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How to Become an Influencer

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

A comment on one of my posts asked how to become an influencer if you're an author or blogger. Just to clarify, influencers are content providers or personalities who have a significant following for their work or content, and who have the potential to sway opinion and buying behavior.

In today's blogging and social media environment, being sponsored by an advertiser could offer an influencer an income stream or other perks. Advertisers know that by having their companies and offerings featured on influencers' blogs, social media channels, and other content, they may be able to circumvent ad blockers and other technologies that can torpedo their traditional internet advertising results.

However, unlike the Google AdWords/AdSense program that automatically feeds ads on blogs—an efficient system for both content providers and advertisers—securing influencer sponsorships is a much more difficult process.

If You Make Money from Ads On Your Blog, Are You an Influencer?

Not really. However, your influencer status in terms of traffic and followers could impact how much you make from these ads. More traffic, more views, and more clicks equal more advertising commission revenues.

Do You Need to Be a Blogger to Be an Influencer?

While the model for blogging to make money has largely been centered on blog posts over the years, today's influencer earning model does not mean that blog posting is the only content that can be used.

What We Can Learn from Kim Kardashian?

Take, for example, the almost over-exposed model and reality TV star, Kim Kardashian. I would say that her biggest pull is from the photos and such that she posts on Instagram (currently at 103+ million followers) and Facebook (currently 30+ million people liking her page). When I went to her personal website, I didn't see a scroll of blog posts, or even a link to them. None of the usual layout and navigation that is customary for blogs. Actually, I couldn't exactly figure out what the site was all about. But who cares? Her tribe is elsewhere.

Tip: You don't have to be a text-based blog post writer to be an influencer. Whatever types of content get you followers are the ones you should use to build your influencer profile. Don't try to spread yourself thin across platforms or content types. Doing so taxes your time and energy which could lower the quality and quantity of your content... and your followers.

The Influencer Popularity Contest

While I've received many guest blogging invitations over the years, I've received very few significant influencer sponsorship opportunities, and most of the ones I did get didn't work out for long. That low number may be due to my very niche B2B (business to business) and self-publishing markets which don't have the numbers or appeal that advertisers want. Or, in some cases, the ROI on the effort outweighed what I could, or did, earn.

On the other hand, a hobby blogger I know is regularly approached by a variety of advertising sponsors from his field. What's the difference? First off, it's a hobby blog in a niche field that can have rabid followers. Second, there are a lot of potential sponsoring advertisers who want to reach followers like his.

So the blog topic and the market that it serves will determine how much influencer opportunity could be available.

Tip: You must be in a market and have followers that advertisers want.

Attracting, Hustling, and the Easier Influencer Marketing Option

From my observation, I can say that advertiser sponsors usually approach the blogger, not the other way around. Sponsors, either on their own or through an ad agency, may research and review potential influencers before reaching out to them with prime opportunities.

But if you're willing to hustle, you might be able to score some sponsorships. Remember, though, that you need to have a following to even be attractive to advertisers. For example, a friend of mine has a highly targeted following on Twitter and Facebook, and in a networking group she founded. As well, she participates in many relevant industry events every year to become more visible and make connections with potential sponsors.

Influencer marketing platforms can also be used to connect with potential sponsors. One example that I've used is IZEA. In systems like this, influencers are offered opportunities to tweet or post an advertiser sponsor's message for pay. The pay may be small, sometimes in terms of cents per opportunity. But because the whole system is highly automated, similar to the way Google AdSense is, it is an easy way to tap into the influencer marketing pay pool. However, even though is it easier than other sponsorship avenues, these platforms may have a bit of a learning curve... at least that's what I've experienced.

Tip: Bigger advertising sponsors may have a "don't call us, we'll call you" attitude. But if you have a qualified following, and you're willing to do some sales work, you could score some sponsorship opportunities. For those influencers just getting started, or who don't want to personally hustle up sales, an influencer marketing platform that automates the process may be worth considering.

Cash or Freebies? What Can You Expect from Being an Influencer?

Another influential blogger and author friend of mine lamented that while she loved the travel and goodies that sponsors offered, what she really wanted was cash to pay the bills.

Blogging and being super active on social media takes a lot of time and energy, and sometimes money! Nice as they might be, products, services, and perks received cannot be used to pay for one's mortgage, credit card bills, or even a bag of groceries.

Why do many sponsors offer just products, services, or perks instead of cash? First, they want influencers to actually experience their offerings so that the influencers will talk about them from genuine experience. Plus, sponsors can offer these goodies inexpensively at their cost. But even better for sponsors is that they can reduce or eliminate their spending on traditional advertising (online or off).

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Remember, sponsors are not giving you anything out of the goodness of their hearts. They want publicity!

Tip: Do a thorough cost-benefit analysis of all advertising sponsorship opportunities before signing on.

No "Free" Lunch or Products: Influencer Responsibilities for Taxes

As just discussed, getting "paid" to be an influencer may not always be in cash. It might be offered as products or services, too. Some examples would include travel, VIP tickets to an event, free products and services... the list goes on. The IRS (Internal Revenue Service, the taxing agency in the United States) may not consider these offerings as "gifts," but compensation.

And you don't need to be a celebrity to get the IRS's attention. "Regular people" influencers who receive compensation in this way can also be taxed for the freebies they get. Are you willing to pay taxes on the value of those "freebies?" If not, it might be better to take a pass.

Tip: Your sponsors may not always report these handouts to taxing authorities (even though they should). So keep good records of any compensation, of any kind, that you get for being an influencer. Then have a chat with your CPA or tax adviser so you properly report and pay taxes on everything that applies to your situation.

Follow the Money: Influencer Responsibilities for Disclosure

So if you, as an influencer, get a product, service, or cash from a sponsor, how likely are you to speak positively about it or the sponsor? I would say very likely. As just discussed under taxing issues, advertising sponsors give to influencers in the hope of getting positive publicity. They are not giving you a "gift."

In addition to getting the attention of the IRS, this very transactional relationship is also in the sights of the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), the government agency in the United States that oversees advertising claims and disclosures. (Note that similar agencies in other countries may also be monitoring influencer activity.) In April 2017, "after reviewing numerous Instagram posts by celebrities, athletes, and other influencers," the FTC sent letters to 90 influencers and marketers reminding them about disclosure requirements. I don't know about you, but I don't like getting "reminders" from government agencies.

In what looks like an attempt to clear up any ambiguity about disclosure requirements, the FTC published a lengthy Q&A/FAQ type article in September 2017 which addressed many questions about the FTC Endorsement Guidelines. Worth a read and worth bookmarking for reference.

Tip: Know how to properly disclose your relationship with sponsors. For the most updated information on guidelines, visit Seek legal guidance for any questions on disclosure requirements.

Stupid Sponsor Games

Just as influencers may play games with disclosures, some advertiser sponsors can also be a bit questionable in their practices, too.

Here's an example. The hobby blogger that I mentioned earlier often receives sponsorship offers for products. One potential sponsor asked him to purchase the product on Amazon and then they would reimburse him for the cost. Why would they ask him to do that? The sponsor knows that verified purchase reviews on Amazon carry more weight with buyers. Is this truly a "verified" purchase? I think not.

Other sponsors are just plain ignorant of how the influencer marketing game works. They think that an influencer will automatically know what to do. Some of the offers that I've seen sent to others are just plain confusing. Do they want a blog post written? A review on Amazon? Mentions on Facebook or Twitter? Others, like the "verified" purchase on Amazon example illustrates, require a lot of jumping through hoops. Some offers, usually from ad agencies, were just full of ad-speak that even I didn't understand as an advertising veteran.

Tip: If you don't understand what the sponsor wants you to do, ask! And if those efforts seem questionable, carefully evaluate if participating could damage your reputation along with theirs. If it would, take a pass.

Your Influencer Package

Before you start being an influencer, you need to assemble your influencer "package." That package would include an inventory of what you bring to the relationship and the opportunity. These items could include:

  • Number of followers on primary social media channels of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. You don't need to be on all of them to be a viable candidate. You may even want to eliminate those where you might only have "placeholder" type accounts that have no activity. Emphasize those where you have the strongest presence. This is what's called social proof.
  • Email subscribers. Having a substantial email list to which offers could be sent could be a big selling point. But this is very important: NEVER, EVER, EVER SHARE YOUR EMAIL LIST WITH AN ADVERTISING SPONSOR! It may violate any privacy policy you have for your email list and it is not considered good practice. YOU need to send any promotions or offers to your subscribers.
  • Your expertise and experience in the advertiser's field. Sharing your LinkedIn or other profile that details your experience with what the advertiser offers can help establish you as an expert in addition to being an influencer. Also, if you have written books, indicate where those are featured on sites such as Amazon. Again, social proof that you're legit.
  • Your website and/or blog. If you will be promoting an advertiser's offer on your website or blog, your site's URL is a key piece of information.
  • What you want. Setting your expectations for pay and procedures can help avoid disappointment for both you and your sponsor.

Tip: You might want to have a short write-up with these details saved in a Word or text document so that you can copy and paste, or send as a PDF document, when responding to sponsorship inquiries.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 09, 2018:

Hi Mary! I also follow several influencers just to watch what they do and learn from it. Some are helpful. Others I have to admit I don't understand their appeal. We'll see where this trend goes. Thanks for joining the conversation and have a great day!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 07, 2018:

Interesting read. There are some influencers I like to follow as I learn from them but I know really very few. I am sure many are helpful.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 13, 2017:

Lawrence, you never know! Maybe you are an influencer already. :) If you blog or write books, you probably are to some degree. Thanks for chiming in and Happy Holidays!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on December 12, 2017:


Really enjoyed this article, not that it may likely to become an 'influencer'

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 18, 2017:

Dianna, no doubt the Kardashians have the influencer thing down cold! While we could only hope to achieve even a fraction of that influencer status, we can learn something from them. Glad you found the post helpful. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a great day!

Dianna Mendez on October 17, 2017:

Thank you for the valuable information. I think the Kardashians have topped the list on social media followers!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 17, 2017:

Hi Linda! I know a lot of talented writers are considering their influencer options these days. Glad you found it helpful. If you have any experiences you'd like to share as you consider these opportunities, please pop back in and update us. Thank you for your support and have a terrific day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 17, 2017:

Thank you very much for writing this article, Heidi. The topic is something that I've been thinking about lately. The information that you've shared is very useful.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 17, 2017:

G'morning, Bill! Indeed, this influencer thing is growing and evolving at a rapid pace. And knowing how to address the opportunities and issues in this arena is going to become more and more important for us content creators.

Glad you found it interesting! Thanks, as always for stopping by and adding your thoughts. Your support and friendship are truly appreciated!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 17, 2017:

Flourish, oh my! Sounds like that was an "opportunity" that may have been a bit more investment than it was worth. NJ in the winter? Um... I'll pass.

Thank you for sharing a great example of the influencer game! BTW, your question on another post about how authors and bloggers could become influencers inspired me to write this post. I truly appreciate your friendship and support!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 17, 2017:

Always a fascinating read, Heidi, but for whatever reason this one more so than most. It's such an interesting topic today...most of us blog....what direction do we to change that direction...willingness or motivation to do so...great food for thought.

Have a super Tuesday!

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 16, 2017:

Such a well-written and thorough article! As a result of my writing on HP, I have been approached by drug companies wanting me to be a "voice" for their product. One offered me the (ahem) opportunity to travel to New Jersey to shoot a video while another wanted to have a film crew come to me. They were offering a mere pittance for this opportunity and that's without even considering whether I was comfortable being associated with the product or company. Can you imagine having to pay taxes on a trip to New Jersey (during the wintertime, no less) that you have to report as income?

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