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. 

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 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 Statistics

Engagement 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?

By: Dr. Jim Barry