Written by Liav Chen, Co-Founder and CEO of Humanz

There’s a lot of money to be made (and spent) in influencer marketing. Nearly 19% of marketers spent up to $5k in 2020 on influencer campaigns. And another 18% spent between $100k and $500k, with a whopping 7% spending over $1M.

Brands are shelling out the big bucks left and right to partner with the right influencer. But what is the “right” influencer?

This guide dives into the top nine most important characteristics to look for in an influencer — and breaks down what exactly makes a good influencer … well … good.

#1. Real influencers have real audiences

Marketers partner with influencers because of their authority on a shared target audience. More specifically, influencers provide marketers with reach and the ability to sway the purchasing decisions of real people.

But the truth is that influencer fraud is alive and well, and fake follower counts muddy the data. On average, 18 to 24 percent of an influencer’s audience is suspicious. This means up to nearly a quarter of followers are fake, inactive, and/or bots—in short, they’re not real people and they don’t have money to spend.

Influencers with high suspicious activity could be purchasing fake followers to boost their stats. Or they’re simply not removing inactive accounts and bots from their followers. Either way, businesses don’t want a quarter of their marketing budget spent on people who don’t exist.

Therefore, brands should invest in influencers with a “sweet spot” of 10 percent or less of suspicious followers, which ensures the influencer is most likely attempting to engage with only authentic audiences.

#2: Good influencers don’t call themselves influencers

When millions (if not billions) of dollars are spent each year on influencer marketing, word travels fast. And it attracts all the “wannabes” in swarms.

Many wannabe influencers employ a fake-it-til-you-make-it strategy, including:

  • Fake follower purchases
  • Fraudulent sponsored posts
  • Bios and profiles that self-label as “influencer”

To sum this up, there’s a correlation between not-so-great influencers and behaviors that force an influencer persona. Real influencers don’t need to force it because they show their influence, they don’t claim to have influence.

#3: Real influencers regularly engage

Authentic engagement doesn’t happen overnight and it’s nearly impossible to accomplish with brute force. It’s organic, it’s real, and it’s cultivated through careful curation of valuable content that speaks directly to a community. So you’ll notice things like:

  • Good influencers tag other people
  • Good influencers comment on posts
  • Good influencers engage with their audience

Average and below-average influencers just don’t invest that kind of quality time. On the other hand, good influencers attribute their success to the community they’ve helped build.

#4: Good influencers don’t sell all the time

Imagine you have a close friend. You spend time together, you share details about your lives, and you have fun together. Then they join a multi-level marketing group — and it’s all they talk about now. Gone are the days of gab-fest lunches because now you’re stuck with a non-stop selling machine. If this imaginary friend was an influencer, they’d be a bad one. Constant selling is off-putting because it dilutes conversation (or in an influencer’s case, it dilutes content).

When you invest in influencer marketing, whoever you partner with has to be sales-savvy — this is a given. But there’s a balance. It is therefore best for marketers to invest in influencers who devote no more than 20% of their content to paid or sponsored posts.

#5: Powerful influence is highly focused

Influencers know their target audience inside and out, and they know why followers keep coming back for more content. The reason is because great influencer content is incredibly focused. No matter what category, interest, topic, or niche an influencer covers, it’s fine-tuned and valuable. This is what makes an influencer’s opinion trustworthy.

Alternatively, an influencer who genre-hops has too broad of an appeal. They’re a jack of all trades, but a master of none — and this breeds unfocused content with no clear opinion or perspective.

#6: Good influencers don’t sell out their fans

Huge brand deals are tempting, and cash motivates people to do things they might not otherwise do. The critical difference between an average influencer and a good influencer that good influencers understand and respect the fact that their followers trust their opinion.

In practice, this means good influencers only work with brands and products they can honestly recommend — and they always disclose paid partnerships. When influencers deceive their followers, all trust is broken. And when those followers find out, the jig is up.

#7: Good influencers tell good stories

Quality influencers know what makes their audiences tick. They know how to entertain, how to engage, and how to persuade. Good influencers also know how to tell a great story that captivates and convinces (plus, humans are generally predisposed to love a good narrative).

This is where brands come into play. When brands partner with average or below-average influencers, the product’s story falls flat. It doesn’t inspire and it doesn’t demand attention. But a good influencer can and does bring a brand’s story to life. And they do so in a way that resonates with the shared audience.

#8: Influencers have geographically targetable audiences

Some brands are international titans (think Coca-Cola, Google, Apple, and Amazon), but the majority of companies operate in certain geographic locations.

For example, brands may only offer their products in South Africa while others only ship in and around the United Kingdom. In which case, it’s smart to partner with influencers who have an audience that the brand’s products can actually, physically reach. This is especially true for local businesses.

It’s imperative to partner with an influencer who has a captive audience — and that captive audience must also have access to the brand and its products.

#9: Good influencers bring in brands organically

Native advertising makes paid content look and feel the same as organic content. Sponsored content is a special subtype of native advertising and it works well (if it’s done correctly) because it blends in with an influencer’s posts.

After all, a seamless experience is usually a better experience. Good influencers know how to blur the lines between organic and sponsored content. Of course, influencers should still disclose whether a post is sponsored or not, but the point is that paid content shouldn’t feel sponsored.

Content has to make sense and bring value to followers — regardless of how much it costs.