No matter how you slice the demographics, young people hold a lot of sway on social media. They influence social conversation, establish trends, and tend to help social sites thrive when they show up in large numbers. Part of this is the power of numbers. According to Pew Research, 82 percent of US adults age 18-29 actively use Facebook, though the 65+ demographic is no slouch at 48 percent. However a recent study highlighted by MediaPost suggests that one in three young social media users qualify as influencers.
While this result likely doesn’t come as a surprise, I don’t think it tells the whole story. Yes, young people often have the digital skills to carve out roles as influencers, but age is just a small part of the overall equation.
Young People as Social Influencers
The easy thing to miss with studies like this, especially based on the headlines that accompany them, is that young people don’t succeed on social just because they are young. Youth is not a prerequisite for success, and social is fluid enough that demographics are hardly set in stone. Everyone has influence on social, and being “old” is hardly a roadblock to building a devoted audience.
Don’t get me wrong—being young doesn’t hurt. One of the biggest reasons that young people find success on social is that it’s always been part of their digital lives. Even on the upper end of the 18-34 demographic, you’ve got people who didn’t start using Facebook and Twitter until their mid-twenties. For the youngest people in that group, social was simply a part of growing up. That deep level of familiarity—and the built-in audience of peers that comes with it—certainly comes in handy when working to build influence.
The Importance of Niching
The MediaPost study points out something interesting, however, in how young people wield that influence. The brands that young people partner with tend to cluster in tech, fashion and entertainment, but the real takeaway is that carving out a niche is critical to building influence with any age group. If a person demonstrates passion and knowledge within their sphere of influence, they’re much more likely to gain traction with people who share their interests. Age has little bearing in finding a niche, outside of a few rare, specialized areas. If your brand’s audience falls outside the niches favored by young people, don’t despair. You can find social influencers in just about any topic of discussion—and they don’t have to have huge audiences to be effective. In fact, many with small audiences are often much more effective.
Everyone Is an Influencer
While the study focused on people who aim to monetize their influence by partnering with brands, the truth is that everyone has influence with their social connections. Your comments, the links you share and your conversations with connections all make an impact on the people who see them. That influence may be subtle, but it may also be the thing that motivates a connection to check out a new brand, reconsider a business or pick up a new interest of their own. These little moments of influence basically amount to word of mouth, which is still one of the most important drivers of consumer habits.
The lesson here is that if you’re looking to grow brand awareness and draw new customers to your business, influence doesn’t just come from people who have a large social media audience. For marketing purposes, you don’t even have to choose between one or the other. If you fall into the right niche, partnering with a big social influencer, regardless of age, might be a great fit for your business.
Just don’t forget about those subtle, important moments of influence that everyone has the capacity for. Watch and listen to your target audience closely for clues as to who influences them. It’s worth the effort to do some social sleuthing, so take a look at their conversations, personalities and interests, and start making connections. The more you do this, and the more conversations you have with the everyday people who influence small audiences, the better you’ll get at understanding why they share and what they share. In this regard, influencer marketing is just like any other type of marketing—everything depends on a deep knowledge of your audience, their preferences and their problems. Make it your business to understand those things, and it will be a lot easier to attract the right influencers for your business.
Previously posted at TedRubin.com