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Nov. 24, 2020

Are Social Influencers Right For Your Brand? episode 7

Are Social Influencers Right For Your Brand? episode 7

What is influencer marketing and why does it matter? Are influencers right for your brand? In this episode, I explain my six categories of influencers, and deep-dive into one of them: Social Media Influencers.




I discuss: Why anyone who influences your audience is an influencer.  Which brands social media influencers are and aren't right for. Questions to ask to understand who your audience engages with. Two mistakes I've made selecting social influencers in the past. And, numerous influencer marketing stats you can use in your next work conversation to answer questions about whether influencer marketing is effective.

My first experience with influencer marketing was earlier in my career helping develop the influencer capabilities at an agency I worked at in Boston back in the early 2000s. Influencer marketing was a relatively new term that Marketing teams were considering.  I remember working on this huge influencer program for a major bottled water company to support the launch of a new health water they were launching that targeted women specifically.  We wanted to first tap into influencers as a thought-leadership group to give us feedback on the product, and then if they liked it—tap into them to help spread awareness around the new health water.  It was a larger mass influencer approach.

We researched and found thousands of influencers, who shared their feedback; notified us of other collaboration opportunities like sponsoring a LARGE event we wouldn’t have otherwise been considered for; some became PR spokespeople for us and answered reporter questions about the health aspects of the product; and then that first group referred others, and grew the program into 10s of thousands of influencers across the country.  To this day, this remains the largest organized influencer program I’ve personally worked on. 

Lately, my influencer work has revolved around focusing on a handful of influencers and building meaningful, long-term relationships and activations with them.

Neither approach is better than the other. It all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

What Does Influencer Marketing Mean? How to Define Influencers

An influencer is anyone who influences your audience. It can be ANYONE. 

For example, it can be the mom next door, your employee, a social influencer, celebrity, CEO of an organization, owners of your product, or any group of people that your audience listens to, is inspired by, and trusts.

Is Influencer Marketing Right for My Brand?

So, when a brand asks me if influencer marketing is right for them, I ALWAYS think influencer marketing is right for EVERY brand. It just depends WHAT KIND of influencers are right for your brand.  Because All types of influencers are NOT right for every brand.

Let me repeat that in a different way: Influencers are 100% right for your brand as long as you’re focusing on influencers who actually influence your audience.

That is why I believe influencer marketing is always going to be important for your brand.

Because I don’t see a day when company’s stop trying to influence their audience and spread word of mouth about how great they are/how they can help/why you should invest in them.

Is Influencer Marketing Dead?

Over the last few years there are have been headlines about whether influencer marketing is dying.

If it’s something brands are going to stop doing.

I don’t think so. I think the methods brands use will evolve and change, but the root of finding people who influence your audience? I don’t see that need dying any time soon. We all want people to talk us.

As a brand marketer, you want to find people who recommend your product or service. People that other’s trust, and respect, and will listen to their opinions. These influencers help scale your message through their network. It’s a form of word-of-mouth marketing. And, word-of-mouth marketing has been around since the beginning of time.

We all want to connect with our audience in a way that drives them to do some kind of action for our products or services, right? We all want to influence our target audience to do the thing we’re asking them to do.  So, if you can find the people -- or types of people -- who have earned the trust of your target audience, then of course you’ll want to talk to those influencers to help spread word-of-mouth about our company.

So, that’s the first thing I want to make clear about influencer marketing:  Influencers are 100% right for your brand as long as you’re focusing on influencers who actually influence your audience.


Influencers are More than Social Media Influencers

The second thing I want to make clear is that influencers are more than Social Media influencers. 

Yes, Social influencers represent a big group of people you can tap into and scale awareness through. But, Social influencers aren’t the only kind of influencers out there.

6 Types of Influencers According to Sarah Panus

  1. The first category is A-listers or Celebrities: These people have celebrity-dom in some way with a reach greater than 1MM.  These are people that big chunks of the population would know. Because of their size/reach potential, they’re usually the most expensive to partner with, but there are ways to negotiate that I’ll get into in a future episode.

  2. The 2nd category is PR-able experts:  These are people your PR team will be jazzed to pitch to media outlets to secure earned media coverage. They’re a trusted source that earned Media will want to hear from. I have these as a category because earned media reporters want to interview and talk to experts. In my experience, it can be hard to get a reporter interested in speaking with a social influencer as the quoted expert in a story. Now—this of course depends on the background of that influencer, but is generally true.  For example, a doctor might not be big on social media, but they have tremendous influence in their field of expertise.  By partnering with them, you can generate credible earned media stories for your brand in publications your target audience likes to read/watch/listen to.

  3. The 3rd category is made up of your existing Owners:  Hands down this is my favorite type of influencer, because people trust recommendations from their family and friends so much. And, your existing owners, partners or members (whatever you want to call them) know you already so it takes less money/work to activate them on your behalf. The cost per lead generated through an existing owner is usually much less than the cost per lead capturing someone from scratch.

  4. The 4th category is CSR/Partner Amplifiers:  This group can include a few types of partners.  CSR stands for corporate social responsibility.  If you have a cause your brand cares about, who are the organizations or nonprofits you partner with on this (or want to partner with)?  They’re influential in that category.  Additionally, what other partners does your company have? Do you have larger agreements with paid media outlets you could tap into?   Are any of the company’s who provide products or services for your brand influential in their own category so you could partner further to share branded content together within their network?

  5. The 5th category is your Employees: Yup. Your own employee-base can definitely act as influencers for your brand.  Your employees embody what your company stands for. They’re advocates who decided to work for your company because of shared beliefs, values, etc.  They can help influence future hires, partnership, share external company information with their friends & family. Or, like Peloton, your own people can be front-line influencers teaching about your company’s expertise to deeper your company’s leadership position and build credibility along the way.

  6. And, last but not least, we have the category most people think of first when considering influencer marketing, and the category I’ll be digging into deeper today-- Social Creators

These are people with engaged social followers, and they’re excellent content creators.

Social media influencer sub-groups: mega, macro and micro

You can break social influencers into three sub-groups: mega, macro and micro. 

Mega are influencers with 1M+ followers. This can overlap with the A-list celeb category I mentioned earlier, but their influencer and following is specifically on social whereas celebs and A-listers are generally known for something else but also happen to be popular on social. Like an actor or musician.

Macro influencers are people who have 100K-1M followers

And, micro influencers have less than 100K followers.

Now, you’ll see varying definitions online about what the size ranges are for a micro vs macro influencers.  And, to me it doesn’t really matter if the cutoff is 50K or 100K followers. What matters is holistically just realizing and planning around the types of sizes of influencers you’re engaging with.

Sarah Panus smiles at the camera with red background, wearing a red shirt.


Social Media Influencers are Right for Your Brand If:

  • Your target audience is highly engaged on social channels, or if there are online pockets of people (like in Facebook groups, for example) you know your audience listens to for ideas, tips, help, opinions, or inspiration.

  • You want to tap into social creator genius to create digital assets for your brand that they share and you can also scale. You should think of them as an extension of your creative team in this way.  You’re tapping into their creative genius to help reach and engage your target audience and give you great digital content you can promote and scale across your owned channels.

  • And, they’re right for your brand if You’re ok giving them creative liberties (within reason, of course) to create content that they feel will speak the most kindred language with their audience.

Social Media Influencers are Wrong for Your Brand If:

  • Your target audience distrusts or is skeptical about social media. 

  • Or they’re light users of social.  When you look at their media consumption habits they don’t register as being highly engaged in social channels.

  • And, they’re wrong for your brand if you’re uncomfortable letting them interpret your brand in their own way. Social influencers are popular with their followers because of their “special sauce” if you will. If you come in as a brand and try to dictate exactly what they say and do—your message will fall flat with their audience, come across as inauthentic, cause negative sentiment for the influencer, and ultimately creates a poorly performing campaign.

Who is Your Audience Influenced By?

If your brand is using or thinking about using social influencers, you first need to understand the answers to this question:  Who is our audience influenced by?

The way to help understand this is to survey your current customers (or people you want to be your future customers). Ask them. Ask them things like:

  1. Tell me more about the top 3 social influencers you follow online. Why do you follow them? What do you like/dislike about them? Have you tried any products or services they’ve recommended?

  2. Who is someone you follow online that recently recommended something and you ended up buying it.

  3. Why do you follow social influencers in general? Advice, inspiration, comedic relief or escape from reality, etc.

How to Measure Influencer Marketing

And one of my tips for selecting social influencers is to not get distracted only by the size of their audience. A large social following doesn’t necessarily equate to large results.

I’ve personally seen a macro-sized influencer outperform a celebrity because the macro influencer’s audience was way more engaged. The celebrity’s audience was definitely larger, but the celebrity didn’t comment and engage with her audience that much. So, her fans and follower were just commenting without any real back/forth.  Whereas the macro influencer had a habit of replying to almost every comment from her community which resulted in deeper engagements and her community really trusting what she was recommending . 

I’ve also made the mistake of working with an influencer who’s social engagement rate was through the roof – like 7x higher than other influencers we were working with.  And, we looked at the volume of engagements on their overall social content and also sectioned out just the ER on other product collabs they were doing to help inform our decision of if we’d work with them or not. But, what we didn’t take into consideration was digging deeper into the sentiment and quality of the physical comments they received for their other product collabs, and on all their posts overall.

What I learned in hindsight is that no matter what the influencer posted about, their audience pretty much engaged with them on a certain topic for which they were known. It didn’t matter if they were talking about something else or not. Their audience cared about one path with them and that’s what they wanted to engage with them around.

This reduced the engagement rate value for them with my client’s brand, because even though they were generating lots of social engagements, their audience wasn’t really talking about our product. So, it didn’t pan out the way we wanted.

As you know I’m a huge fan of sharing our mistakes to help learn from each other, so I hope those help someone else out there.

What are Useful Influencer Marketing Stats

The 2020 State of Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report from Influencer Marketing Hub shows, nearly 90% of influencer campaigns include Instagram as part of the marketing mix. 

It also shows Large companies have nearly doubled the amount of creators they activate per campaign in the past 2 years. And the most common measure of influencer marketing success is now conversion/sales.  Which is really interesting because there’s a ton about influencer marketing that’s hard to track and quantify. So, that tells me we’re under a lot of pressure to prove it works.

And the Digital Marketing Institute published a great post with links to 20 influencer marketing stats that I’ll link to in the show notes. Because I know how helpful it is to have external validation to show your boss, let’s talk about a few of them. I won’t get into all 20 of them, but it’s definitely a good article to read if you do anything with influencer marketing in your current role.

The first stat I found interesting is that 70% of teens trust influencers more than traditional celebrities.

And if you dig deeper into this group, 4 in 10 millennial subscribers are saying their favorite influencer understands them better than their friends.

That one really surprised me, because peer pressure and influence from friends during the teen years is pretty big. To say they think an influencer understand them better than their friends makes me wonder if this stat will actually grow now that so many students are spending more time at home/online due to COVID-19 and aren’t interacting with their friends face-to-face as much as they probably used to. 

As a mom, it also really makes me hope that the social influencers are good role models for these teens. And, I think creates a great opportunity to ask your teen more about who they like to follow these days. What do they like about them?

The second stat is:  86% of Women use social media for purchasing advice.  And 40% of people say they purchased something after seeing it on Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.

I can see this being true. I’m personally in multiple facebook mom groups, and business/career groups, and it’s true. We’re always asking each other for recommendations or feedback on something.

I know for me, recently I picked most of the tech software and tools I use for my business because of recommendations from other business leaders that I trust and am connected to online.

I also picked my makeup brushes because a social influencer I follow said she’s been using them for two years, and she always looks great --- so of course I snagged her exclusive discount code to get my own—and they ARE great makeup brushes. And—she’s NOT a makeup influencer. But, she’s always super honest and non-pretentious and says when she doesn’t like something, So, I’ve grown to like her and trusted she wasn’t lying about liking these brushes. She’s earned my trust.

Can Influencers Drive ROI?

Is influencer marketing effective? The third stat:  Influencer marketing campaigns earn $6.50 for every dollar spent

Now full disclosure—this one is pulled from a 2015 Tomoson study. But, even though it’s a few year old, it still has merit—especially given the other stats I just shared about consumer’s tapping into social for advice or to engage with people who “get them”.   $6.50 is a significant ROI, and this same study found the top 13% of influencer marketing campaigns earned $20 or more for every dollar spent.

And the last stat is from SEM Rush and relates to ad blockers.  40% of customers use ad-blocking tech.  Which means more of your audience is removing traditional ads from their online experience. They’re showing 40% of U.S. users block ads on laptops and 15% block it on mobile devices because they don’t want banners or pop-ups. 

BUT—guess what? They’re not blocking content from influencers talking about products and things they like.  Yet another benefit of using influencer marketing and brand storytelling to reach and connect with your target audience.

OK, that’s where I’m going to leave things for today’s episode.

In Summary

  • In summary, you now know my 6 categories of influencers and that influencers are ANYONE that influences your audience.

  • We dug into social creators and talked about which brands social influencers are/aren’t for

  • I gave you some Qs to ask to help understand which influencers your audience engages with,

  • Shared two mistakes I’ve made in selecting influencers; and reviewed some third-party stats you can use in your next influencer marketing discussion at work.


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Links Mentioned in This Episode



Sarah Panus is a brand storytelling marketing strategist, podcast host, Minnesota mom, and owner of Kindred Speak, LLC, a remote consultancy that helps corporations attract upper-funnel leads that drive bottom-funnel results through storytelling. Her mission is to add value to the world by humanizing brand+consumer connections. Her online courses teach content professionals inside corporations how to think like Editorial Directors to drive stronger results while enjoying their jobs more. She’s spent the last 20 years helping brands including Sleep Number, Starbucks, Nestle Waters, Christos Bridal, Game Crazy, Cone Inc, and others, speak a kindred language with their audiences, driving brand advocacy and millions in revenue and brand engagements. Learn more at