Creators Are Often Influential But They Hate Being Called 'Influencers'
It is a truth universally acknowledged that marketers ruin everything.
Pumping monetization strategies, ad real estate and loads of marketing jargon into our new favorite social media apps and then pushing them to the mainstream has been a prevailing sign of the times. First it was Facebook, then it was Twitter, then Instagram. Now it’s the "influencer" space as a whole: The turf of individuals who have earned expertise, respect and leadership among a trusted following within their niche communities on social media.
There have been many positives for brands and influencers alike from the development of influencer marketing trends, such as a 90 percent believed success rate of influencer marketing tactics for brands, and the possibility of a stable income for hardworking influencers. However, there has been an elephant-sized downfall to this merge: the term influencer itself.
This word leaves a bad taste in my mouth every time I have to use it to describe a colleague of mine within the space, and many other influencers agree. Perhaps it’s because the denotation -- an “individual whose effect on the purchase decision is in some way significant or authoritative” -- was coined by marketers who only see in green. Perhaps it’s because people who are truly influential don’t need to tell everyone that they are an #influencer.
Here are five reasons why the word influencer should meet a quick death in 2018:
1. Influencers hate the title.
Per the definition, calling someone an influencer defines them exclusively based on how useful they are to the advertising industry. As a result, some of social media’s most prominent content creators have been vocal about the devolving reputation of the term.
In a GQ article written by Tom Goodwin, voted LinkedIn’s #1 voice in marketing in 2017 and 2018, Goodwin delved into the paradox behind one desperately needing to assert their influence through a title, without actually “getting stuff done.” He described influencers as those who have “mastered the art of follow-backs, buying likes, retweets, giveaways” and more, while those who are truly influential do not have the time to market and merchandise influence.
Further, a recent case study we conducted at Influencer News revealed that 85 percent of social media content creators preferred the title creator over influencer. When considering social media power-users, or those who have genuinely garnered followers counts between 5,000 and 50,000, the percentages of those who preferred the term creator sharply increased as follower counts increased. Within the 25,000-to-50,000-follower-count range, the data jumped to 95 percent who preferred creator.
2. Creators aim to inspire.
Influencing should be a byproduct of good content creation, not an end goal. It shouldn’t be assumed that social media figures come to prominence with the dream of persuading others to buy a brand’s new product, or to simply be a pawn in a marketer’s larger scheme. However, that’s what the name seems to imply -- an inherent agenda to manipulate or to control.
In a Business Insider interview with acclaimed model and blogger Ruth Crilly, the beauty content creator said the term “goes against everything” she felt her blog stands for. It implies she is “doing something underhand to influence,” she said, as if her “followers are sheep.”
3. Influencers take. Creators give.
Customer loyalty is the foundation of longevity for brands hoping to utilize the basic principles of relationship marketing through their influencer base. The irony with influencer marketing, then, is that it hopes to capitalize on the facade of a connection between the influencer and the influenced with the aim of only pushing products. There is a spammy take, but there is no genuine exchange of value between producer and consumer.
In contrast, the term creator implies one who is not defined by their marketing utility but by their desire to create content that adds value to those who engage with it. The end goal is to foster camaraderie and meaning around their creations and thus become expert voices within their growing social spheres. This goal more fully aligns with the mission of relationship marketing, and promises a longevity that influencer marketing likely cannot sustain for the long haul.
4. The influencer industry won't survive further fragmentation.
The term influencer is exceptionally vague when considering the breadth of individuals it aims to herd into one classification. From fitness gurus to chefs creating original content that encourages healthy lifestyles, from entrepreneurs to social justice figures sparking movements, from photographers to world travelers documenting their adventures: There is a wealth of diversity within the industry that is not adequately realized by the term.
And let’s not forget about the sub-categories: Micro-influencers (5K-10K followers), mid-tier influencers (50K-100K followers), top-tier influencers (100K+ followers) and celebrity influencers -- the ones your cat follows on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter and pre-ordered their spring hoodie line. Are you sick of this list yet?
Jack Conte, CEO of the social platform Patreon, said in a video blog titled I Don’t Like the Word Influencer that the term ultimately commodifies creators by throwing them all into the same category, or makes them “non-differentiable from any other creator who also has influence.”
5. The best of the best don’t use the word. Why should we?
When Samsung partnered with social media superstar Casey Neistat for its commercial for the 89th Oscars of 2017, the term influencer was nowhere to be found when describing the community of social media content creators who are producing videos and sharing ideas with their audiences. Likewise, when Adidas brought together a remarkably diverse room full of the world’s most influential designers, athletes, musicians and other creatives for its “Calling All Creators” campaign, their creative identities, not their social reaches, were the centerpiece of their conversation. When YouTube’s CBO Robert Kyncl spoke to his community of social media in a recent interview with Casey Neistat, he referred to them as creators. Even Jimmy Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets” series featured a segment exclusively for YouTube’s biggest personalities, entitled “Creator Edition," not “Influencer Edition.”
The best of the best don’t use the term influencer. Influencers themselves don’t want to be called influencers. So, marketers, why should we?