While influencer marketing may be the buzzword of the moment, the strategy actually dates back to the 1750s. Before the Kardashians and social media stars, the aristocracy reigned supreme. Royals were the first celebrity brand ambassadors, with companies like Wedgwood leveraging their influence to promote its chinaware.

Celebrities remained the influencers-in-demand for the following 250 years, so it’s no surprise that they are the still first people that come to mind when it comes to influencer marketing. It took the mass adoption of social media for today’s three influencer personas to evolve: mega-influencers, macro-influencers, and micro-influencers. Rather than John Wayne and Michael Jordan commanding your TV screens, Michelle Phan’s videos dominate YouTube and everyday customers’ Facebook posts like ‘Happy Chewbacca’ mom drive millions in sales for retailers.

But not all influencers are created equal. Below we breakdown what determines influence, the spectrum of influencers, and the power of the 9%. You can also go straight to our cheat sheet on these influencer personas here.

What Determines Influence? 

The characteristic many claim but few possess, to have influence means to be able to directly impact the opinions and behavior of others. When it comes to influencer marketing, the defining factor of ‘influence’ has traditionally been on the volume of ‘others’ – a person’s audience and reach, quantified by impressions.

Only recently has an influencer’s ability to impact behavior significantly factored into this definition. While many marketers are still hung up on reach, the focus on engagement and conversion is becoming more mainstream. And with that, the ability to directly impact behavior comes down to three factors:

Reach: Ability to deliver content to a target audience

Relevance: Strength of connection to a brand or topic

Resonance: Ability to drive a desired behavior from an audience

All social influencers have these three characteristics in common, to varying degrees. An influencer needs to have a network of people to reach, an authentic connection to a brand or topic, and most importantly — the ability to drive a desired behavior from that network.

The Spectrum of Influencers

Influence defined, now we can address the question of who has social influence and the impact that influence generates. The term ‘influencer’ used to describe celebrity and social media elite: Oprah, Kim Kardashian, Michelle Phan, to name a few. But the mass adoption of social media leveled the playing field to include bloggers, employees, and even everyday consumers.

As such, the industry is working to establish a common taxonomy to talk about influencers. Influencers can be identified among the following three types:

Mega-influencers: Actors, artists, athletes and social media stars who have 1M+ followers and drive 2% — 5% engagement per post. They have the highest reach on the influencer spectrum, with their influence driven by their celebrity (they tend to be brands in their own right). They have the lowest overall resonance when it comes to driving actions on behalf of a brand.

Macro-influencers: Executives, bloggers, and journalists who have 10,000–1M followers and drive 5% — 25% engagement per post. They have the highest topical relevance on the spectrum, with category-specific influence – such as lifestyle, fashion or business.

Micro-influencers: Everyday consumers or employees who have 500–10,000 followers and drive 25% — 50% engagement per post. They have the highest brand relevance and resonance on the spectrum of influencers, with influence driven by their personal experience with a brand and their strength of relationship with their networks.

The 1–9–90 Rule 

Not everyone who posts about a brand on social media has influence and will fall into one of these categories (regardless of who they are). Being a celebrity doesn’t automatically mean that person is a relevant influencer for your brand, just as your most powerful influencer could be someone who doesn’t even know they have influence.

So how do you start determining who has influence in context of your brand? Another way to think about influencer marketing is from the point of view of the 1–9–90 rule, also known as the 1% rule of Internet Culture. It’s a known theory that within an Internet community or collaborative digital environment where people can both create and engage with content, 1% of people create original content; 9% of people edit or modify and amplify that content; and the remaining 90% of people view that content without contributing.

Whether it’s your own social media following or an entire social media network, 90% of people in that community are passive consumers of content. The other 10% are people who actually produce content, including those who have social influence. Mega-influencers and macro-influencers comprise the 1% of creators – celebrities are a .0001% percentage point of every social network. Micro-influencers make up the 9% of individuals who amplify social content to the remaining 90%, whose algorithm-driven social feeds are optimized based on social relationship strength.

It is precisely the relational nature of today’s social media feeds that presents the opportunity for brands to experience tremendous success with a tiered influencer marketing mix that includes mega-, macro, and micro-influencers. Check out our Influencer Marketing Cheat Sheet below and download our 7 Step Guide to Influencer Marketing to start planning and implementing an integrated influencer marketing strategy.

Influencer Marketing Cheat Sheet