I’ve talked about this in previous posts, but one of the biggest mistakes we see advertisers making when they choose influencers to work with is focusing only on the influencer’s traffic and follower numbers. It seems that advertisers believe that the more traffic a blogger has or the more followers they have on social media, the more successful they’ll be.

But. that’s not always the case. More traffic and followers doesn’t necessarily mean more influence.

So, how do you determine if an “influencer” actually HAS influence? Here are 3 tests:

1 – Do they focus on a niche?

If the answer is “Yes”, it doesn’t mean that they’re guaranteed to have influence. But, if the answer is “No”, it’s likely that this person doesn’t carry much influence.

Consider an example: You know you have a lot of conferences to attend this year, so you are looking for a new carry-on roller bag. Do you trust the review of a bag from the “lifestyle” blogger who’s last posts were a slow cooker recipe and a review of pet bed? Or do you do trust the review of a bag from a blogger who only talks about business travel and the products, services and companies she uses in her travels?

While bloggers who write about “a little bit of everything” may attract a lot of different readers at various times through various topics, they have a harder time developing a loyal base of readers who are truly influenced by their thoughts and opinions.

Keep in mind that narrowing focus will often result in lower traffic and lower numbers of followers. But, those followers will be more likely to trust the niche blogger’s opinion and be influenced by his/her recommendations.

2 – Are their readers engaged?

Imagine the amount of fan mail, questions and requests that business superstars like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet receive, or the amount that entertainment stars like Ellen Degeneres and Jimmy Fallon receive. Their fans have a true desire to connect with them.

Though a blogger or a social media influencer may not receive the same amount of connection requests as a superstar – you should see their readers and followers attempting to connect with them. Look for comments on their blog and social media posts, and for shares, likes and mentions across platforms.

Analyze what you see beyond the numbers. Are the readers truly engaging in the conversation, or are they giving drive-by “likes” and automated re-tweets? Liking a picture of a cat doesn’t mean the post influenced you to buy a cat.

One or two comments on posts asking for more information, mentioning similar personal experiences or even voicing disagreement with the author are positive signs that the blogger is striking a chord with their readers and has the power to influence their actions.

PRO TIP: Watch for signs of “sharing parties”. This is a popular technique in blogger communities. They’ll each offer a link to a post on their own blog, and everyone in the group participates by clicking on each other’s links and leaving a comment. This results in one or two recent posts on a blogger’s site receiving tons of comments, when previous posts have none. Most of the comments will be something generic like,”Great post!” because the commenter didn’t actually read the post.

3 – Have they used affiliate links in their posts?

This is a trend that I believe we’ll see grow in the coming year. Influencers are increasingly becoming aware that their influence is worth far more than the placement fees that advertisers and brands have been paying them. More and more of them are learning about and becoming comfortable with performance-based payouts, ie: affiliate commissions.

If an influencer is using affiliate links on their site and social media profiles, that means that they are confident that their readers and followers are swayed by their advice. They know that they have an engaged audience that advertisers want to reach, and they are savvy enough to know that they stand to make far more than a mere placement fee if the advertiser will share a piece of the profit they make on each customer the influencer sends.

Look for affiliate links and disclosure statements like “I may earn commissions if you click the links in this article and make a purchase.”

2/3 is a Passing Grade

Now, a true influencer may not pass all three of these tests – but they’ll pass at least one of the test with no question, and have some positive bits of the other two.