What Is a Social Media Influencer? And How to Become One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn more about what social media influencers do, how it affects marketing strategies, and the typical path to becoming one.

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Social media influencers are digital creators with expertise in a specific niche. Influencer marketing is a growing industry that offers tech-savvy creators a variety of job perks.

Social media influencers get to share content they're passionate about, build and engage with an audience of their followers, and collaborate with their favorite brands. Influencers have the added benefit of being able to work from anywhere.   

In this article, we’ll explore what a social media influencer is, the skills you’ll need, the advantages and disadvantages, and other details to help you decide if it’s a path you want to pursue.

What is a social media influencer?

Social media influencers establish themselves as experts in a particular field and share their knowledge with a curated audience on one or more social channels. 

Influencers create and share content regularly to establish their expertise and work to build a relationship with their followers. By regularly engaging with their audience and offering insightful content, creators can often "influence" their followers to try a particular product. 

Brands partner with influencers for product or service promotion, allowing them to effectively reach their target audience or build brand awareness among people unfamiliar with what they offer. Since followers trust an influencer, they see these product endorsements as a recommendation from a friend rather than a sales pitch. 

Collaboration can result in compensation or free products as the influencer tries to influence the audience to make a purchase.

What does it mean to be an influencer?

As a social media influencer, you will grow an audience through regular posts on a specific topic. Content creation, brainstorming ideas, editing, and publishing can keep your schedule busy. Daily tasks as an influencer might include:

  • Content creation

  • Gaining publicity on social channels

  • Scheduling content 

  • Brainstorming content ideas

  • Collecting and analyzing feedback 

  • Engaging with followers to build a sense of community 

  • Attending events

Required skills for social media influencer

In this role, you need passion, skill, or unique knowledge of particular topics or niches, along with a desire to create content. Additionally, you’ll typically need skills such as: 

  • Communication

  • Writing

  • Creativity

  • Time management

Types of social media influencers

Social media influencers typically fall into tiers based on their audience size. Common tiers include the following five categories: 

  • Mega influencers: One million+ followers

  • Macro influencers: 500,000 to one million

  • Mid-tier influencers: 50,000 to 500,000 followers

  • Micro-influencers: 10,000 to 50,000 followers

  • Nano influencers: Zero to 10,000 followers

Pros and cons of being a social media influencer

Social media influencers get to work with their favorite brands and endorse products they love. Compensation, free gifts, and invitations to events are part of an influencer's appeal, but they also get to set their own schedules, declare their own pricing, and control the content they create.

Cons exist, too. For example, influencers often experience inconsistencies in available work and can become frustrated by the amount of time needed to build an audience from scratch.


Let's take a closer look at the pros of being an influencer:

Remote work

As an influencer, you can work anywhere, be it your home, local library, or even on a plane. You choose your hours, which means you decide when to create content and how to schedule other tasks like pitching brands, brainstorming ideas, or networking with other influencers. 

PR packages

Influencers can set their rates, usually using one of several different types of pricing. You may charge per piece of content, package, or bundle. A PR package includes a bundle of content, which usually contains posts for different channels and can be effective in helping boost your income and increase your exposure on multiple social platforms. 

Control over content

Influencers create content that they're passionate about. You have control over the content shared with your audience of like-minded people. In doing so, you create a community. 

Even if you have brand deals and work closely with that brand, you will often have a good deal of creative control. While brands provide direction and collaborate with an influencer, influencers create authentic content that resonates with their audience when they lean on their expertise and knowledge of their audience to socially endorse a brand or product. 


Here's a closer look at the pros of being an influencer:

Inconsistent work

Creating a steady income stream as an influencer is a challenge. Influencers work hard to pitch brands and find brand deals that offer compensation. Paid projects can be inconsistent, which means income can be sporadic.

Building a community takes time and effort

To earn money as an influencer, you need an audience. To build an audience, you need patience. It takes time to identify your niche, create content, and grow an audience big enough to attract brand partnerships. 

Who uses social media influencers?

Many brands use social media influencers to authentically promote their product or service. Big-name companies like Adidas, Pepsi, Dunkin Donuts, and Motorola use influencer marketing to reach their target audience. Even small companies and startups with limited budgets partner with influencers as a more authentic form of advertising. 

How to become a social media influencer

It takes time to become a social media influencer, but one of the first steps you might consider taking is finding an area you'd like to focus on. That's usually the starting point, but let's explore some of the steps required to become a content creator: 

1. Find a niche.

A niche is essentially an area you specialize in. Choosing one helps you identify the types of products and services your audience will benefit from. It also helps you focus your content to cater to that audience and attract new followers accordingly.  

Your niche doesn't necessarily have to correlate with your education. It can be something you’re particularly passionate about or like to spend time doing or learning about. 

Common influencer niches could include: 

  • Fashion

  • Beauty

  • Travel

  • Lifestyle

  • Celebrities and entertainment

  • Sports

  • Animals

  • Health and fitness

  • Gaming

  • Family and parenting

  • Business and technology 

2. Gain a following.

Influencers need a following to influence, but it takes time to gain a following. Research shows that Instagram accounts with fewer than 1,000 followers grow 9.4 percent every six months [1]. It can take months of work and consistency to not only attract followers but also build trust with them. 

To build a following, consider these tactics:

  • Mention your niche in your bios

  • Post high-quality content

  • Be authentic

  • Engage with followers regularly

  • Set a post cadence and keep up with it

  • Add hashtags to your posts to increase visibility

3. Find a strategy.

Before sharing any content, it's best to create a strategy. A strategy helps you create consistent, tailored content that your audience enjoys. To find what works for you, consider the importance of: 

  • Understanding who your audience is, including their needs and wants

  • Setting a posting schedule

  • Planning times to shoot, edit, and publish content

  • Drawing inspiration for content from your audience and their recommendations

4. Use SEO.

While social media posts don't directly impact search engine optimization (SEO), the personal links shared can have SEO implications by delivering visitors to your site or blog. To aid SEO, consider these tips: 

  • Post helpful content to gain traction, increase your reach, and generate backlinks

  • Write thoughtful messages

  • Build a trusted audience

5. Connect with your audience.

Being an influencer is about more than posting quality content. Connecting with your audience is important too. While you can respond to comments, additional engagement measures include hosting an "ask me anything" Q&A or giveaways and contests.

What is the difference between a social media influencer and a social media marketer? 

With social media marketing, brands post directly to their social channels. This allows them to control content and engage with customers.

With influencer marketing, the influencer posts content and interacts with customers on behalf of a brand. An influencer serves as an intermediary between a brand and customers. 

Salary and job outlook

Research shows strong growth in the influencer marketing industry. An industry survey shows 83 percent of marketers consider influencer marketing effective, with expected growth to reach an estimated market size of $21.1 billion in 2023 [2]. 

Social media influencers typically begin this career on a part-time basis until they have a strong following. Once they can earn a steady income through brand collaborations, affiliate marketing, ad share revenue, or selling a subscription to their channel, it can become a full-time job.  

Popular influencers can write books, land interviews on talk shows, or sell their own merchandise or product line. 

Social media influencers make an average of $46,358 a year [3], according to June 2023 data from Glassdoor.

Next steps

As you consider a career as a social media influencer, you can also explore online certificates on Coursera that can improve your marketing knowledge. For example, the Google Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate offers in-demand skills in a self-paced course designed to help you gain the skills you need to pursue a digital marketing career. 

Article sources


Statista. "Worldwide Instagram follower growth rate from January to June 2019, by profile size, https://www.statista.com/statistics/307026/growth-of-instagram-usage-worldwide/." Accessed June 11, 2023.

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