The celebrity spokesperson is almost as ancient as marketing itself.


Before Web 2.0, it was all so simple. If you were a big brand with a boatload of cash, you could pay an A-list actor or rock star to laud your product for 30 seconds on TV screens across the world. If you weren’t, your options were limited.

The advent of the social Web brought a whole new class (and hierarchy) of celebrity. Savvy micro-content creators of all ages, shapes, and sizes rose out of complete obscurity to garner millions of dedicated followers around the world. Elsewhere, bloggers and tastemakers banded together to create powerful, interconnected networks of hive influence. Further examples abound.

An ever-evolving and expanding cast of social platforms has only served as a catalyst for the digital influencer. These days, virtually every platform boasts its own community of A-list users. The smartest ones have scattered their digital eggs across multiple baskets, spreading influence across Snapchat, Vine, Instagram, and anywhere else their audiences are migrating.

The word influencer started getting thrown around a lot, and it stuck. In 2015, influencers are big business, though their meteoric rise should not come as a surprise. Influencers have always proved to be effective tools to rapidly scale your messaging, add an authentic human touch to your marketing efforts, or introduce your brand to communities and niches that were previously unreachable.

Today, influencers are within reach for most any brand, large or small. The problem, for many, is the paradox of choice. How do you select the right influencer for your brand when there are so many different types–and individuals within each type–to choose from? It’s a question many marketers struggle with, and it’s a good one. To answer it, we must first understand what those different types are and how they stack up against one another.

Celebrities are likely the most familiar to you. They are the men and women you see on television, watch in movies, and listen to on the radio that mold and shape the zeitgeist of our culture. They are the Ariana Grandes, Adam Levines, and Chris Hemsworths of the world, recognizable to just about anyone. Most notably, they transcend all digital, social, and mass media. They are everywhere.

In marketing, celebrities are still mostly reserved for big brands with deep pockets, even on social media. A single tweet from Kim Kardashian is said to run $50,000. (Yes, you heard that right.) Still, many large companies continue to use celebrities for validation.

Your brand may not offer the most interesting products or services, so tapping a celebrity could offer you the cool factor you need to stand out. For smaller brands, celebrities can be effective for entry. It’s an opportunity to get reach, relevance, and a stamp of approval right off the bat, which could be enough for a brand to step ahead of the pack.

Plenty of negatives should be considered, too. Because of the high costs associated with leveraging superstars, a flight of messaging is nearly impossible to secure. As a result, you may only get one shot –one post, one tweet, or one image–to communicate everything you want to say. For many brands, the risk is simply not worth the reward. They’d rather tap a more up-and-coming cultural tastemaker to spread the risk across multiple posts and platforms.

Social Media Stars
Social media stars, as their name would suggest, are influencers that have risen to celebrity-level fame on social media platforms through original content with mass appeal. They are the men and women that shape and control social trends with the tap of a finger.

They are the Jenna Marbles, King Bachs, and Jerome Jarres of the world, recognizable to large subsets of the platforms on which they work and play. The biggest ones transcend digital and social media, but have not yet broken into mass media. They may never get the chance.

In marketing, social media stars remain one of the most popular groups of influencers for brands in 2015. If celebrities offer the best chance for reach and relevance, social media stars provide the most fertile ground for conversation and engagement. After all, it’s that very connection with fans that allowed them to rise to fame so quickly in the first place.

Beyond that, social media stars also offer a high degree of authenticity. They’re not so different than their audiences and are trusted more as a result. Unlike celebrities, social media stars are often responsive to longer-term relationships, opening the door for ambassadorship.

On the other end, social media stars don’t always attract varied audiences; they tend to skew very young across the board, and your brand’s target audience may not line up. In a similar vein, social media stars tend to be very protective of their personal brands. Because so much of their own success is built on their social content, it can be difficult to find a way to fit your brand’s story and messaging into theirs without friction. Because of this, it is important to remember to be open to interpretation and experimentation. If you’re working with a social media star, it’s essential to recognize and use their unique storytelling power.

Up-and-comers are influencers that have become–or are on their way to becoming–minor celebrities within a specific interest group, niche, or geographic location. They’re the ones working hardest to build communities around fashion, video games, photography, and food.

They typically value depth over breadth and possess a passion and dedication that few others enjoy. To keep their communities close, they tend to focus on one or two platforms and content types. Many have full-time jobs.

Because up-and-comers are still working on scaling their influence, it is often very easy–and cheap–to turn their whispers into shouts. Brands that invest in these micro-influencers, providing them resources and helping extend their reach, can reap huge rewards from the long-term relationship that results. Taking it a step further, building a network of up-and-comers that can be activated around tent pole events and initiatives can provide scale that approaches the more influential groups above without hanging your hat on a single personality.

The biggest problem with up-and-comers is that they don’t yet have the scale of audience you need to spread your message far and wide. Investing in these micro-influencers can be expensive and can come with great risk. There’s no guarantee they’ll even attract the kind of audience you’re looking to speak to, and it’s hard to identify that special spark that celebrities and social media stars possess–yet ultimately need to reach that next level.

There is no right influencer for every brand. A celebrity could be the right move for your next campaign, while a super fan strategy could pay the biggest dividends down the road.

It is important to consider all of the variables of your marketing campaign–audience, goals, duration, deadlines, budget, and supporting teams–when choosing an influencer strategy. Buying influence isn’t easy, and it’s rarely cheap, but it can be extremely rewarding if executed well.

About Megan Berry

Megan Berry is VP of products at RebelMouse. She previously led community and marketing at Klout. She has blogged about community, product and influence for Mashable, The Huffington Post, Amex OPEN Forum, and Brazen Careerist.