become IIs and why are consumers influenced by people they are only virtually familiar with? Although some IIs may lack real knowledge or professional experiences in their subject of interest, they still manage to become go to specialists.
Experienced in building credibility around their own personal brand and succeeding constant relevancy in the ever-changing virtual world, there is something to be said about the approaches IIs have adopted. By looking at IIs, a business can learn to adopt these same approaches to find their own success and significance in both the virtual and real world.
Branding and Credibility
People are conditioned to be distrustful of those they only know through the internet but with the introduction of social media, the ability to make those unfamiliar appear honest has allowed people to trust and seek out complete strangers. Public profiles display these IIs’ pictures, location, employment, friends, families and even personal thoughts, a show of transparency for all to see that not only paints the people behind the computer but also their complete vulnerability. IIs give followers an upper hand in their virtual relationships, providing people with all the information about themselves in exchange for almost nothing, displacing all the potential danger away from their followers onto themselves.
Besides using transparency to build credibility, IIs are also incredibly good at translating themselves onto the Internet. This is important for their personal brand; IIs have a voice and a transmittable personality, both qualities necessary to be memorable in relations to the millions of people and businesses online. Their transparency and ability to translate is as important to IIs as branding is to business: it lets people know who they are, who they strive to be and what makes them different from anyone else. Like any good business knows, success relies heavily on the ability to connect to consumers emotionally.
Successfully attaining credibility for their personal brand is just the foundation of what makes Internet Influencers. With the dangers of the unfamiliar extinguished with transparency and translation, the appeal of IIs rest on their usefulness to those interested in the subjects they will claim authorities in. IIs need to occupy the virtual world by constantly publishing their opinions, advice, personal stories, pictures or tutorials for the benefit of their peers to gain affect on them. But what differentiates IIs from any person over sharing their knowledge and experience is the desirability of IIs contribution. People are interested in what IIs do or say. Although it is the people who seek the information given by IIs, the cost for the exchange is relatively low. Depending on the social media platform, the currencies of IIs’ virtual communities are “likes,” “views” or “reposts.” IIs require little to none in exchange for the work and efforts they put into meeting their followers’ needs. In addition IIs use their transmittable personality to create informal relationships by directing their content to their readers or viewers. Not only does this form an inclusive community that attracts those with similar interests but it makes IIs seem more approachable.
We already know that the Internet is an amazing tool for reaching people, but what Internet Influencers illustrate in the form of business is that in order to reap the advantages of social media, we must provide something of perceived value and use. Although many IIs may have begun their online careers without any real incentive other than for pleasure, the reason they will continue to religiously work and nurture their presence is the obvious reason of financial reward. Through paid advertisements or endorsements, IIs seek volumes of people for businesses that want to maximize their marketing results by locating and attracting the right consumers.With their established credibility and connections to thousands of prospective consumers, business partnerships with IIs are a resourceful move. Both parties financially benefit from one another by sharing a common goal.
Expansion and Retention
What IIs also teach us in terms of business is that a strong social media presence is necessary in preserving brand relevancy. IIs maintain their virtual authority by increasing their number of followers while retaining current ones through engagement. Many IIs will receive financial compensation for every person who clicks on an ad, follow a link to a business website or visit/follow their own social media profiles. To increase the likelihood of this happening, they need followers. IIs will regularly entice people by providing incentives for the people’s “commitment”. Depending on the social media network, this could be in the form of “following,” “subscribing,” “liking,” “viewing,” etc. Whichever the term, followers’ commitment will not only provide IIs with the security that their content will reach readers or viewers (and expose them to marketing advances) but also attract financial prospect and provide IIs leverage in business transactions.
While the incentives can depend on the IIs’ subject of interest, other than making desirable content, Internet Influencers can sometime use contests and giveaways that require people to commit to their social media network(s) and/or encourage other people to do the same. Often but not always, they use their partnering business’ product or service as a prize. As an example of this approach, on Youtube it might be “subscribing” to IIs’ account and “sharing” their video or “tagging” a friend on Instagram and “reposting” the contest to their own account. IIs maintain their relationship with readers or viewers and use them as resources for attracting new ones. Consciously, IIs employ the word of mouth strategy to further increase their weight in the virtual community, an approach that when nurtured properly, flourishes in the well-connected and social atmosphere.
You will also notice that what Internet Influencers do is similar to what some businesses do already. In addition to contests, giveaways and sweepstakes, partnerships with nonprofits and charities will result in good publicity and even positive brand association. Since some businesses may lack the same type of credibility that IIs possess, they can use certain partnerships to help create a more reliable branding. But even after they’ve established credibility and an effective brand, businesses must know how to keep their customers by making them happy. IIs do this by continuing to respond to their followers and create desirable content. Social media networks make it easier for people to tell IIs and businesses directly what they want. All they have to do is listen.
It is interesting to note that most Internet Influencers started off as regular people who found pleasure in connecting to others with the same interests. Noticing that they were not alone in sharing ideas and solutions, they began to take reign in virtual communities, utilizing social media’s established platform to share their knowledge and become experts in managing and gaining from their online presence. As long as they continue to adopt all the right approaches and adjust them to the demands of the virtual world, IIs are definitely worth mentioning when it comes to successful online branding.
*According to the report, “Understanding How U.S. Online Shoppers are Reshaping the Retail Experience” published by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP