Types of influencers in your social media sphere



by Sarah Arrow

In my last article, I shared one of the fundamentals when it comes to social media influence. In this post, we’re going to explore the types of influence and next month we’re going to look at how to find and connect with the right type of influencer for your business.

When you consider the types of influencers you have to go back in time to 1959 to French and Raven, two social psychologists who explored influence and power. French and Raven discovered there are five main types of social power used by people.  Singh refers to them as experts, positional, and referent.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll look at the three main types of social power according to French and Raven.

  • Experts
  • Reward
  • Referent

These three types are the most common types of influencer and you need to know who your target audience connects with and why.

Let’s start with the expert or key person of influence in your niche.

Niche is important here. Imagine you are looking to create a garden of peace and tranquillity. A garden that when you sit down to relax will enhance all of your senses and not stimulate you but calm and nurture the soul. Who would be the key influencer here?

  • The local gardener?
  • The garden design expert?
  • The celebrity gardener with dirty hands?

If you picked the second option, you know your influencers! The local gardener and the celebrity gardener are influenced by the garden design expert.  They implement the work of the garden designer, they are the builders and not the creators. You may talk to the local gardener and they may reference the garden designer. You may read about the celebrity gardener and they list the garden designer as one of their influences.

The garden designer typically has their own blog and their own engaged following or tribe consisting of the people who love their work and wish to share it.  These are key people of influence. These experts have books, and DVDs that reach lots of people and impact their lives in a positive way. They rarely know their audiences personally but understand through instinct and research what their audience is looking for and they provide it.

Often they influence other influencers who mimic their behavior, but cannot sustain it over a long period of time (because they are a copy and not the original). They grow and nurture their fans who in turn become influencers (think Martha Beck here and her coaches that share her flair and a deep desire to serve). They are typically harder to reach than the other kinds of influencers and influence a specific niche rather than the masses.

The bigger the sphere of influence this person has, the harder it is to reach the influencer it is unless you have some kind of influence yourself.

The expert influencer is made from many things including peer recognition, academic experience (qualifications), and real-world success. One of these aspects alone does not make someone an expert influencer.


The Reward Influencer

I’m going to make an assumption or two here to help you understand the role of the reward influencer better. I’m going to assume you are a male and you have a burning need for a new car. You’re married with two children. Before you buy that new car who do you consult?

The other person that will be driving the car, your wife. If you don’t understand the concept of reward influence then buy a car without consulting with your wife. If she does not approve of the purchase, she’ll make your life hard and you’ll buy another car within 6 months.

Let’s make another assumption. You’re a single male with a great job, you need a new car that shows your social status and gives everyone the indicator of your success. Who do you consult in this scenario?

The people you admire and wish to emulate;  your peers influence you. When you make a purchase under their influence you are rewarded with acceptance. You’re part of the club, one of the gang and part of the tribe.

Let’s go with a third scenario. You’ve just passed your driving test. You are confident but you are a little apprehensive. You still live at home. Who influences you? Your parents and to come extent your siblings and friends.

The reward influencer changes as your circumstances change. They are typically the people closest to you in your social sphere and the more risky the purchase, the more costly, the more influence they have. If you are male these influencers are most likely your closest female relatives; your mom, your sister, your wife. The closer a person is to you the more social influence they have. You will not buy a major purchase and risk upsetting your reward influencers.  They have the power to make you miserable and you won’t want that.


Referent influencers

As you’re a fan of social media and interested in using it to market your business the type of influencer that can have the most impact and yet be the easiest to reach is the referent influencer. This type of influencer is active across a lot of social media platforms.

Buyers or consumers know their referent influencer. They trust them and they actively seek out their advice. These influencers are attractive to us, they influence us at the research stage and their opinions count when it matters the most. Their charm and their charisma are compelling and have a hold over me. The “hold” that is over me is there because I respect them. I give that respect willingly and unlike the expert who has all the credentials, or the positional who has my heart the referent influencer is the friendly person that gives me their opinion on something, on request.

My referent influencer is a guy called Steven Healey.  When he told me he felt that a new social phenomenon wasn’t worthy of my attention as it lacked a privacy policy and had no method to unsubscribe, I listened and ignored it. Even when my peers endorsed it, Steven had my best interests at heart so I listened to him.

Their influence they have comes through the items they share, our common interests and our experiences with them, their openness, and their honesty. One person’s referent influencer is not another’s.  Unlike the expert influencer, these people know the consumer personally. They are not in the immediate sphere of influence like the reward influencer but they can transition from referent to expert to reward with ease depending on the circumstances (no research to support this, just life experience). Of the three types of influencers here, they are the most energetic yet one of the most overlooked when it comes to companies and brands reaching out.

One of the reasons companies and brands overlook them is that although they are apparent to the individual, they’re not always obvious to a business.

All three of these influencers will happily use the two other types of social power that French and Raven talk about – Informational Power (influence) and Coercive Power. Overlaps happen and that makes it all part of the fun when it comes to identifying your influencers.

Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella have an excellent case study in their book Influence Marketing (a social media must-read). In the case study, they show how a company located a type of influencer over their consumer (in this case a caregiver) rather than those with social influence sharing (broadcasting) the type of content consumed by their target market. Go check the book out.

As a business using social media to increase your visibility, you need to be aware of the influencers, who they influence, and why.  You’ll find though this article isn’t enough, and that you need to read more.


Here’s what I recommend

  • Shiv Singh’s blog
  • Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella’s Influence Marketing
  • Flipnosis: The Art of Split Second Persuasion – Kevin Dutton
  • Influence : Dr Robert Cialdini
  • Webs of influence by Nathalie Nahai

Having this information to hand makes interaction with your influencers easier, and beneficial to all of your social media marketing activities.


Photo Credit: khalid Albaih via Compfight cc



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8 Replies to “Types of influencers in your social media sphere”

  1. Influencer Marketing Campaign

    Excellent writing!
    From my experience, I can say that Your objective has a great deal to do with the kind of influencer you’ll need to pick. For instance, in case you’re hoping to build your image mindfulness, full scale influencers with bigger fan bases are presumably going to be the most valuable to you. In the event that you need to expand transformations, in any case, nano or miniature influencers may be your smartest choice gratitude to their ordinarily high commitment rates.

  2. Influencer Marketing Campaign

    Very nice post!
    I think that at the point when you’re prepared to move your impact showcasing effort from a mindfulness strategy to a more characterized one, you need to begin searching for more viable strategies for correspondence/advancement.

  3. Kurt Frankenberg

    So… DUDES can post comments too? Whew. Good deal.

    Curse you Sarah Arrow for lengthening my must read list! 😉

    When most folks think of influencers their first thought goes to the ‘movers and shakers’… celeb types. In the end, though, it is those that we trust most that influence us most. That person MAY or MAY NOT be ‘famous’.

    Case in point: your trust-relationship with Steven Healy led you to a firm, unwavering decision even as others with varying degrees of influence were clamoring for your thoughts.

    GOOD and in depth post Sarah. I’m learning to locate and build trust with influencers in my local area to promote one of my businesses, a martial arts school. Any tips? Thanks again and

    Keep Stepping,


  4. Jerralyn Tanoc

    Thank you for sharing this article. Social media has a great effect and influence. Thank you for your recommended article as well.

  5. Ann Hawkins

    Excellent article Sarah.
    If anyone would like to hear direct from the authors of two of the books you recommend, we interviewed both Nathalie Nahai (Show 12) and Sam Fiorella (Show 17) for The Social Media Show http://www.thesocialmediashow.co.uk/show-list/

  6. Sarah Arrow

    Hey Steven, thanks for taking time to comment even when you are on holiday 🙂

  7. Aidan Montague

    Great article Sarah. You have saved me countless hours. I am now following the breadcrumb trail to all your excellent references on Influence Marketing, experts etc. More light reading for my next plane trip.

    1. Sarah Arrow

      Happy reading Aidan, and have a good trip, I hope its a long journey as some of those books are almost impossible to put down 🙂

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