The Kardashian Effect

E!’s announcement earlier this month that “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” will end next year received plenty of attention. A fixture on the network for 20 seasons, the reality show has charted the evolution of a family as it rose from semi-fame to one that has influenced nearly every aspect of popular culture.

E!’s announcement spawned a predictable host of headlines reflecting on the Kardashian phenomenon. “How ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ Changed Everything,The New York Times offered on Sept. 9, cataloging the show’s influence on “celebrity, beauty, entrepreneurship and status.”

How did the Kardashians manage to become such important influencers? Of course, it helps to have a wildly popular television show. But individual members of the family stand out for their ability to combine personal storytelling and business savvy with mastery of the social media landscape. Kylie Jenner happens to be today’s highest paid social media influencer, according to Techfunnel, with 196 million Instagram followers. Kim Kardashian West, with nearly 190 million Instagram followers, is the fourth-highest paid. 

While business influencers are increasingly associated with social media, influencers can and do exist anywhere, at many different levels. In fact, fame is not an automatic recipe for influence, and some of our past research for community engagement initiatives bears this out. Influencers can be doctors, teachers, faith leaders, grandparents and barbers.

The most effective influencers are third parties who share an organization’s beliefs and goals and are willing to go to bat for that company, publicly or behind the scenes. These influencers tend to have three characteristics in common. The first is credibility.

Effective influencers must be seen as authorities on the subject they are advancing and honest and transparent about their relationships. The question of credibility today can clearly be seen when it comes to guidance on healthcare issues. Who to believe – career epidemiologists, or those with no experience in the field?

The second characteristic is authenticity. Investor Warren Buffett is widely considered one of the most credible and authentic influencers in America today. His credibility comes from his business success, but his authenticity arises from his humble bearing and willingness to acknowledge mistakes. Those who follow his lead believe him because he’s talented AND honest with himself.

The third characteristic effective influencers share is their ability to build networks and relationships. Enlisting influencers requires us to meet and get to know others who share common ground with us. Effective influencer engagement is never transactional, but a two-way street aimed at mutual benefit. Building networks like this not only gives us a ready pool of allies but obligates us as a potential ally and influencer for that other person. In the end, that’s how successful businesses are built.

Not every business has a formal influencer marketing program. But we all have access to influencers who can help us build trust with our stakeholders. These kinds of relationships may not have the sizzle that a Kardashian would bring, but they will endure long after the last episode of KUWTK fades to black.