How Handheld Names are Redefining Influence for Social Media Marketers

Written by Laura Roeder

On May 17, 2016

Most people have probably wondered what it would do for their business if they suddenly scored a major endorsement – and if you haven’t, you definitely should.

Not just for the reasons you already know, either! Because obviously, brands have been trying to score recommendations from influential tastemakers since always. They throw money at big-name endorsers for everything from luxury cars to books to Japan-exclusive male cosmetics.


But today, endorsement and influence look a LOT different – especially on social media.

(Spoiler alert: that’s really, really good news.)

Twitter recently teamed up with Annalect to conduct a study on social media influence – who people follow, who they trust, and how it shapes their behavior as consumers.

Some of the statistics they uncovered might seriously change how you feel about the connections you make on social media, along with the way you conduct outreach for your business and the relationships you nurture over time.

You want a big-name so-and-so to give your biz a big thumbs up? Here’s the deal:

Rethink what makes someone influential

There’s an old-school way of defining an “influencer” as a household name – a person with enough mainstream recognizability for audiences to presumably know, like, and trust them.

(That’s how you end up with ads in which Peanuts characters boast about the tax-deferred interest of MetLife annuities, or ALF reminds us not to litter in public parks.)


While this way of doing things hasn’t gone away, it’s no longer the only way of doing things – and that’s a change that can do a lot for small businesses and solo entrepreneurs!

Modern audiences are increasingly interested not just in household names, but in “handheld names.”

This is what Twitter calls people who have carved out a following and a reputation on social media, and whose opinions and recommendations resonate with their fans.

In some cases, an influencer may just be an Internet celebrity who’s paid to create content for whoever will pay them. (Superstar Vine magician Zach King probably doesn’t make you immediately think of Buick automobiles, but there you go.)

In other cases, though, an influencer can be someone who’s influential to a particular audience.

Hint: These are people your non-work friends may NEVER have heard of!

In the blogging world, for example, that might include someone like Darren Rowse from ProBlogger – not necessarily a name you hear around the average dinner table, but a huge deal in his industry!

Social media has empowered a lot of people to develop a lot of influence in small, specialized online communities.

How much influence, exactly? Take a look at these statistics:

49% of the users Twitter surveyed rely on recommendations from influencers. For perspective, 56% of the users surveyed rely on recommendations from friends. Knowing someone personally barely gives them the edge over a trustworthy-seeming stranger on the Internet!

Twitter users trust social media influencers almost as much as their own friends. Click to Tweet

That trust shows in their spending habits, too. When a user sees tweets from a brand, their intent to purchase is 2.7 times higher than if they hadn’t – but when they see tweets from a brand and from an influencer, it’s 5.2 times higher.

Having an influencer in the mix can make a HUGE difference.

Which raises a big question:

Do you have to PAY for influencer recommendations?

In some ways, the handheld names that make powerful influencers on social media are similar to the household names you see promoting brands on TV. Fill their coffers enough, and of course they’ll promote you alongside a talking dog!


But when you’re trying to reach an influencer’s audience on social media, do you HAVE to pay big bucks like Buick and other brands do?

Absolutely not.

Of course, you can if you want. Internet celebs are literally a big business right now! For example, in Twitter’s blog post announcing the results of their study, they recommend working with Niche – a company that connects brands with influencers who would be effective at promoting them.

(Unsurprisingly, they didn’t mention that they actually acquired Niche in 2015.)

That’s not the only way to do things, though – and for you, it probably isn’t even the BEST way.

Remember, an influencer isn’t necessarily defined by their overall popularity so much as their popularity with a certain audience. Someone whose audience looks relatively small compared to high-profile Internet superstars might actually be a much better fit for your brand!

If you want to reach those people and their audiences, you might not need to spend a dime – but you DO need to remember two key guidelines for effective influencer outreach.

First, don’t be cynical. It’s temptingly easy to start thinking of this as a numbers game, like big companies do – to start valuing people based on their follower counts, or to think of them as means to an end.

Help Me

Small businesses and entrepreneurs have the privilege of showing others more respect than that – so do it! Recognize that every “influencer” is a person with their own business and reputation, and their own rich, complicated system of beliefs and values. Identify influencers as people, not as tools, and build relationships with them.

Second, spend time instead of money. Get to know influencers – their audiences, their messages, and their missions. (Another reason it’s so important to look at them as actual people, instead of just as ways to promote yourself.)

For example, we do a lot of outreach in the form of guest posts on other blogs and appearances on podcasts – and these are often opportunities you don’t get unless you ask for them! Spend time looking for and pursuing opportunities like these – the network of colleagues you build can end up being a lot more valuable than just the influence of their recommendations.

What do you think of the “handheld name” phenomenon?

The increasing influence of niche handheld names in addition to big household names creates a lot of opportunities for smaller businesses – but also unique challenges.

What’s your experience with small-scale influencer outreach been like? Do you find it liberating? Frustrating? (Maybe both?) Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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