Enthusiastic salespeople can happily talk all day about how great their product or service is and what makes it better than anything else on the market. But there also comes a point when target audiences lost patience with the boasting and lofty promises. Given the short attention spans and banner-blindness epidemic of today’s market, that threshold is lower than ever. It’s a dated approach now that social media and other online communities empower consumers with the ability to influence the purchase decisions of others. Today, it’s not salespeople in the traditional sense that drive successful companies – it’s about turning influencers into business enablers. After all, what’s more authentic than having an outsider recommend your products and services to the masses?

What are influencers, and why do they matter? 

If you’re up to date with the dynamic world of inbound marketing, then you’ve no doubt heard the term ‘influencer marketing’. But there’s also a lot of confusion around it, with many people uncertain of how it differs from other strategies, such as social media and content marketing and celebrity endorsement. Influencer marketing is a hybrid of marketing strategies both old and new – like celebrity endorsement, it leverages the fame and reach of influential people, but there are some important differences. Unlike celebrities, influencers can be anyone. What makes them influential is their networks. With large followings on social media and other online communities, they have the power to influence purchase decisions. For example, a well-known health and fitness blogger might recommend certain products in their niche. 

Influencers are a broad group ranging from members of small online communities who regularly post content to world-famous YouTubers. Although often defined by the size of their networks, it’s not really all about numbers. Some influencers have a much smaller but highly engaged following. These so-called micro influencers are often overlooked, despite being potentially effective business enablers for smaller organisations and niche industries. What unifies influencers of all types is that they’re not working for the company but instead influence from an unbiased, outsider’s perspective. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to be. Most do, however, charge money, with so-called macro influencers often charging thousands of dollars for an advertising campaign. Indeed, many influencers are business people in their own right, with some even having income on-par with world-famous celebrities. 

The role of online communities in influencer marketing

Social media marketing is often confused with influencer marketing, but they’re two different things. Influencer marketing is better viewed as a subset of social media marketing, since the whole strategy is so heavily dependent on it. Without social media, influencers have nowhere to influence. That’s doesn’t necessarily mean they have to have a huge following on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube. Some influencers, particularly of the niche variety, run their own online communities. Others arise organically from brand communities. Those who build a large enough audience often end up monetising it. For example, world-famous YouTuber Felix Kjellberg (aka PewDiePie) went from a following of zero to almost 100 million in just 12 years. He’s now accrued an estimated net worth of £25 million. 

Like other platforms, YouTube has turned many influencers into business people thanks to their enormous built-in audiences and global reach. Monetisation opportunities come in the form of embedded advertising, with influencers earning from things like pay-per-click or pay-per-impression advertising. Macro influencers make most of their fortunes signing marketing contracts with major companies. However, these big names also charge big money, making them far less accessible to startups and small businesses. Micro influencers, which have much smaller audiences, typically charge £200 or less for a sponsored post on Instagram or another platform. But what makes micro influencers effective is that they’re generally seen as more authentic and relevant and thus see higher engagement rates among their followers.

From influencer to business: selling knowledge through bespoke online communities

The digital world has given rise to a new era of selling knowledge. No longer are niche experts restricted to things like self-published books and offline courses. Now, anyone with valuable knowledge to share can become an influencer and, in turn, an entrepreneur. Most influencers first amass a following on mainstream social media, but when they want to monetise their following, they often end up running into limitations. They have to play by the rules of the big platforms they’re using. But there’s another way. Building an online community of your own presents unprecedented opportunities to monetise your audience and sell your expertise, particularly in the case of online courses. 

Let’s start with a hypothetical health and fitness blogger as an example. Our blogger already has a sizable readership and a big following on the major social networks. But there’s also a lack of engagement. Often the serious problem in the noisy world of mainstream social media, our blogger is having a hard time trying to build meaningful relationships with readers and get people to regularly visit their website. Over the years, they’ve garnered enough knowledge and experience to create valuable content in the form of online courses and eBooks, but they’re not having much success selling them in the highly competitive and saturated environments like Facebook and Instagram. So, they need a platform of their own where they can bring people together, enjoy more control over their messaging, and provide members with everything they need to take a desired action – such as to enrol in their courses or purchase their eBooks.

Our blogger is already an influencer with a substantial following, and perhaps they’re making some money from on-site advertising or sponsored posts on the major social channels. But, they also have something more they want to share, something valuable enough to be worth monetising and selling to their target audiences. Perhaps they’re tired of publishing content for free and hoping to attract the attention of huge follower counts and, consequently, brands that want a slice of the pie. Instead, they want to do something of their own. Building a bespoke online community that’s exclusive to them presents a new opportunity to turn their influence into a knowledge-selling business in its own right. Instead of relying on reviewing other brands’ products and services, they’ve got their own to sell instead. 

Tailor-made online communities do exactly that. Using a platform like Disciple, influencers can turn their follower counts into lucrative audiences consisting of engaged members far beyond the inherent limitations of the major social media channels. They can turn their knowledge into an additional revenue stream by selling online courses and other services through community apps while retaining their influence on social media. On one hand, they can still use their large followings on social media to attract the attention of other brands looking for sponsored ad placement while, on the other, they can draw people towards their own communities for a more exclusive experience. Thus, our health and fitness blogger is no longer just an influencer – they’ve become a businessperson selling both their influence and their expertise, all thanks to the combined power of mainstream social media and bespoke online communities.

Turning your own customers into influencers

Whether you’re an influencer turned entrepreneur or you’re already running an established business, the power of influencers doesn’t stop there. Your best customers can also become influencers in their own rights in the form of brand advocates.

Influencer marketing is normally considered a form of sponsored advertising given that many influencers are business people themselves who expect some compensation for their efforts. But you can also turn your existing customers into influencers by creating a community that empowers brand advocacy. After all, an influencer can be anyone who adds value to your brand by referring other customers or encouraging existing customers to spend more. There’s no better place to start than with your existing customer base. By giving people a platform to share their ideas and become actively involved with the development of your products and services, you’ll be better placed to attract the attention of outside influencers as well as nurture your own. So long as you have customers who like being in the limelight, you have people who will potentially make powerful brand advocates.

The most active members among your brand community are also the most influential and, as it’s your brand community that they belong to, they’re likely to already have a degree of loyalty to your brand. If they’re regularly posting valuable content that helps other customers derive greater value from your product or service, then they become important business enablers. Eventually, they start to form your personal army of brand advocates with the power to influence people both inside and outside your community.

Often, brand advocates are motivated by recognition, and those who grow their networks to become highly influential often turn it into a business themselves. They might go on to become brand ambassadors working full time for your company, or they might become professional reviewers who retain close ties to your company. In fact, many influencers begin their own entrepreneurial journeys with a relationship with a particular brand. Others then go on to form brands of their own and build their own influencer communities. It’s a constant cycle enabled by effective networking and knowledge-sharing, and that’s what increasingly drives today’s information-driven economy. 

Whether you’re an influencer looking to add extra streams of revenue or you want to build a community of influencers of your own, Disciple provides a trusted platform for creating your own social space. Contact us today to find out how.