4 Archetypes of Top Social Media Influencers

Did you ever wonder what traits are associated with the top influencers in your industry? An examination of the top social media influencers led to the following 4 archetypes. 

sample social media leaders

Attributes of Social Media Influencer Archetypes Match Strategy Effectiveness

In the same way that social media influencers are told to make their  content informative, instructional, entertaining and inspirational,  we can easily identify social media leaders that excel in these attributes. Although marketing scholars would argue at this point that a rigorous discriminant analysis would then be required to demarcate each attributes’ contribution to audience growth, this exploratory analysis will first consider what we know of these social media influencers.  There are limitations, however, to consider when drawing conclusions on whether these archetypes can be confirmed from a subjective evaluation technique. 

First, much of the background on the popularity of social media influencers was gleaned from Klout scores, which many will debate is a suspect tool in which to affirm influence. Second, the dominant attributes assigned to each social media influencer were decided from content revealed in social network endorsements, the sampling of twitter dialogs and my own personal perceptions of these social media influencers’ ability to draw a large following after reading their books and attending their conferences. 

That said, a sorting of social media leaders having expert-level Klout scores into categories reflecting their most dominant attributes revealed the following two dimensions as a framework for classification: 

  • A communication style ranging from a predominantly insightful to a predominantly engaging way to connect with their audiences.
  • A rapport building purpose ranging from being predominantly educational to being predominantly inspirational.

Combining the two-axes then gives us four archetypes of social media influencers: Analytical Pundits, Mentors, Evangelists and Motivators

social media influencersPlacement of Top 100 Social Media Influencers 

Analytical Pundits Thrive on Education and Insightfulness

Most in the field of social media would likely attribute the popularity of David Meerman Scott, Sarah Lacy and Danah Boyd to how well they educates us.  In essence, we count on these social media influencers to interpret the industry’s technical makeovers and their impact on our marketing practices.

Some like Lee Odden accomplish this by leading the way on predicting how changes in technology will affect our search engine marketing strategies. Others like Brian Solis provide deeper insights into how social media is reshaping our social business practices. 

Common to all of these analytical pundits is a drive to be the first to interpret strategic meaning to technical developments and changes in user behavior. And as their fans, we trust in the accuracy of their judgments while anxiously awaiting their take on industry shake-ups or their predictions of what technologies will really materialize in the future. 

Mentors Thrive on Helpfulness and Engagement

Mentors among these social media influencers, on the other hand, serve a different purpose. Though not always as insightful as their intellectual counterparts, their influence scores are among the highest. These folks are seen as being educational and engaging. The latter is an especially distinguishing attribute as very few analytical pundits have active dialogs with their fans. As noted in the engagement statistics below, analytical pundits often have ratios of followers-to-following averaging around 20:1. To the contrary, mentors have ratios typically less than 2:1. 

Social Media Influencer StatisticsEngagement Statistics Associated with Social Media Influence Archetypes

Highlighted in this category are social media influencers like Kim Garst, Marsha Collier, Bryan Kramer and Darren Rowse. They all show dedicated commitment to their many fans. Jay Baer, for example, regularly dives into LinkedIn discussions and blog posts with tips for the blogger as well as words of encouragement.

Following the LinkedIn recommendations supporting those listed as coaches, it’s clear that fans appreciate their help and responsiveness. Their twitter feeds show an extremely highly level of dialog beyond just thank you’s.  Kim Garst, in particular, will respond and even converse with her nearly 300K followers on what is going on with their lives. Mentors like Jay Baer seem have a genuine passion to teach us tricks of the trade through their engaging podcasts. These behaviors are not as prevalent among the other 3 archetypes. 

Motivators Thrive on Engagement and Inspiration

In this next group, these motivators often take the route of staged performances and air time to launch their audience exposure. In even the most mundane of industries, it is hard to imagine social media influencers reaching the top of audience exposure without at least some flair for comedy or lively interaction.  From Joe Pulizzi’s infamous orange suit to Andrea Vahl’s “Grandma Mary” alter ego, many social media influencers capture their audience’s attention through entertaining chats, webinars and posts. 

The key to gaining influence as an entertainer, however, is to make sure the style fits your personality. Many social media influencers turn comedian at conferences and on podcasts only to annoy the rest of us that would rather they stick to their flair for educating, coaching or inspiring. But some are naturals. The ever ebullient Gary Vaynerchuk is perhaps the most popular of my students because of his candor, comic wit and sarcasm. Just like Robert Scoble’s knack for “off-the-wall” technical discoveries, Vaynerchuk and others have capitalized on their gifts to connect with today’s Millennials.

Others like Dave Kerpen, Jessica Northey, Brian Carter and Lou Mongello seem to have personalities that especially resonate with those needing a dressed down version of the scholarly type mentioned early. Common to all is a personality that attracts fans proud to reveal their lighter side. From Jessica’s roots in country music to Lou’s background with Disney and Dave’s wedding in a ballpark, these social media influencers convince us all that work should never be dull.

Evangelists Thrive on Insightfulness and Inspiration

But there is a reason why Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki and Gretchen Rubin have established arguably the greatest amount of trust with their fans. Evangelists often take the route of “inspire” first and “teach” later.  A typical trail of tweets from Cali Lewis or Sarah Evans for example, will help balance your info-overload with what matters in life just like one webcast from Mari Smith can recharge your day.

Many of the other archetypes attempt this, but typically fall flat. Instead, their sporadic use of inspirational quotes comes off as a ploy to boost their following. Evangelists, on the other hand, have a life story to share that resonates with our own struggles to succeed. 

I suspect that Mitch Joel, Joel Comm, and Beth Kanter also raise the bar in excellence by sharing their life stories. But they do it while weaving in their tips of the day on how to master social media. And unlike the motivator’s route, their twitter streams seem to appeal more to those seeking inspiration from someone they trust. In the process, this trust leads to followers wanting their interpretation on a variety of life matters.

What Makes for a Strong Social Media Influencer

From just exploratory research, it seems that social media influencers follow one of four fairly distinct paths. Granted some will say that Joel Comm can be entertaining, inspiring and educational. But most that follow him will likely credit his success to being a great evangelist. Similarly, few would attribute Gary Vaynerchuk’s success in garnering 1M+ twitter followers to his visionary ideas on where social business is heading. 

Successful social media influencers have obviously mastered the art of mentoring, motivating, analyzing or evangelizing to their audiences. But some have done it more through insightfulness than engagement. This most likely has to do with their introverted or extraverted behavioral styles. Either could work provided they avoid staging an unnatural behavior. 

The same applies to their motives. Many with Klout scores in the 80′s have earned their reputations from educational advice, while others have taken the route to inspire us. But just as I may not want Jay Baer as my lifestyle mentor, I would not want Ann Tran to explain why Jay’s perspective on sideways marketing has merit. 

So as many of us may be discouraged to take the route of a motivator or analytical pundit just to fit in, recognize their are 4 distinct paths to influence. And no one path leads to higher results when evaluated across the top social media influencers. But like strategy development and many other business concepts, it probably makes sense to pick ONE. 

So have  I missed any additional attributes that would separate some of these social media influencers from the crowd? Which of the archetypes do you feel will gain the most traction in years to come?

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45 thoughts on “4 Archetypes of Top Social Media Influencers

  1. How interesting – I can’t seem to get my Klout score above 76 – it has been teetering there for a while lol

    1. Martin, that is a tough call. I certainly think educators will peak. But entertainers and charismatics are gaining momentum as a way to emotionally connect. This falls in line with the appeal of content that strikes an emotional chord. I would bet that coaches win over charismatics, however, as followers tire of inspirational quotes, photography and life style boosting. In the long term, coaches will likely overtake educators as content consumers seek more tips and tools of the trade than vision.

  2. Thanks for the mention, Jim! This is a very fitting category for me. ;) Great to see everyone else listed and keep up on all the influencers I know (and don’t know.. YET.)

    To paraphrase Jessica Northey (another of my favorites) – I’m here to entertain, inform and inspire. :D

  3. Thank you for including me, Jim. I appreciate the breakdown of your analysis, as so many “Top 100″ lists don’t do that, and I think it’s important. I’m in some good company as a “Coach,” and my goal is always to be helpful first, so I’m glad I’m in this category. They were all very interesting explanations and the best insight that I’ve seen as to what a Klout score could actually mean. ;) (A lot of critics, as you know!)

    Thanks for pointing this out to me yesterday – and I’m sorry that I missed it back in August.

    Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you in 2015.

    All my best,
    Christine Perkett

    1. You are welcome, Christine. I am aware of the Klout score critics, but the scoring mechanism also levels the playing field in many respects. We hope to learn more about you as we conduct a more in-depth study over the summer. Thank you for sharing your comments.

  4. Thank you for including me. I am very honored to see my name on this really interesting analysis detailing the different kinds of influence.

    I’ve never felt that comfortable being included on “social media expert/guru” lists cause I don’t think I am one. I still just feel like the girl who got up at 3:30am to go sit in a Broadcasting booth and entertain people while giving them the news.
    And that is exactly what I still try to do with my SOCIAL media. Entertain, inform and inspire. :D

    Thanks again Jim!

    1. Jessica, you fit the entertaining slot so well. And I suspect from watching your tweets and twitter chats that you inspire many.

  5. I love the way you have classified these influencers. It makes a lot of sense. Glad to see so many of my friends on it. And, I think it was very smart to use the Klout score as an objective measure of their influence. It’s hard to argue with statistics.

    1. I agree with the Klout score method as well, Gina. As much as its maligned for missing some intangibles, it seems to be the best benchmark we have for social media influence.

  6. I’m seeing two different charts. One appears up of this lines in the own post : http://blog.socialcontentmarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Top-40-Social-Media-Influencers10.jpg
    In the last one there are 45 persons totally (5 added persons and Seann Gardner instead Rich Simmons)

    But if you share this post on Facebook, the chart that appears is different:

    In this one there are effectively 40 persons (Doesn’t appear: Michele Smorgon, Zbynek Kysela, Terezie Kyselova, Scott Monty, Erik Qualman and Rich Simmons instead Seann Gardner).
    Thanks in advance.
    Javi Andreu / @andreunet

    1. Javi, we felt compelled to add some non-U.S. players with exceptional influence scores who were not on our radar at the time of our study. I would rather have an accurate perspective than a consistent chart in light of those well deserved influences we could have inadvertently dismissed. Sean Gardner and Shama Kabani Hyder was taken out based on a complaint that a fair system should include a Klout score. For some reason, both have declined a Klout profile. A few others were moved to different categories as their peers convinced us of a different persona perception.

        1. Michele:
          You are welcome, Michele. Your making the cut for the study sample is testimony of your tremendous influence.

  7. Hello. Dr. Barry,

    I enjoyed the article. It was nice to see some of my good friends on there. My wish is to make it on the next posting. With a Klout Score close to 80 & close to 30K, followers, maybe….who knows :)
    Be Blessed.

    Carl Ramallo

    1. Karen, Amy is one I know of very well. She is highlighted in earlier blogs as one of the 3 Queens of Facebook (Mari Smith, Amy Porterfield and Andrea Vahl) http://bit.ly/1twy58k. But to keep a consistent influence rating, I had to stick with Klout scores. Only Andrea had a score over 77. I trust Mari and Amy will be included in future studies.

    1. You are the leader of the pack, Kim. It is great to see women leading the educator and coach segments. Have a wonderful holiday with your sweetie and the fur babies:)

        1. Marsha, I bet the guys representing educators and coaches really enjoy you and Kim Garst leading the pack. Lol. Maybe we could take a lesson on how you manage to engage with so many followers. You have a real gift for connecting and influencing.

          1. Marsha most certainly has a gift of engaging with her followers. She developed it before the age of social media, with the readers of her highly regarded eBay for Dummies books, and just kept going.

            Thank you very much for including me Jim.

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