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What Is an Influencer? Definition and How to Maximize Impact

Elise Yu

Feb 13, 2024

Influencers are everywhere on social media, but exactly what is an influencer? Read now to take a deep dive into the specifics and how to partner with them.

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Influencer marketing is a $16.4 billion dollar practice that’s keeping marketers on their toes. And no wonder — businesses are making an ROI of $5.2 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing

Not only does influencer marketing help brands get their products in front of more people, but it’s also become a career goal for more than one in four young people. But exactly what is an influencer, and more importantly, why should brands care? 

Let’s take a closer look at the makings of an influencer and why influencers should be part of your marketing strategy.

Influencer Definition: What Is an Influencer?

Image of a young influencer filming at a market

In marketing, we define an influencer as a person who has many followers on social media and can sway the opinions of others.

Influencers are authorities in a particular niche or industry (such as beauty, technology, fashion, fitness, food, or travel). They’ve established credibility as a source of information. Their followers trust them to share valuable information and make product recommendations. Most importantly, their recommendations can sway others’ buying decisions, making them lucrative targets for brands and businesses.

Other terms for an influencer are brand ambassador and content creator. Bloggers, vloggers, and YouTubers may be considered influencers, as well as anyone with a large audience on social media (e.g., an Instagram influencer).

Influencers typically fall into one of the following categories:

Nano Influencers

Nano influencers have small followings (between 1K-10K) and may be just starting their influencer journeys. They may also be experts in very niche subjects that don’t command large followings (e.g., an expert on sunflowers rather than gardening as a whole).


Micro-influencers have a following of between 10K-50K and have highly engaged followers. They’re not popular enough to recognize them if you passed them on the street, but they remain highly influential in their niches. Micro influencers' ROI can be significantly higher than using influencers with mass appeal (like a celebrity).

Macro Influencers

Macro influencers have between 50K-100K followers and are more recognizable social media personalities. They’re considered “mid-tier” influencers and typically have high influencer engagement rates.

Mega Influencers

Megal influencers are more recognizable than macro influencers and have up to a million followers. They typically cover broader topics or industries and tend to work with high-profile brands.

Celebrity Influencers

Celebrity influencers have over a million followers on social media and are usually household names. Jennifer Aniston, Kylie Jenner, and Pewdiepie are examples of well-known celebrity content creators.

What All Influencers Have In Common

All influencers are content creators — you can’t influence an audience without having something to show them. Bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, and social media users can all be influencers.

Something else that all influencers have in common is their connection to their audience. Strong followings are built over time, and the influencer has the benefit of knowing what their followers like and respond to. This allows them to create impactful content that commands a high engagement rate, which keeps their fans coming back for more.

What Is an Influencer on Social Media?

Photo of a young influencer

Typically, influencers have established themselves on social media channels, such as TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. This is where they share their content, attract new followers, and grow their personal brands.

What sets influencers apart from average social media users is their ability to cultivate a loyal following. These followers look up to them as role models and trust their recommendations when it comes to products, services, or even political views.

Influencers create content around their particular niche to share with their audience. This might be a how-to video showing how to use a product, before-and-after snapshots, an unboxing video, or a static image of a favorite product, for example.

Sometimes, influencers create this content on their own. They’re highlighting the brands and products they love, with no strings attached. 

And sometimes, this content comes in the form of sponsored posts. Brands that have connected with the influencer might pay them to create content on their behalf. Or they might offer free products to the influencer to try in hopes they’ll promote them on social media.

Tip: Learn more about influencer rates per channel, and our influencer payment solution, and download our influencer rate card.

What Makes Influencers So Influential?

Photo of an Instagram post

Influencers are seen as relatable and authentic to their followers. They often speak from personal experiences and provide honest reviews of products, making them more trustworthy than traditional advertisements.

They also create a sense of community among their followers. They engage with their audience through comments, live streams, and Q&A sessions. These direct interactions help them build a loyal following that feels connected to them personally. This creates a strong influence over their audience's purchasing decisions and lifestyle choices.

Most notably, influencers have an innate ability to inspire others. From eye-catching product-related content to travel photos that create major FOMO, influencers lead lives that others want to have. They help followers picture what could be and show them better ways of doing things. 

Being able to pull people in and let them see themselves in the picture is what great influencer marketing is all about. Since influencers are normal people (not corporate brands), it’s easier for followers to put themselves in the right mindset and connect with influencer marketing campaigns.

How Influencers Work with Brands

Photo of an influencer through a ring light

The key to successful influencer partnerships is authenticity. Influencers need to genuinely believe in the products they promote, as followers can quickly sniff out insincere endorsements. It's essential for both parties to establish trust and open communication throughout the collaboration process.

One way brands can work with influencers is by influencer giftingsending free products as a gift. This is a great way to introduce your brand to an influencer. They have real products to try and can give their followers honest testimonials or recommendations. However, keep in mind that simply sending gifts doesn’t mean the influencer will create content for you. A gift is just that — something you give with no expectations of receiving anything in return.

Another option is to directly connect with influencers for collaboration. Brands can pay influencers a fee to create sponsored content on social media. Influencers know their audience best and know what their followers are most likely to respond to. It’s best to let the influencer take the lead on content creation. 

Check out our guide on influencer pricing, and learn more about the going rates for influencers in our influencer rate card.

No matter how you choose to collaborate, successful influencer marketing campaigns start with identifying the right influencer. You want to choose influencers who align with your brand's values and goals. It’s not just about follower count anymore. Once you identify potential partners, you can reach out to explore the next steps.

Benefits of Working with Influencers in Marketing

Photo of someone using a smartphone

Working with a social media influencer gives brands tons of benefits. Here’s how influencers support a positive ROI:

Gain Instant Brand Credibility

Influencers have a highly engaged audience. Followers value the influencer's opinion and take action based on their recommendations. Brands can leverage this trust to gain instant credibility for themselves.

Influencers are experts at creating engaging content that resonates with their followers. They know how to craft compelling messages that capture the attention of their audience and keep them engaged. When an influencer endorses your product or service, it sends a message to their followers that your brand is trustworthy and worth investing in.

Reach Your Target Audience

Working with an influencer that caters to your niche market helps you reach more potential customers. And since they already have high esteem for the influencers they follow, many of them are likely to convert into paying customers.

Also worth noting is that influencers have followers across different demographics, which means that brands can target new markets through these partnerships.

Drive Traffic to Your Website

Influencers can help drive traffic to your website through sponsored posts. These are posts where the influencer promotes your product or service on their social media channels in exchange for compensation. The influencer’s content encourages their followers to click through to your website and learn more about what you offer.

Another way influencers can boost website traffic is through affiliate marketing. Give them a special coupon code, discount, or other high-value offer to share with their audience. It’s a great way to acquire new customers, plus you can easily track how many customers the influencer sent you based on the total number of redemptions.

Increase Sales

When an influencer promotes your product or service, they are essentially endorsing it to their followers. This endorsement comes with a personal touch that resonates with followers, which increases the chances of their making a purchase from you. As a result, influencer marketing has become one of the most effective ways to drive sales for brands across various industries.

How to Find and Connect with Influencers

To recap our take on what is an influencer, we’ve covered:

  • Influencer meaning: A person with a sizable social media following and the power to persuade others’ buying decisions.
  • Types of social media influencers
  • What makes influencers essential to marketing
  • How brands can work with influencers
  • The benefits of working with influencers

But applying this information isn’t feasible until you can find and connect with the right influencers

That’s where Meltwater Influencer Marketing can help. Our powerful influencer marketing strategy platform helps you discover relevant influencers in your niche based on factors that matter to you, including:

  • Audience size
  • Geographic location
  • Audience demographics
  • Social media platforms
  • and more

Choose social influencers who have real authority and engagement (and no fake followers). Then, connect with them directly to start a one-off campaign or a long-term relationship.

With Meltwater, you can manage every aspect of your influencer marketing, demonstrate ROI, and maintain strong connections with your most influential partners. Get a demo to learn more: