How can I tell if someone is really an influencer?

Dear PR Matters,

I have been reading your column, and especially enjoyed the articles you had about influencers.  It seems that influencers have become part of the marketing mix, and they can help enhance our brands.

But how can we tell if one is really an influencer or just one who claims to be?  Are we to believe likes or number of followers?  Are we choosing the right one for our brand? Just as there is what is called fake news, are there also fake influencers?

Please enlighten me on this.


Vida C.

Dear Vida,

It is nice to know that you have been following our column and have a particular interest on influencers.  Yes, you are right when you say that they have become part of the marketing mix. At the same time, we have to be careful in choosing the right one for our brand.

In an article in, Nicolas Cole shares with us “7 signs someone isn’t really an influencer.”  First, some background on the writer. Cole said that growing up on the Internet has made him know the difference between people working with and people better avoided. And “it bothers me that people get fooled every day,” he said.

That’s because “marketing is a game of mirrors. Unless you’re familiar with the unspoken rules of the Internet, it can be very easy to mistake ‘industry experts’ for people who know how to manipulate other people’s lack of knowledge.”

Here, he shares with us some tips on “how to spot ‘fake influencers’ from truly influential people—and some clear signs to look for that I consider red flags.”

  • The person won’t tell you what they know. This is especially true for those who sell products or ideas online. When someone on the Internet only gives 10 percent of what they know and requires you to sign up or pay up for the other 90 percent, he advises one to “pause.” That’s because “I firmly believe true thought leadership on the Internet has that equation the other way around. Real thought leaders give away 90 percent of what they know, and charge for the last 10 percent—a convenience fee like having a material in a book.”
  • The person is following the same amount of people who follow them. “If you boast that you have 500,000 followers, but you’re also following 500,000 people, that’s like walking around with a name tag on that says, ‘Hi, I’m fake,’” Cole said.

He added that “you will be surprised how many people try to pass this off as credibility in their industry.  What’s more unfortunate, however, is that people fall for it.  Clients fall for it. Partners fall for it. They sit there and go, ‘Wow, you have half a million people following you,’ not even bothering to think about what that feed must look like while also following half a million people.”

When Cole receives e-mails from anyone who builds their influence this way, he simply ignores it.

  • The person’s main credibility point is being featured in a major publication. As a writer, Cole is supportive of publications, but makes a distinction on “being on the cover of a magazine, and having your name appear in a columnist’s opinion piece are two different things.” Ultimately, what he cares about is “the information you share, and the merit it has in comparison to what everyone else is saying in your industry.”
  • The person’s web site has pop-up e-mail captures everywhere. Cole said that “when you go to someone’s site and every page, every click, every action prompts another Call to Action for you to enter a funnel, just stop. Pause. Ask yourself what you really are there for.”

The truth is “very few people provide the amount of value they’re promising. So, when you come across those big flashy ‘Do you want to change your life in three easy steps?’ funnels, just leave.”

  • The person wrote a book in less than a month. Cole said that when he meets people who tell him they wrote their book in two weeks (usually with a big, proud smile on their face), he immediately questions working with them.

He said “they are more interested in being done than they are being great.  They want the conversation more than they want to add real value.”

  • The person speaks in an airy, overly life-changing tone. This is the yabang know-it-all factor. Cole said that “fake it till you make it. Marketers and influencers do this thing when they try to create the sound of being genuine by talking as if every word they share is a compass toward a better life. They pause a lot. They emphasize words while closing their eyes, as if can feel their life changing below their feet as they speak.”

This is also true with those who like to talk in platitudes and motherhood statements.  If they have a good command of the language, they sound very impressive.

Cole said that, “If you come across people whose YouTube videos sound like they could double for a Sunday prayer, I urge you to do your due diligence.”

  • The person is all sizzle, no steak. “Don’t fall for the big numbers or the publications logos,” Cole said. “Don’t fall for the clever sales copy or the ‘why can’t I stop watching this YouTube ad?’”

His advice? “E-mail them. Hop on the phone with them. Watch some interviews with them. Most important, read some of their work.  Listen to their words.  Forget any and all outside signs that point to this person’s being a big deal, and pay attention to what they are vocalizing.  Is it rudimentary industry jargon? Is it the same stuff everybody else says?”

At the end of the day, “no matter what someone’s online perception paints them to be, you need to be able to look past the façade and question whether they really know their stuff.”

After all, “part of doing great work and building a great business means picking and choosing who you work with, who you associate with and who you choose to let into your life.”

PR Matters is a roundtable column by members of the local chapter of the United Kingdom-based International Public Relations Association (Ipra), the world’s premier association for senior professionals around the world. Millie Dizon, the senior vice president for Marketing and Communications of SM, is the former local chairman.

 We are devoting a special column each month to answer the reader’s questions about public relations.  Please send your comments and questions to [email protected].

Image Credits: WWW.FREEPIK.COM

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Millie F. Dizon is the senior vice president for marketing and communications of SM, as well as the chairman of the local chapter of the United Kingdom-based International Public Relations Association (Ipra), the premier association for senior PR professionals around the world.PR Matters is a rotating column of members of the local chapter of the Ipra.PR Matters is devoting a special column each month to answer readers’ questions about public relations. Send your comments and questions to [email protected]