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What is an influencer?
Travel Influencer. Fashion Influencer. Sports Influencer. Parenting Influencer. Gaming Influencer. Any other type of Influencer…
Influencers. They’re everywhere nowadays, and they mean business. But what does it actually mean to be an ‘influencer’?
This is just one of the things that I examined in my recent research project investigating the profiles of influencers working in the area of travel and tourism. Whilst you might find a little bit of data on the Internet about aspects such as how much to charge for a ‘do-follow’ link or whether an influencer should be full time or part time, none of this is actually based on credible research. Instead, it is based on the personal experiences of ‘influencers’ and their immediate connections. Whilst I by no means wish to discredit their claims or suggest that there is any distruth in them, they are simply not credible and reliable pieces of research.
My research is the first of its kind, undertaken by myself (a Senior Lecturer at a UK university and a colleague of mine, also an SL based in the UK). I make no claims that the work is exhaustive, nor perfect. But it does shed light into a topic within which many people are asking a lot of questions. You can download a full copy of the preliminary research report here. In the series of blog posts, I intend to answer some of these questions. Today, I address the issue of ‘what is an Influencer?’.
What is an Influencer?
It has become trendy to be a ‘Travel Influencer’ or any other type of ‘Influencer’ in today’s society. You seemingly get to travel to a range of exotic destinations, take flawless photographs of yourself wearing fancy clothes and expensive make up, stay in luxury accommodations for free, fly first class and still have a hefty sum of money in the bank. At least, that’s what some of the top travel influencers lead you to believe…
Many of us are chasing the influencer dream, only to end up disappointed and pennyless at the end. But what does it take to succeed? What is an Influencer?
You might also be interested in my post- How to earn £30,000 per month as an influencer | Influencer Income
The Travel Influencer: A definition
Well it seems there is no formal definition of a Travel Influencer, at least not in an academic sense. This is one of the reasons that I chose to take on this research project- to develop one!
If you Google ‘what is a travel influencer’ you will be presented with a number of websites telling you anything but. The most helpful is this thread on Quora, which has a number of explanations presented by random contributors, none of which appear to be of any academic or industry stature.
Here are some of the comments:
‘A Travel Influencer generates quality content and post on high authority or high traffic website.’
‘Travel influencers can promote destinations, services, or products associated with travel by leveraging their social media influence.’
‘A Travel Influencer doesn’t have to have a huge following to be successful. But having the ability to engage with a sufficient number of people is a must. That said, the major role of a travel influencer is to help increase a brand’s profile and engagement. This is accomplished by publishing sponsored posts (either photos or video).’
‘As any other kind of influencer, Travel Influencers focus on creating content about travelling, tourism and culture for their blog or social media. They usually partner up with airlines, travel agencies, tour companies and local businesses on said destinations. Travel photography is also a big part of their content, which usually contains scenery, food or pictures of locals and traditions. Their purpose is to share a passion for travelling and to inspire others to go on their own adventures, or to follow their steps and discover pre-made journeys that they could also participate in.’
You might also be interested in my post- ‘Travel Influencers to Follow in 2018’
From my perspective, it all comes down to two main aspects:
2- Reference groups/relationships
EWOM, short for e-word of mouth, is big business. Didn’t like the airline you flew with last week? Name and shame them on Twitter. Had a fantastic time at the holiday resort in the Bahamas? Check in on Facebook and share all of your gorgeous holiday snaps with your friends online.
Throughout human history, we have always shared news via word of mouth, but this has become ever so much more powerful since we started doing it online. No longer are we limited to only our own social networks. We now have hashtags, interest groups and targeted advertising. The algorithms used by our social media platforms are designed to facilitate viral EWOM and you just have to look at how many shares, likes or comments a post has received to see that this is true.
Reference groups/ relationships
EWOM is all good and well, but we don’t tend to pay attention to just anyone. We form virtual relationships with these so-called influencers. These might be one-way relationships, in that you feel that you know the person that you follow on Instagram or Tumbler very well, but they don’t even know your name, but that doesn’t matter.
Influencers have facilitated the formation of a new type of ‘reference group’. The concept of reference group has a long tradition in social history where it is used to understand how individuals identify with and form relationships with other individuals or groups. A common understanding of a reference group is where a group of people or a person has the ability to significantly influence the behaviour of other individuals. Reference groups can be family groups, friends, sporting associates or working colleagues, for example. They can also be a group of people with a shared interest.
In effect, an influencer acts as the ‘head’ of the social group. People look to him/her for advice, reviews or simply to follow their activities or opinions. Whilst the influencer may not be familiar with all of his/her followers, they are very familiar with the influencer. This bond facilitates a level of trust, almost like a friendship. This level of trust is difficult to establish through traditional marketing mediums and is why more and more organisations are turning to influencers for their marketing efforts.
You might also be interested in my post- ‘How to Set up a Home Office for a Professional Influencer’.
Am I a Travel Influencer?
Whilst the above gives a brief background into why examination of the concept of a Travel Influencer, it still doesn’t answer the question ‘what exactly is a Travel Influencer’. In summary, a travel influencer is essentially a person(s) who promotes a product, service or company by distributing eWOM through their online digital channels and presence. These digital channels and presence come in the form of followers, subscribers, views, organic/paid reach, domain authority (trust flow etc) and search engine optimisation (SEO) among others.
To put it simply, a travel influencer can thus be defined as;
‘a person who has the ability to influence the behaviour or opinions of others within the area of travel and tourism’.
Interestingly, there is no prerequisite for any set number of followers, views, engagement rates etc, although it goes without saying that these metrics will play a role in how successful you are as an influencer. Quite simply, a Travel Influencer is a person who can influence others, on whatever scale that may be.
Whilst some people will choose to become a travel influencer as a hobby, many will look to monetise their influencing methods. This is something that I have also been looking into in recent months and it seems that it can be a very competitive business! This post- Travel Influencer income: How much can I earn per month? gives you an idea of average income earned amongst influencers, along with the range of salaries as identified in my research.
If you’re looking for specific methods of monetising your influencer business I highly recommend you take a course and learn from some of the best. I have had this blog since 2011 (wow, where have the years gone!?), but I find that I still learn new things about blogging and influencing all the time! I have recently signed up for two courses, which have been super helpful in helping me identify suitable monetising strategies and increasing my blog traffic.
The first course is Nomadic Matt’s Superstar Blogging. This is a comprehensive course that walks you through all of the stages of turning your blog into a successful business. This is a ten week programme that is perfect for beginners and more established bloggers (like me). Matt provides lots of details about his course with student reviews etc here- Superstar Blogging.
I have also been working my way through Elna’s course called Ready Set Blog for Traffic. This is a shorter (and cheaper!) course with a totally different focus. It addresses the two main areas of SEO (search engine optimisation) and Pinterest. When I started my blog back in 2011 SEO wasn’t really a thing and until recently I had never dabbled with Pinterest. I have since found that these are two fantastic ways of driving traffic to your website and I have doubled my traffic in the past few weeks since starting her course! It is pretty generic so suitable for any type of influencer, whatever your niche. You can read more about her course here- Ready Set Blog Traffic.
My final recommendation is the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. This gives an excellent overview on the methods that you can use to influence and it highly recommended amongst many successful influencers! You can find the book on Amazon here.
Not only do you need to make sure that you you the right techniques and skills (which you can learn in the courses named above, you might also need to invest in a few things to begin with. Travel influencers who are successful in monetising their blogs do need to invest in their business (if you plan to make money from your blog then you are essentially turning it into a business- Neil Patel’s article is super helpful if you want to know more about this). Common things that influencers spend money on include a good hosting provider (I use Dreamhost, who I love), a high quality theme (Studio Press is really popular and reasonably priced), social media scheduling programmes such as Buffer or Tailwind (click here for a free trial on Tailwind) and editing programmes such as Grammarly.
As you will see in my research report, 84% of respondents stated that they would classify themselves as a Travel Influencer, with a significant 10% being unsure. This in itself indicated to me that there is an uncertainty in the air about what a Travel Influencer actually is- hence the need for me to research it!
What do you think of my definition? How would you define an ‘Influencer’? I’d love to hear your comments- drop them below!