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What Is Influencer Marketing?

Tom Yawney
Written By
Tom Yawney
Published On
Apr 25, 2017
influencer marketing Toronto

Influencer Marketing is the process of leveraging the online community of an individual that has cultivated a strong social following.

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

That statement was famously expressed by pop artist Andy Warhol in 1968. While the interpretation of this statement continues, it has never been more prophetic.

We live in a world where millions of people spend their time watching a 16-year old girl lip sync. To be fair, the same could have been said of Britney Spears in the late 90’s, but that was a dirty little secret! Nowadays, lip synching has become a legitimate form of business. In fact, Baby Ariel has 13 MILLION followers on Musicl.ly – and I’d venture to guess that a large percentage of people reading this article have never heard of musical.ly.

So here’s the most interesting bit… For the first time in history, people are becoming “Internet famous” for anything – even body parts. Do you have a world class ass? Good news! Your big booty has an even bigger market place. Even well established media outlets like Cosmopolitan are all over it. But it doesn’t stop there…

Playing video games is big business. Sharing your workout regimen is huge. Helping women understand how to apply makeup is massive. Teaching people how to play an instrument, demonstrating stickhandling drills, demonstrating yoga poses, reviewing movies… I could go on, but you get the point. Perhaps more importantly, you know what I’m talking about because you see it every day.

At this point, a handful of people reading this article are thinking…

“This is silly. Why does anyone care what these people have to say?”

Well, here’s your answer…

In the past, the gatekeepers of traditional media held all the control, and they told us who we needed to care about. We were forced to pay attention to the people that were paraded onto radio, television, and print. The public had no options, alternatives, or control.

Over time, that business model evolved through shows like “Star Search” and “American Idol.” We were granted the opportunity to participate in the selection of our stars. But over the last ten years, social media has completely disrupted the system.

Gatekeepers do not exist in the same way. Everything is there for the taking, and everyone has a device in their pocket allowing them to connect with a global audience. And here’s the kicker… there are a number of free (Free!) platforms available to suit your skill-set.

Are you quick witted communicator? Twitter is the place for you. Do you take awesome pictures? Instagram is your jam. Do you produce great video content? Good news! People are spending more time on Youtube than watching TV. And you also have Facebook, SnapChat, Pinterest, Music.ly, and more.

So what does it all mean? It means that the pendulum has swung completely in favour of the public, and we can choose who is worthy of our attention. It also means that “regular people” have the ability to build large communities on social media, and these communities are authentic and engaged because they are gathered around shared interests.


So back to the question at hand… What is Influencer Marketing?

Simply put, Influencer Marketing is the process of leveraging the online community of an individual that has cultivated a strong social following.

The purpose of Influencer Marketing is to tap into a community, and offer value. In order for an Influencer Marketing campaign to work, it needs to be genuine and authentic. For instance, if a prominent yoga instructor has 50K followers on Instagram and loves to use a certain type of mat, it would make logical sense to run a campaign with that mat company. The yoga instructor receives compensation, and the brand is immediately validated within a hyper focused community of 50K people.

Couple more examples…

A fashion and beauty blogger uses the same makeup every day. She loves the product(s), and she has a large following on Youtube where she dishes makeup advice. It would make perfect sense to connect that Influencer with the associated brand to run a campaign.

A male bodybuilder with a large Instagram following loves to use a certain type of pre-workout drink, and post workout protein shake. It would make perfect sense to align this fitness Influencer with the products he uses and loves.


Influencer Marketing works because it’s social proof. What does it mean to be social proof? It means that people trust people before brands, or platforms.

So, if one of your friends or family members tells you that a product or service is “the best,” there’s a good chance you will believe them. To take that a step further, if a bunch of friends or family members tell you that a product or service is “the best,” you will definitely believe them.

Conversely, when a brand tells you their product is “the best,” you do not believe them. It’s a pitch, and we’ve been hammered with “push” sales tactics our entire lives. At this point in the evolution of the human experience, we have all developed incredible B.S detectors, and we’re skeptical.

Now let’s look at it from the perspective of a platform…

Do you trust Google results? Perhaps. But most people are also aware that the results provided by Google are not necessarily “the best.” The results largely reflect who is willing to pay the most in the AdWords PPC section, and who has the best on-page SEO, content strategy, and back-link profile from an off-page SEO perspective. That’s why so many people turn to reviews before making a purchasing decision. And let’s be real for a moment, Google started their operations with the motto “don’t be evil”… which ironically, seems suspicious in its own right, doesn’t it?

(My apologies, Google overlords, I support your pursuit of world dominance 😉

But I digress…

When a brand says “this product is the best,” it feels like a sales pitch. When an Influencer says “this product is the best,” their community believes them. We trust people. And if you don’t believe me, go look at the engagement rates of Influencer campaigns. That will tell you the whole story.

Brand pages typically have an engagement rate of 3% or less. The Influencer page typically has an engagement rate that lies somewhere between 5  -15%, and sometimes much higher than that. This speaks to the trust that exists between an Influencer and their community.


While Influencer Marketing is a new and emerging strategy in the world of digital media, it’s been around since the 1700’s under a different name – celebrity endorsements. Yes, celebrity endorsements have existed for hundreds of years. We are all accustomed to Peyton Manning gushing over Papa John’s pizza, or listening to Shaq explain how the “Icy Hot Back Patch” eases his pain.

In the past, these celebrity endorsements were only available to athletes, musicians, actors and actresses, and notable community figures. Now, for the first time in history, these endorsement opportunities are extending to people that have developed notable social communities in the online world. Pretty interesting stuff.


Quick answer, it needs to be genuine and authentic. Now let’s delve a little deeper…

Throughout the history of marketing, there are two considerations that determine the authenticity and effectiveness of a celebrity endorsement.

1. It doesn’t work when it feels forced. The Pepsi & Kendall Jenner Ad is a prime example of that.

2. The celebrity cannot endorse too many products. Otherwise they lose their credibility with the public for “selling out to anyone offering a quick buck.”

On that note, let’s look at an example of a celebrity endorsement that avoided the two pitfalls listed above, and worked incredibly well:

It is no secret that Marshawn Lynch loves skittles. He used to eat them on the bench during NFL games. It is also no secret, to football fans, that Mr. Lynch avoids the media limelight. His pre-Superbowl “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” media scrum is an all-time classic.

So when Marshawn Lynch partnered with Skittles to make fun of his Superbowl media scrum, it was perfect. It was extremely natural, it was logical, and it was provided value – in this case through humour.

So what’s the recipe for an effective Influencer Marketing campaign? Again, at it’s core, it needs to have heart. It can’t be selling for the sake of selling. I needs to feel genuine and authentic – which is easier said than done!

No matter what the platform, business, or approach, successful Influencer Marketing programs should be approached with structure, strategy and analysis – be creative, but be REAL, and it will resonate with your target audience.

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