Sep 28, 2015 / by Jim Dougherty

In a recent AdAge profile, Laundry Service CEO Jason Stein describes the huge opportunity that influencers offer to marketers, communications professionals and brands:

There is a major convergence between influencers, brands and publishers, and the ones who are really successful are all three of these things.”

Of course Stein has a vested interest in influencers (Laundry Service is a very innovative shop focused on social influence, working with high profile brands such as Beats, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and Nike’s Jordan brand), but it occurred to me how contextual most people’s understanding of social influence is. A Facebook marketer may know Mari Smith or George Takei, but be less familiar with a YouTube influencer like PewDiePie or the DudeAwesome crew, or a Vine influencer like Jerry Purpdrank.

Not only do we contextualize influencer marketing based upon our own paradigms, but there’s also inconsistency when it comes to estimating the value of influencer campaigns. Stein hypothesizes about an NBA player whose 30 million impressions per month value his Twitter channel at $3.6 million dollars (using a CPM formula). For a high profile celebrity like Kim Kardashian ($10,000 per promoted tweet) or Bethanny Frankel ($5,600 per promoted tweet) this may be a reasonable value estimate, but for most communications and marketing professionals, influence campaigns happen on a much smaller scale and with far less tangible examples. For instance, assuming a linear relationship between Kim Kardashian’s tweet value and mine, I should be able to charge $16 per tweet (Kim has about 17 million followers to my 29,000). Yet, knowing what I know about the capability of my Twitter channel to convert readers, $16 is far too much to charge for me to promote anything. At 29,000 followers, influence remains pretty slight.

What I wanted to do in this post is look at how different people perceive influencer campaigns. As you can imagine there are some pretty strong opinions about how marketers and communications professionals can leverage influencers for their marketing and communications, so let’s take a closer look:

1. Influencers as an “ecosystem”


“The ‘influencer ecosystem’ in business marketing is a specialized group of people for each company, an industry-specific and well-connected few who can reach the purchase decision makers.” – Molly Soat, American Marketing Association1

The counterpoint to Stein’s description of the powerful celebrity influence channel is the idea of influencer “ecosystems.” This theory acknowledges that online influence may be more effectively harnessed by a group of influencers rather than by singular influencers. The benefits being corroboration by many rather than one, and more granular targeting opportunities. The negatives being the difficulty to wrangle influencers in and to unify their messaging.

Triberr’s sponsored influencer campaigns are an example of a way that brands will try to leverage targeted groups of influencers with their campaigns, rather than work with singular, higher-profile people. From a brand perspective, Pop Chips is often cited as a brand that has been successful leveraging an ecosystem of users to create awareness around their brand.

Another way that brands leverage multiple influencers is through ambassador programs, where they share exclusive information and products with a group of influential fans in order to create awareness and goodwill for the product. Tile App received praises for multiple posts on productivity. I got some exclusive information before they launched their “find my phone” feature and occasionally get free products for helping to amplify awareness on social media channels (and here – although I mean to use it as an example and not a promotion).

2. Influence campaigns don’t work

“The future of social influence marketing will depend on robust analytics to increase our understanding of what drives behavioral change. Mistaking any of the myriad confounding factors for influence can lead to costly mistakes—in marketing strategy and in public policy.” – Sinan Aral, Harvard Business Review2

Diametrically opposed to Stein’s bullishness on influencer marketing is the opinion that influence marketing doesn’t work. More specifically, that the mechanism doesn’t work in and of itself.

In the course of MIT Professor Sinan Aral’s research into influencer marketing, he concludes that influencers are most apt to recommend products when they are passing incentives on to their network. For example, I might be a fan of a shoe brand and the impetus for me to share that might be the ability to share a discount with my friends.

Aral’s research is quite interesting in that it seeks to understand the environment necessary to leverage granular influence.

Want to know more about the role influencers play in your social media success? Get our white paper today!

3. Influencers drive awareness at the top of the sales funnel


“At the top of the funnel are social channels—most notably, Facebook and Twitter—that function in much the same way as a broadcast medium. They can be used to target a brand’s influencers or to reach directly other segments of consumers at scale.” – Journal of Advertising Research3

The implication by some advocates of influence marketing is that given the right circumstances, influence can convert to sales. Many marketers tend to look at influence marketing as a “top-of-the-funnel” tactic, meant to create awareness through familiar, trusted channels. This point of view limits the way that influencer tactics can be implemented into a marketing mix or communication plan.

The general disagreement about the value of influence marketing lends credence to this point of view (value approximation is imprecise in most things digital), but if influence was a reliable conversion channel it could probably be measured pretty easily (with referral codes or tags).

4. Influencers can be categorized by archetype

Some people believe that sub-categorizing influencers can be a helpful way to approach influence marketing. Marketing expert Jim Berry suggests categorizing influencers by the following criteria:

  • Educator
  • Evangelist
  • Motivator
  • Mentor

The underlying criteria for these archetypes appears to be Klout, which also offers the following criteria to find a powerful influencer:

  • Subject matter expertise
  • Following
  • Active on social media
  • Create great content
  • Are aligned with your messaging

The big takeaway for categorization is that there is necessary analysis before implementing an influence marketing campaign. And not all analyses are created equal…

5. Influence primarily occurs offline


“No matter what age group or country you study, and no matter how actively people use social media — the huge majority of users influence each other face to face rather than through social online channels like blogs and social networks.” – Nate Elliott, Forrester

The last point of view is shared by notable marketing professor Jonah Berger as well as noted Forrester analyst Nate Elliott: influence happens offline far more frequently than it does online. Having this opinion affects the tactics that you use and probably makes you bearish about leveraging some of the social channels described above.

Besides being counterintuitive, this is also one of the most data-rich opinions. Berger and Elliott are experts on word-of-mouth and marketing.


What I wanted to do in this post is share some insights about influencer marketing. As with any soft science, there is a range of opinion about the best way to go about it. That said, most marketers and communications professionals see influencers as key to messaging and targeting the right audience.





1 Soat, Molly. 2013. “Serious Sway.” Marketing News 47, no. 3: 10-11. Health Business Elite, EBSCOhost (accessed September 25, 2015).
2 Aral, Sinan, Graham Robertson, Jayshree Shivshankar Nayak, Andrew Serby, and Kathy Sierra. 2013. “How Important Are Social Influencers, Really?: Interaction.” Harvard Business Review 91, no. 7/8: 16. Health Business Elite, EBSCOhost (accessed September 25, 2015).
3 Fulgoni, Gian M., and Andrew Lipsman. 2015. “Digital Word of Mouth And Its Offline Amplification.” Journal Of Advertising Research 55, no. 1: 18-21. Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 25, 2015).

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About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.