My New BFF: The Rise of the Social Media Influencer

Last year, published an article that said word of mouth was the most important form of social media for marketers. The idea was simple: having 100 customers who are passionate about your brand and willing to share it with their network was better than having 10,000 unengaged fans on Facebook. As consumers, we see hundreds of ads per day. And, brands are trying to find new ways to get our attention and increase customer engagement. Word of mouth marketing is still important. But, as we learned last week, our individual social networks are only so big and our close friends are largely comprised of people who have similar tastes and interests. With the rise of social media, marketers have found a new approach to reaching the masses: social media influencers.

This marketing strategy has been on my mind since I saw recent news of Michelle Phan’s makeup subscription service, Ipsy, hit the $500M mark. Phan is a native of Boston and just a few months older than me. She was widely unknown until 2009 when Buzzfeed ran a feature on her YouTube makeup tutorials, which made her go viral. Today, she has nearly 8 million subscribers on YouTube; 3.1 million likes on Facebook; 2 million followers on Instagram; and, 669,000 followers on Twitter. All of this online success has led to Phan’s net worth being estimated at $3M.

I follow a number of social media influencers who “help me” make better decisions around which products I want to buy. From makeup products to vitamins and supplements, I turn to these social media influencers whenever I need an honest opinion. My influencers, who are largely women’s lifestyle and fitness insta-celebs, post their opinions and reviews regularly on various social media outlets. They have essentially become an extension of my trusted network of “friends.” I engage with their accounts daily and have tried many of the products they have recommended.

Social media influencers have huge followings who trust their opinions. Combined with on-demand access and fresh content being posted daily, using influencers in marketing strategy creates a win/win for companies and influencers alike. From Instagram takeovers to contests/giveaways to sponsored reviews, influencers have access to thousands of their “closest friends” who are ready to listen, share, and buy.

Companies in every industry are capitalizing on the rise of social media influencers. The most important part of a creating a successful campaign with a social media influencer is identifying the right influencer for the intended target audience and approaching them with the right “ask.” Companies not only have to understand their customers but they have to understand how the influencer engages with his/her audience. CapitalOne ran a successful social media takeover where popular bloggers shared artifacts found inside their wallets. This campaign prompted users to submit their own #walletstories, increased ad recall by 16%, and increased brand favorability amongst 21-24 year olds. Similarly, Banana Republic partners with Boston-based fashion blogger Jean Wang of Extra Petite for Instagram takeovers and mini-campaigns. Fashion influencers can post a photo of themselves wearing the latest trends and drive traffic directly to the retailer by using affiliate networks such as and The influencer receives a percentage of commission from the click-through and the retailer can put a dollar sign on the success of their influencer campaigns. 

Influencers are all around us. You don’t need to have millions of followers to become an influencer. You just need to be actively engaged online and have influence within your networks. This is most easily measured through Klout scores, which companies use to find individuals who are already engaging with their brand. This allows average people to connect with like-minded individuals and share their passion with the world. The more Klout you have, the more impact you have online. You’re probably already posting about your favorite brands online… so, what are you waiting for? After all, even Michelle Phan had to start somewhere.


  1. Hello Sonia! I really like your sharing of Michelle Phan’s story! Although I don’t know this girl before, I heard that some people took advantage of social media to draw others’ attention and ended up with running their own business successfully.
    Actually I also follow a few social media influencers. I choose them deliberately from the areas of my own interest, such as fashion and fitness. I tend to choose only one or two influencers who has the most similarity in one particular area, and follow their updates almost everyday. The reason behind is that I prefer to get smoothy and practical information flowing into my mind and absorb it on time than become overwhelmed by all kinds of messages. For example, I pick up a young Asian girl who’s popular in social media as my fashion icon because we have similar height, weight, skin color and fashion taste.
    As a matter of fact, these social media influencers are now becoming an important component of our daily life, even we never get chance to face them. I agree with you that they have become a extension of our trusted social network. And it’s not surprising that companies seek for using social media influencers in marketing strategy. However, here also comes my biggest concern about the influence of these people: We follow them usually because we trust them, and we trust them because we belief they express true and pure voices about the products they recommend – No advertisements or interests involved. What will be the most possible reaction if we know that they get paid from companies for advertising their products? Angry or at least not trustful as before. From social media influencers’ perspective, at least in some cases, their influence may be weaken by misbehaviors.

  2. Sonia, thanks a lot for sharing this post. I really loved the topic you chose. As I was reading, I couldn’t but think of many of my friends and people I know who have become bloggers and brand influencers. They are just young people like you and me who have a passion for a certain market, are dedicated to it, follow its news and are always up to date. My friend began her first blog post 3 years ago just like we have last week. She blogged without knowing that her future will be on to a new start. Ever since, her followers grew, brands have contacted her for continuous campaigns and posts, and people have grown to like her and follow her on all platforms. Just like you I follow social media influencers all the time, to get health and fitness tips, as well as fashion and beauty tips too. Not only am I uptodate with all the trends in the market because of them, but also motivated by them and their posts all the time.

    I loved how you began the blog with a real-world example of Phan. I liked how you backed up your posts with statistics as the Capital One campaign. I really also liked how you linked your post to the ted talk we watched about networks. Great content, great post. Would have loved if you could share with us a few pics or screenshots of famous social media influencers. Thank you!

  3. Nice post! Maybe consider adding some images, because they can really enliven a post. I got my wife a subscription to Birchbox several years ago, and she still loves it. Of course, after 5 years its becoming an expensive present :)

  4. Great post! I like how you wrapped up-we all have to start somewhere. It’s important for a brand to understand their audience, and deliver content that serves customers interests and passions. I think your ideas prove that quality outweighs quantity, and followers promoting the brand is invaluable while building a greater audience.

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