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The Definitive Guide to Influencer Targeting

The term “influencer” is wiggling its way through the tangled web. And it’s a hard one to catch because no one knows for certain what it looks like. Personally, I think that’s where the biggest challenge lies, because an influencer is like a changeling. It has a different image for every brand and often for every campaign of a brand.

Here is my own take on what an influencer is and a guide for where to find ideal influence to promote your business.

Part 1: What is an Influencer

Now that word of mouth recommendations and criticisms spread through social media faster than fire in a dry field, influencers are people who are active on social media and blogs. They also are brand advocates and niche promoters.

If you take away only one thing from this guide, please retain this crucial bit of advice from Jay Baer: “True influence drives action, not just awareness.”

While someone with hundreds of thousands of social media followers certainly could expose your brand to their followers, if they are not a snug contextual fit, their post or tweet would be moot as far as driving leads and customers.

Why Does Your Brand Need Influencers?

Consumers trust recommendations from a third party more often than a brand itself. And it makes sense if you think about it in a more personal context. You don’t usually trust a person at a cocktail party who comes up to you and brags about himself or herself and spouts fun facts about his or her personality to convince you to be a friend. But you often believe your mutual friend who vouches for that person. An influencer is the mutual friend connecting your brand with your target consumers.

When you align with an influencer, not only do they bring their audience, but they also bring their audience’s network as well. Because of the loyalty of their audience, an influencer has the ability to drive traffic to your site, increase your social media exposure, and flat-out sell your product through their recommendation or story about their experience.

With the fall of traditional outbound marketing, influencer marketing is becoming one of the most effective ways to attract customers and clients. Modern day consumers are blind to billboards and deaf to commercials. They are self-sufficient and want to research a brand on their own and hear about it from someone they trust.

Where do influencers step in to inbound marketing? Well, they are generating content about your brand, they are recommending your brand to their loyal following, and they are inserting themselves into conversations surrounding the niche of your brand. Thus, getting them on your side before your competitor does can make a huge difference in the success (or lack thereof) of your company.

Think About the Audience


Think about the audience. Actually, don’t just think about the audience you’re after, obsess over it. As a marketer, you already have a solid idea of the audience you should be targeting for your brand. To locate the ideal influence, you need to take it one step further and think about the types of topics, blogs, and tweeters that your audience would follow.

Since I market a blogger outreach tool for my company, the influencers that I’ve targeted are PR and marketing blogs that emphasize content and influencer marketing. Followers of these blogs usually are PR professionals and marketers who want to keep up with the latest technology and trends in their field. Thus, hopefully, they find my company relevant when a blogger they follow recommends it. However, had I gone after bloggers who write about finance, even though a particular blogger might like my software, their audience most likely wouldn’t care.

Who’s Doing It?

While it seems that some companies don’t want to let go of their outbound marketing practices, fashion ecommerce sites are targeting influencers like pros. Many are reaching out to reputable fashion bloggers and sending them clothing and accessory items to be reviewed. The blogger then posts photos and writes about the garments, often linking back to the site where their audience can buy the items being reviewed.


ModCloth, a vintage clothing site does a great job of this. They are active in sharing (on social media outlets) the images their audience members provide showing them wearing ModCloth’s clothing. This makes their audience feel special, which encourages more posts about the clothing.

I’ve seen many fashion sites send their items to an influencer, and then the audience could enter a contest to receive it. Or sometimes they will send a credit to an active fashion social media user, magazine writer, or blogger so they can go to the site, pick out some clothing, and then review the experience as a whole.

What Defines an Influencer for Your Brand?

Context: Again, an influencer differs for every brand because, first and foremost, they are a contextual fit. This is the most important characteristic when targeting the right influencers for your brand. For example, Justin Bieber is known as one of the most “influential” social media users with his 37+ million followers. But, would his tweet about your software really bring in sales? Probably not, because 12-year-old girls are not interested in software. So, defining context is the key.

Reach: Of course, after we establish someone as being a contextual fit for our brand, we do want them to have reach so they can share their awesome content or positive recommendation in a manner that actually will be heard. If your online business sold clothes for “tweens,” then maybe a mention to 37 million girls from Justin Bieber wouldn’t be so bad after all…

Actionability: This is the influencer’s ability to cause action by their audience. This characteristic comes naturally when you target individuals that are in contextual alignment with your brand and have a far enough reach.

Influencers don’t force themselves upon an audience. They are an “opt-in” network. Their audience chooses to follow their blog or Twitter handle. Thus, their audience is engaged and is there to hear about the topic being discussed. Hence, the need for a contextual fit.

I want to note that there is a lot of market research coming out about mid-level influencers. These are the influencers who have a decent reach but don’t have such a large audience that they can’t nurture relationships with their audience and harness loyalty. A loyal audience soaks up recommendations like a dry sponge.

power middle in driving social influence visually infographic

Give Your Influencer an Image


  • Personality type: Decide if you need an activist, an informer, an authority, etc. to best promote your campaign or product.
  • Genre: Pick one or two. Examples include technology, fashion, travel, marketing, etc.
  • Niche: This can be two or three. In order to promote my own product, I usually target marketing and PR influencers, as my genre and my niches are firms writing about blogger outreach and influencer targeting.
  • Topics: Pick a topic that your ideal influencer sometimes talks about on social media or their blog. You will be referencing this topic when you reach out and explain why the two of you are such a good fit.
  • Type of reach: Is it site traffic you are after or social media followers? Is the influencer an active blogger? Do you have a visually driven campaign and need your influencer to be on Pinterest and Instagram? Is it tweets you are after? Whatever reach you think is best for your brand, narrow down the channels and the number of followers on those channels.

Part 2: Where to Look for Your Ideal Influencer

Now that you’ve given your influencer an image, it’s no longer this misty figure that we can barely see. It’s now tangible so we can understand it and recognize it when we see it.

Social Media Monitoring

Brand advocates are the loudest influencers your brand will have. Not only does their audience follow them because what they write aligns with your brand but they also talk loudly and actively about how much they like your company. By tuning in to your social media mentions and blog posts about your brand, you will find influencers and advocates you didn’t realize you had.

Social media monitoring also allows you to find influencers who advocate for the genre or niche you have outlined. For example, someone may post and tweet heavily about yoga gear but not mention your website as an awesome place to buy yoga gear. Well, this is someone you want to engage with and expose your brand to.

Research Hashtags: Identify the hashtags that your target influencers are using. For my company, I follow #bloggeroutreach and #influencemktg. By tuning in to the conversations surrounding these hashtags, I have not only identified active talkers in these categories, but I’ve also identified blog topics that I wrote to appeal to these influencers as well. Once you start finding influencers that seem like a good fit for your brand, I recommend putting them in a Twitter list so that you can organize and follow them most effectively. I use HootSuite to organize my Twitter channel. Here is what my hashtags look like in their platform:

blogger outreach

Google Alerts: Set alerts for keywords pertaining to your brand to identify people who actively write about topics in your realm. You also should create alternatives for the name of your brand so that you can find posts and articles containing your mentions and identify advocates who already are in place.

Google Alerts

Social Mention: Social Mention allows you to type in your company’s name to discover mentions on different outlets such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, just to name a few.

Blogger Outreach

Bloggers arguably are the strongest spoke in the wheel of influencers. A report from Technorati shows us that 86% of influencers also operate at least one blog. One of the bonuses of targeting bloggers is that they almost always are active across many social media platforms.

When locating influential bloggers for your brand, start by searching for blogs in your genre and find the niche(s) by reading through the posts to determine if they write about relevant post topics. After making a list of the contextually relevant bloggers, then it’s time to locate their SEO stats and social media information to pinpoint the ones that equal the best reach for your brand.

blogger stats

Manually sorting through blogs to find all of the criteria that you outlined when you gave your influencer an image can take a long time. Luckily, there are a lot of really good blogger outreach tools out there to make this process easier. There is a tool to cover every part of the spectrum. If you are a small business wanting to do minimal blogger outreach, then I’d recommend checking out Inkybee or BlogDash. Mid to high level firms who are going to be doing a lot of influencer targeting should check out GroupHigh or Buzz Stream.

Part 3: You Know What They Are and Found Them, Now What?

Encourage Content Creation

A true influencer of your brand is passionate about your product or service. And this passion shows through the bright white lines that appear on computer screens and it spreads to those who read their words, which results in many leads for your company! So your goal is to get as much content from happy customers live in cyber space as possible. Here are some ways to squeeze out consumer-generated content from the customers that you know already love your brand:

  • In applicable brands, ask the customers to upload photos and videos of themselves using your product. If you offer a promise to share their uploaded content, I promise that the narcissism that is social media will consume them and you will have a lot of happy compliers.
  • Incentivize user generated content with a product give away or discount on your service.
  • Ask happy customers to answer case study questions and assure them they can approve your content before you publish it. I saw better response rates when I bribed my customers with gift cards because answering these questions takes up a decent chunk of their time.
  • Participate in all forms of discussion forums. Google Plus communities, the comments section of your posts, and LinkedIn discussions are a great place to start. By engaging in discussions with your audience, you can use their posts or words as quotes and even blog post inspiration. You also can ask them to write a post based on their comment and publish it. I promise that when they see their words live, they’ll share it like crazy.
  • Send out free products or a free trial of your software without any sort of prior commitment from the influencer. If they like it, they might mention you or write about you, recommending the awesome product.
  • If the relevance is there, swap guest posts with them.

Compensate Influencers

If someone is going to spout good things about your brand, they need to be compensated. It doesn’t have to be financially, but it can be, though. The point is you want your influencer to feel rewarded, acknowledged, loved, important, or any combination of those. Here are some ways to compensate the influencers you find for your brand:

  • Financially. I would proceed with caution on this one. Is a recommendation that is paid for really going to come across as sincere? However, if the passion for your brand is truly there, maybe this could be okay sometimes.
  • Shout outs. Sharing a post they write about you on your social media outlets will get more traffic to their site and make them feel important. Also, something as simple as a tweet that says “Thanks for the awesome shout out, you sexy influencer,” (or something to that effect) will do wonders.
  • Product discount or giveaway. Offering a discount on your service or giving them a product from your brand will really incentivize an influencer to keep talking about you.
  • Commission. For influencers who are actively inserting themselves into conversations about your brand and bringing you big sales, it’s not a horrible idea to give them some sort of commission for the clients they bring your way.

Stay Informed

Just like any other marketing trend, influencer targeting will continue to morph and evolve. Kind of like how billboards became banner ads and banner ads became content marketing. Anyway, here are some great resources and influencers who often talk about influence marketing that I recommend you follow to ensure that you are keeping up.

Macala Wright has some really cool things to say about the “bastardazation” of influence. Check out this article she wrote for PSFK and follow her on twitter @macala.

The Izea blog is a good resource to follow.

Traackr blogs about influencer marketing on a daily basis and there are some good tips.

Sensei Marketing blog often tackles influencer related topics.

Brian Solis is a must-follow as he talks about influencers all the time and has fantastic insight on the topic.

Let’s Wrap it Up

Now that your idea of influencers isn’t so elusive and you know where to start looking for them, don’t let your outreach campaign slip by forgetting to use tact. With any interaction, imagine yourself at a cocktail party saying what you are emailing or tweeting. Would you run up to someone and list off all of the cool things about yourself and ask them to check out your brand? I really hope not, so don’t be abrupt in your communication with your list of targeted influencers.

Where do you look for influencers for your brand? Cheers to a good discussion in the comments below!

About the Author: Kristen Matthews is the marketing and community manager for GroupHigh in Boulder, Colorado. She loves collaboration, so contact her any time at or follow her on Twitter @KristenWords and @GroupHigh.

  1. Hi Kristen,

    Great article! Let me introduce Wannahaves to you:

    Wannahaves – Lifestyle & Intelligence Platform
    Not all networks are created equal, the Wannahaves Lifestyle & Intelligence platform is specialized: Built from a great passion for all beautiful and fun things in lifestyle. Our goal is to help lifestyle fans to discover everything they need to know that fits theirs interest profile.

    Wannahaves is a real social lifestyle portal where peers are connected based on their interests. A platform very suitable for brands since the lifestyle intelligence database and tracking technology helps finding the right people and their “interest” peers. Advanced profiling maximizes the ad budget.

    We know the influencers. We speak lifestyle. Be there!

    Launch: June 2013.

  2. Hi Kristen,

    Thanks for publishing an informative article.

  3. HI Kristen,

    Never thought of using Google Alerts!
    Good spotting!
    (ps.. this is a different Ralph than the first comment :))

  4. Great post.
    Jay Baer’s quote is spot on.
    “True influence drives action, not just awareness.”
    Following this advice will help filter Quasi Influencers (good for promotion but low conversion).
    True influencers lead to more conversions and a better ROI.

    Thanks for the post.

  5. Thanks for the article. It’s exactly what I needed.

  6. webbactivemedia Apr 11, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    There is also some value in doing social network analysis to identify influencers. They may not have huge reach but they might play an important role in the network you are looking at – bridging two communities, being a “hub” for the network.

    Getting data that you can do social network analysis on is tricky (it’s not easy for example to examine social networks on Twitter) but your existing activities such as a viral launch might give you useful data to look at. You can use software like Gephi for the analysis or even Google Fusion. An example of the latter is on my blog here: “Mapping the influencers in Launchrock data

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  8. Nice post. I love GroupHigh!

  9. Robert Clarke Apr 12, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Sorry, I’m just not buying into the “Influence Marketing” phenom. Just like Google pays people who have high-traffic websites to host banners and ads, brands are paying people with large followings to promote their products. Let’s call a spade a spade: this is simply affilate marketing dressed in new clothes.

    • Hi Robert, it’s okay to not “buy into” every marketing tactic. Plus, nothing is a “one size fits all” so depending on your brand, maybe influencer marketing isn’t right for you?

      When you say that brands are paying people with large followings to promote their products, this is a flaw in some brand’s influencer marketing campaigns. I agree that many brands are just paying someone with a lot of followers to promote them. However, I wouldn’t call this person an influencer for that brand…. As I mentioned in my post, an influencer fits contextually with your brand, has a loyal audience and is passionate about your brand.

      Honestly, it’s word of mouth marketing and some companies have been doing it for years without calling it influencer marketing. If you think about it……

  10. The modern world of marketing is changing so rapidly it’s mindblowing. Influencers are a fantastic manifestation of this and it’s great to read such a comprehensive overview of how to think about them, leverage them and align with them. Thanks Kirsten for taking the time to “impart your wisdom” ! it is much appreciate by all I am sure.

  11. Great article! There is no doubt that today’s consumers are relying more than ever on word of mouth recommendations for their purchasing decisions. Brands can’t overlook this phenomenon and as usual we are seeing adoption starting with large companies who are already jumping onto this bandwagon with their content marketing/blogger outreach programs. SMBs are just getting comfortable with Google and Facebook ads but will realize that they can get much better conversion and ROI via influencer marketing. They aren’t embracing it yet due to lack of knowledge of and highly fragmented influencer marketing space. There are almost 20M female bloggers in the US alone and only top 100 are well known! There is no way for a corner Deli or a salon to find the right influencer to try and write about their service. This a huge business opportunity and some companies like Sverve are already tapping into it.

    • Thanks for your input, Rohit, seems like we’re on the same page when it comes to our views on influencer marketing. I think the next step is helping smaller brands realize how they can utilize influencer marketing and helping them really hone in on the right influencers for their brands…

  12. This article is spot-on. I am a blogger with a loyal and ever-growing following. While I am a storyteller at heart, I write compensated posts for small to mid-sized brands about once a month. The response from my audience…especially when I offer giveaway merchandise from the brand…is mind-blowing. I know from first-hand experience that influencer marketing is a win-win scenario for brands and influencers alike. It’s an extremely cost-effective way to reach consumers and call them to action via a trusted voice.

    Also, I’d like to second what Rohit said above. I have joined the Sverve network, where end-to-end brand campaigns are offered and managed. Sverve takes the guesswork out of locating the right influencers for small to mid-sized companies. In my two months with Sverve, I have been engaged on multiple campaigns and paid well for my efforts. Sverve is in a class by itself when it comes to effective influencer marketing.

  13. Rohn Jay Miller Apr 13, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Online social “influencers” have almost nothing to do with driving changes in behavior. You’ve got the challenge exactly backwards. Picking the right “influencers” can cause no more than a 3% change versus other social signals. Jure Klepic and Lucule have published their most recent research on the subject:

    I highly recommend anyone read this research before spouting off on how influential “influentials” can be.

    What matters is much harder to accomplish–the right message delivered the right way in the right context. That’s what causes actual change in behavior. By focussing on “influentials” you start with what doesn’t matter and ignore what truly does.

    Sorry to disagree, but the numbers prove the opposite case. Just because Malcolm Gladwell says there are (in the real world) connectors and mavens who influence us doesn’t mean the same thing happens on social networks.

    • That post doesn’t explain how the data was even gathered… It also focuses on Klout and Kred not being accurate which is not how I defined influencers in my post, if you read it?

      I agree with your point on it’s important for a message to be delivered the right way in the right context which is why part of what defines an influencer is that they deliver their message to an audience who is a snug contextual fit. Again, I talked about that in my piece if you read it.

      If you want some valid research, check out some of the sources I listed in my article such as the Technorati report.


  14. Bryant Jaquez Apr 14, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Influencers are typically easy to reach, you just have to sound like a real person. When you reach out to your influencer sound genuine and authentic. The worst thing you can do is send them an automated message that sounds spammy.

    • Bryant, thanks for such a crucial and concise tip! It’s amazing how many people reach out to influencers using cookie cutter pitches. Of course to sound authentic you have to be authentic and actually read through their blog or posts on social media channels. Many people don’t want to do this but still wonder why their campaigns aren’t working!

  15. Thank you for sharing this great post. It helped me to know various terms. Defination, and tips. It influence me also.

  16. casiplex reviews Apr 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm

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  17. Like I’ve always said, easy in theory, tricky in practice. Great content though and I sincerely hope you’ll
    post more. I will make sure to check back later.

    • Austin, glad you enjoyed. I agree, influencer marketing doesn’t seem all that hard once you grasp it. But, when it comes time for brands to outline their strategies and make contact with their target influencers, all sorts of problems arise!

      Perhaps KISSmetrics will have me back again as it would be an honor. In the mean time follow me on Twitter so I can share my articles with you. @KristenWords

  18. Andrew Southard Apr 16, 2013 at 2:39 am

    Hi Kristen,

    A great article I’m sure I’ll refer back to. I’m relatively new to the world of inbound marketing, having spent the last twelve years in an industry sector which is a late adopter anyway, in a country which seems to be 5-10 years behind. I’m setting up my own business supplying the services I’ve always worked with, but what I’ve been reading has convinced me that this is the real value service going forward. I’ve already got an existing potential client base in medium and enterprise level businesses where I can already see the fit, but what I’m also interested in how these techniques apply to small bricks and mortar companies who mostly trade at a local level. I’m wondering if there has been much thought about micro-influencers, or even if there is such a phenomenon. Rohit alluded to it above, so I’m off to investigate, but are there any good resources you know of that I should follow up? (Other than bookmarking your blog which I only discovered today!) Thank you.

    • Thanks Andrew! There is research that supports that influencers with a smaller following can actually be more influential because they can easier nurture their relationships with their audience which leads to higher levels of loyalty.

      This article from The Real Time Report may be a good springboard for you. It’s on mid level influencers and links to some good resources.

      I think the best thing about the new wave of marketing is how collaborative it is. So, in the spirit of collaboration feel free to use me as a resource and email me questions you may have. I’m happy to help anyone who needs it just like I’ve had people do for me when I was starting out.

  19. Wow. This is the most useful article I’ve seen in a while. Thanks for posting!

  20. whoah this blog is fantastic i love studying your posts.
    Stay up the great work! You understand, a lot of people
    are searching around for this information, you can help them greatly.

  21. Very useful article. Thanks!

  22. Elizabeth Hang Apr 15, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Wow, this is seriously like the only place out of 38423984 places I’ve looked at that answered my questions about influencers. Thanks so much! Means a lot!

  23. Kristen, I read your whole article. I twas very interesting and informative. I have a small website that I started back 1999 but never had the time to market. Now I have the time and am just starting out researching on-line marketing. Would you mind suggesting what you think is the answers to the 5 categories I need to consider for my product (pc-eye office rear view mirror), re. personality type, genre, niche for the product. It could be safety and security, self reflections of your personalty, self awareness leading from looking at yourself in the mirror, etc.??

    I know that I have a lot to catch up on in using the internet for marketing purposes.

  24. Nice Insights on Influencer Targeting! I have found couple of Influencer Marketing platform like izea & Fromote in google. these platforms also says that they connect Influencers and Advertisers with each other for social media promotions. Izea is a closed platform while I was able to do some R & D on Fromote which is an open platform where Influecners can be searched as per the industry, location etc. and a number of advertisement projects are listed for Influencer Marketing campaign. Looking at you article and these kind of platforms, I think this segment is going to explode in near future.

  25. Excellent content, this is something we do for our clients and I am glad to see a lot of readers here agreeing that this is something every business owner should do for their business.

    Great job Kristen


  26. James Jean-Pierre Mar 20, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    Kristen, Love the post. I was able to get a few extra steps that didn’t come to mind and believe will go a long way. Thanks

  27. I really appreciate this post. I agree with everything that you have written, influence is key and we ought to be utilizing it even better.

  28. Great tips to ideal influence to promote any business. Thanks for this great article.

  29. Thibaut Gougeon Sep 11, 2015 at 4:09 am

    Do you know any good service to find people on facebook by their location, interest (page liked), age etc?

    I would like to send messages to these people to convert them into customers on my website.

  30. Hi,

    What is your opinion on using a non personal influencer, for instance, there are alot of popular and authoritative blogs and social media presences that aren’t associated with a specific person. What do you think about using these accounts and blogs as influencers?


  31. Another great post. Not easy to connect with influencers but that’s exactly what a small blog needs to get some exposure.

  32. Targeting your ideal influencer within your vertical is important, Always analyze the influencer’s engagements (look even as deep as the types of people engaging) to maximize the result of your influencer marketing efforts

  33. Umm, there’s no nice way to say that your utterly dismissive comment makes me utterly dismiss you: “Probably not, because 12-year-old girls are not interested in software.” Next time you have such a bigoted, sexist thought, best keep it to yourself.

  34. What about software that can analyze your existing database of customers to alert you of a potential influencer? Does that exist? Based on following/engagement etc.

  35. Fantastic piece, look forward to sharing with my team.

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