What does it mean to be an influencer?

Influencer, content creator, social media star. Over influencer marketing’s short lifetime, the terminology for those who contribute to the big world of digital content has been evolving just as quickly as the business practices themselves. 

The term “influencer” may be a modern addition to our lexicon, but the concept of using popularity, power, and reach to drive decisions is an old practice. It dates back to ancient Rome where gladiators and charioteers were said to give endorsements. It’s since evolved through the tides of history, making its way through Victorian England with citizens clamoring for goods with the royal family’s stamp of approval, to Coco Chanel’s famed fashion endorsements to Paris Hilton being paid to attend L.A. nightclubs. 

The new marketing lexicon

Digital marketers frequently speak of influencers in terms of their ability to drive sales through their reach and engagement levels. While influencer culture may feel more or less like a popularity contest from the outside looking in, it’s so much more than that. Follower count may be the driving force for many brands – and indeed, the threshold for one to be considered a viable influencer partner ranges in the tens of thousands – but through the rise of the micro-influencer, it’s become less about amassing a following and more about the content itself. Thus resulting in the swing toward the  “creator” terminology. 

It’s important to differentiate between influencers and content creators. Many of the individuals we partner with are primarily creating branded content that serves a purpose for their audience. In addition to their implicit stamp of approval, the visual content may show the product or concept in the context of its intended use. Their followers get to see how a brand’s goods and services will fit into their lives. 

Creator or nah?

If you fit this description, we would consider you to be a content creator – and by the sounds of it, our peers agree. We conducted a creator survey in July 2021 to a group of 520 professional creators and posed the question on terminology and what they prefer. 57% of respondents self-identify as creators or content creators. We like that this term puts the focus on the output of well-developed content that our participating creators work so hard to make, along with their expertise. 

But is the term influencer all that different? Some would argue that its synonymy is nothing of note and that the terms are interchangeable. While it may have started that way, there is now a clear differentiation between a reality star or celebrity whose content revolves around monetizing a follower-driven personal brand versus someone whose work has a more consistent tone, theme, and topic. 

Which begs the question: does it matter? 

Better safe than sorry

To the general public, perhaps not. Differences in the vocabulary will likely not make a difference to a consumer or affect their purchasing decisions. But for brands who rely on creator strategies, seeing the industry from their creator’s perspective is a solidarity move that promotes transparency and trust amongst the parties. 

In fact, many creators are rejecting the term “influencer” altogether citing that the differences are significant and can negatively affect a creator’s career due to an incorrect perceived notion that their work doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. And if you work with creators daily, you know this perception could not be further from the truth. 

Still, others insist that the interchangeability is not harmful and that “influencer” alone is not a bad word, which pushes back against the notion that the term has lost much of its meaning. Some influencers are even hoping to revitalize the term with beautiful content that promotes the influencer marketing world as one that meaningfully contributes to life’s beauty. 

Key points
      • While influencers and content creators used to be interchangeable terms, changes in the industry have widened the divide to mean two different things
      • Referencing creators by their preferred term strengthens their branded content footprint and is a great way to be supportive and attract new creator partners
      • If you’re not sure how your creator partner feels, never feel shy about asking for their input
      • Getting creators involved in the conversation about how their industry can support and relate to them helps strengthen partnerships and increases creator solidarity
      • If you’re looking for help running your influencer or creator marketing strategies, let us take the wheel!