It’s hard to believe that the term “influencer” only officially entered the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2019, because influencers have been around for a very long time. While the official definition is simply “one who exerts influence,” this role is covered under various titles, including thought leader, key opinion leader, expert, pundit, master or specialist. While the role of influencers has evolved over time, they continue to play an important role in helping to build and strengthen a brand.

Long Before YouTube and Instagram…

Influencers played a role in brand building as early as the mid-1600s. Josiah Wedgwood was a recognized and sought after potter, but the real reason he gained prominence was his use of royalty as celebrity influencers. He borrowed equity from the Queen to build his brand.

While not of royal blood, Lillie Langtry was a prominent socialite and actress and one of the first people to represent a brand—Brown’s Iron Bitters—by appearing on trade cards.

These pioneers of influence paved the path for companies and brands to leverage authoritative and “influential” people today, from industry experts or analysts to tastemakers with vibrant, outgoing personalities and an expansive social media presence.

Identifying the Right "Influencer"

Expert influencers are sources quoted in credible news articles that describe the state of an industry or the impact of a new product or development in a niche space. Communications professionals seek earned influence by engaging journalists or analysts writing about a sector or theme, and the authority figures frequently mentioned in their articles.

Over the past decade or so, the role of paid influencer—sponsored appearances, endorsements or social media posts—has come to the fore. When searching for any partner to advocate on their behalf, a brand should evaluate:

  • The influencers background, past work and experience related to their market or space;
  • Their level of influence (follower count as well as engagement numbers), and the most popular medium through which they reach their audience;
  • How frequently they are quoted or featured in news articles;
  • The events they’ve attended and/or have been active participants; and
  • Any negative actions or comments related to their past or their views. This may not make an influencer a no-go, but it’s important to be prepared.

To make influencer relationships fruitful and truly effective, it is critical to align on core values and to adapt to diverse working styles. Companies must remember that influencers in every industry have their own brands to protect and nurture.

Whether it’s a paid or earned relationship, a natural and authentic affinity must underscore the partnership to solidify a mutually-beneficial collaboration. The desired outcomes—deeper engagement, broader reach, or both—will determine your influencer strategy and mix.

Companies will continue to engage key audiences in the earned space, from media to industry analysts and experts, to validate their market position. Paid influencers are an additional proven way to help build a brand’s reputation.

About the author

Risha Tyagi

Risha Tyagi is an Account Supervisor at RPG San Francisco and manages a wide range of PR activities, including media and analyst relations, writing/editing byline articles, as well as running speaking, award, and social media programs. Risha is passionate about telling the right story to the right audience (in English, Hindi and/or Mandarin!) and brings a powerful combination of educational and professional experience from diverse countries.