The 5 Types of Influencers On The Web

Whether we’re talking about social media, content promotion or basic networking, it’s often advised that small business owners reach out, engage and connect with their “influencers”. Butwho are these mythical people we’re supposed to be talking to all the time? What do they look like and where do they hang out? And why does no one ever tell us?

Well, today we will! As a small business owner, there are five types of influencers that you should be aware of and reaching out to on social media. Want to know who they are?

The Social Butterflies

Remember high school? Remember those people that seemed to know everyone regardless of which party you went to or what corner you were hanging out on? These people also exist on the Web. The Social Butterflies are the names and avatars who live to connect people from inside their different networks. If you need a programmer, they know a guy. If you need 100 invitations made by yesterday, they have a friend who does that. They’ll make the introduction for you because they take pleasure in mixing up their networks.

Social Butterflies are valuable to a small business owner because of how wide their net reaches. By forming a close relationship with the, you get access to everyone else who is in their network. You also ensure that the Butterfly will mention YOUR name to her contacts when the time comes. Where do Social Butterflies hang out? Everywhere! To identify them, try creating contact groups (via Twitter Lists or Facebook/LinkedIn groups, for example) and then look for the names that seem to overlap. These are your Butterflies.

The Thought Leaders

Thought leaders are the voices that your customers trust and listen to most. They’re usually the same people whose content you’re constantly watching get retweeted and whose blogs get more comments in a day than you get in a month. It takes some effort to get these people to acknowledge you because they’re constantly being inundated with messages, but if you can prove yourself by sharing valuable information and being a good social media citizen, you’ll be handsomely rewarded when it’s your content they’re blasting out to their loyal networks.

Thought leaders can help you build your own authority by lending you their platform. When they tweet out your material or offer to help you with a blog post, you get to take advantage of their contact and increase the eyes looking at your site. If you’re looking for Thought Leaders in social media, you won’t have to look too far. They’re speaking at conferences, getting quotes in the most high profile stories, and are always being referenced in other people’s tweets and post. To get the most return, don’t go for the Superstar Thought Leaders, stick to who is most influential in your niche.

The Trendsetters

Every industry has its own set of trendsetters. They’re the early adopters and the people that others listen to. The Trendsetters were on Twitter and FourSquare before everyone else and now they’re trying out a new social networking site that you can’t even spell. Trendsetters are motivated greatly by ego and are always on the hunt for what’s new so they can tell their friends they found it first. They love getting the scool, so get their attention, and they’ll be proud to share you with all 5,000 of their closest friends.

Trendsetters are powerful forces in social media because of their need to constantly be trying and sharing new things. If you’re looking for these people in social media, you can find them reading TechCrunch, commenting on Mashable and tweeting about sites and applications you’ve never even heard of.

The Reporters

This includes the bloggers, reporters and news outlets that live and breathe your industry. They’re the bylines you constantly see and the people most immersed in your industry because they write about it every day. This group is super important to connect with because they hold three coveted things — press, coverage and links. SMB owners need to know how to get the attention of people who link.

Obviously, as a small business owner, you want to create relationships with the Reporters that cover your niche to get your business in front of their audience. You want to form relationships with these folks as early as you can so that you can keep them alert to big things happening in your small business. Once you identify these people, you’ll want to create a PR linkerati list so that you know who you should reach out to when you need press.

The Everyday Customer

Your Everyday Customer has a much smaller circle of influence than The Reporters or The Social Butterflies, but it’s just as important. Your Everyday Customers are the people who live in your town and could potentially walk in and spend money with you today. You want to use social media to create awareness with them.

This group is often neglected in social media as brands attempt to go for the higher hanging fruit. However, reach one of these folks and you’re almost guaranteed that they’ll pass on their experience to their family and friends. They’re all about worth of mouth and sharing recommendations. If you’re looking for them on social media, they can most often be found asking questions on Twitter or participating in group discussions on Facebook and LinkedIn. They’re unassuming, but vocal when given the chance.

Those are groups I concern myself with when talking about “influencers”. Are they any influencer groups you focus on not mentioned here?


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

43 Reactions
  1. Social butterflies are great, but don’t rely on them. Their attention span also flits from thing to thing just like a butterfly flits from flower to flower.

  2. Thank you, Lisa.

    I’m wondering; which one are you? (Or does there need to be a 6th type?)

    The Franchise King

  3. Joel: Hmmm, I don’t think I’m listed on here. Guess I’m not a real influencer. 🙂

  4. Martin Lindeskog

    Talking about influence, have you checked out Klout?

    TJ: Did you know that you are “influenced” by me? 🙂

  5. I think the everyday customer is the most important. Without them, the others don’t exist. Kind of a tree falling in the woods thing.

  6. The thought leaders seem to be the most helpful and misdirecting people. It seems like everyone is an expert and to them, they want to be recognized like an expert. But then again, I have learned a lot from this type and I tweak my business and website strategy mainly on the thought leaders. I think the social butterflies have more of the up-to-date information though. Go figure!!!

  7. So a good mix of each is awesome then right? 🙂

  8. An interesting list and thank you.

    I also believe that staff, even in small companies, can have significant influence and should be encouraged to participate in a positive way.

    Internal marketing is sadly neglected here in the UK and some companies are paranoid about staff wasting time on various Social Media platforms, BUT, if addressed in a positive manner and used properly it can be very beneficial. Of course, people are concerned about negative publicity, but didn’t that possibility always exist and don’t we just have to keep our eye on the “Social Media ball”?

    Let your staff tell their friends, family, associates and clients old and new, what a great company they work for! Make them realise that they are a significant part in the corporate structure and they’ll probably be more successful and more focused than ever.

    People like to belong and they like to contribute, Social Media addresses those needs perfectly. Just monitor what’s going on, you monitor what’s going on anyway, right?

    If you don’t, you should!

    Don’t forget to ask the staff what they think of your approach to your Internet presence and your Social Media platforms, they might have some great ideas!

    Have a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2011.

    For information on Social Media and Construction go to or join us on Facebook.

  9. I disagree with Darren – not because everyday customers are not important – they are of utmost importance to every business – but because they will rarely reach an significant number of people.

    I believe it is the Thought Leaders and Trend Setters who will have the most impact on everything from creating a better world to promoting businesses because they know how to use their influence effectively. (Well known Social Media folks like Lisa are probably some of each of those.)

    Your everyday customer may not even bother to write one review for you. They MIGHT recommend you to a friend or answer a question on Twitter IF they happen to see it – big IF there.

    Your true influencer will decide you deserve recognition and write multiple reviews recommending you, your cause or your company, follow that up with multiple blog posts on different but related blogs that move you onto page one at Google for your best keyword phrases and then share each of those posts not once but scheduled across a period of time on multiple Social Networks including Twitter, StumbleUpon, Facebook, FriendFeed, BizSugar or their favorite mix and then get other influencers to do the same.

    Success is a numbers game. One Tweet does little. One hundred new visitors with a 1% conversion rate won’t keep most companies in business. Consistently being recommended by numerous influencers respected in the same community – THAT is influence that can drive sales, leads and action.

    Now the bad news. We only do these things for those we TRULY believe in – not just anyone who has the cash to pay for it!

    • Hi Gail I would have to totally agree with you on this point. Especially when you speak about success being a numbers game.

  10. Nice article. How much have things changed in the last year, though? It seems like Twitter has now become the hub for influencers, used by bloggers, journalists, and consumers.

  11. I believe there is a sixth category, although it may be a hybrid of some of the others: The “OUT-OF-LEFT-FIELDERS.” These are social media participants who may not always lead, may not have huge followings, and may not report on new trends in a timely manner. But, they try to perceive trends, practices, and data in new ways, and communicate that. Sometimes I feel like one of these “5,” but other times — for example, through a perfectly constructed tweet, I touch a nerve “out there” in the social world and feel like a “Left-Fielder.”

    So, it comes down to perceiving something in a slightly different way, and being able to communicate that through social channels concisely and a bit differently – not, for example, with a simple Retweet, but adding some unique value to which people respond “Aha!” So, perhaps being an “Out of Left Fielder” is an episodic trait. But it does help one stand out from the crowd and Left-Fielders are valued.

    By the way, I refer to “out of left field” in a positive context, but based on this from Wikipedia: “Marcus Callies, an associate professor of English and philology at the University of Mainz in Germany … suggested that the left fielder in baseball might throw the ball to home plate in an effort to get the runner out before he scores, and that the ball, coming from behind the runner out of left field, would surprise the runner.”

  12. I’ve been doing alot of research on influencer marketing of late and stumbled across this post. Although I noticed that its a few years old, its clear that it was way ahead of its time. I’m finding that finding, contacting, and building a relationship with industry influencers is THE best way to build your business. Not only does it have a direct impact on word of mouth, traffic, and sales. But it also has a positive impact on organic traffic growth and visibility.

    The biggest takeaway from this post for me is the idea that reaching a targeted few can and is usually more effective than reaching many when it comes to promoting your brand.