The shift from Influencer to Creator: what does this mean?
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Ask anyone who they consider to be an influencer or a creator and the answer is bound to be different. Here’s what’s adding to the confusion: brands are still on the fence about whether to call someone an influencer or creator.
In fact, what one brand might consider an influencer or a creator might not be by the same definitions of another brand—or the individual themselves–which seems to add to the confusion even more.
The influencer has long been a staple of the social media landscape. Check out any lifestyle hashtag and you’ll scroll through endless accounts of women wearing sponsored clothing, advertising wellness supplements, or promoting a meal-sharing company.
It wasn’t long ago when influencers were considered celebrities of the social media world. Or maybe just celebrities in general? But, as it turns out, the term influencer isn’t as desired as it once was.
Increasingly, those with a social following (and a focus on growing their platform) now prefer to be viewed as creators rather than influencers.
Some creators feel that the term ‘influencer’ has a negative connotation.
This Atlantic piece by Taylor Lorenz, The Real Difference Between Creators and Influencers, explores the differences between the two and—perhaps more importantly—why they’ve been set apart.
Lorenz takes us back to 2011 when the term creator started to hit the social vernacular.
And while no one really knows where the term came from exactly, there’s a general consensus it started with bloggers and them being referred to as content creators. It’s also important to note that around this time, the phrase ‘content’ was used very broadly–from drafting up blog posts to uploading an #OOTD on Instagram.
Fast forward to 2015 and YouTube started rewarding ‘creators’ (Michelle Phan, for example, one of the earliest and most popular beauty creators) who reached high subscriber counts, and as a result, the use of the word picked up traction.
Soon after, the term creator was being used across other giant social platforms and in media. That is until a shakeup in the industry occurred right around the time Vine imploded. Creators who built up a massive following on Vine found their income and audience disappear without much warning.
Next, YouTube had its own change and created a loss of income for creators due to the changing of advertising on the platform.
In the ever-moving social media landscape, things move so quickly and so subtly that unless one is paying attention the changes are easily missed.
There’s a rebrand happening
In recent months, there’s been a noticeable shift in how these respective roles are being viewed. And there’s more: the evolution from influencers to creators is changing the way that companies execute campaigns and collect data.
So what’s causing the rebranding to happen? And why now?
As early as 2006 when influencers were getting their start, social media platforms have continued to develop ways to monetize content. Long gone are the days when influencers were limited to YouTube and Instagram.
With the expansion of more recent outlets like TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter, the industry recognized that there needed to be an additional change in the way content is delivered.
And with popular shows like Netflix's ill-fated Hype House pushing "creators" to the mainstream, there seems to be a need for the younger generation to ditch the term "influencer."
What are influencers and creators?
Aside from understanding who does what, there’s another major change taking place (and it’s about time).
Creators are asking to be taken more seriously as a business. There’s a lot of work that goes into creating content—from copywriting to video production, editing, and marketing– behind the scenes, creators wear many hats and should be treated as the business-building brand they are.
Here’s another important distinction creators want to have over influencers: they don’t just create the content—they foster community, create authentic conversations, and entertain their followers.
The shift here is in showing the work that goes behind the content rather than uploading a selfie, then attaching a promo code or hashtag to an image on Instagram.
How creators and influencers leverage their community is a bit different, too.
For example, someone on Instagram sharing a promo code might be using the platform as a way to earn income whether they truly use or believe in the product they’re sharing. The Kardashians are examples of this in the influencer space—one post of hair-boosting gummies and Kim brings in a substantial amount of money.
That’s not to say there’s limited value in influencer marketing because that’s not the case at all.
There’s a common strategy to pay for each post within a particular niche, but costs add up quickly and there’s a potential to come across as inauthentic to an audience. Instead, Taylor recommends brands try the following steps:
Reach out to a number of influencers (he recommends 300) that connect with the brand (and audience demographics!) and send a personalized DM offering a no-strings-attached chance to try a product free of charge.
This starts the potential partnership with a personable connection, rather than just a transaction of “we’ll pay you x for y.”
More often than not, once an influencer receives a product and likes it, they’ll often share on their social media and provide genuine reviews, leading to a better connection between the brand, influencer, and the respective audiences.
If you’ve got a product that people love and they share about it online, even better. One such example comes from Couplet Coffee CEO, Gefen Skolnick:
From creating a brand or product that people love to an influencer sharing authentically with her audience makes this situation is worth its weight in gold.
Same, but different
To understand why this shift is taking place, we first have to examine the differences and similarities between influencers and creators. While both function as brand ambassadors and regularly publish content, the changes begin with perception and end with trust.
Rebranding influencers as creators is happening fast, but both still serve valuable purposes (and there will still be influencers out there).
Influencers are defined as those who have “the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience.”
With this marketing method, companies rely on the one-person testimonial of a single social media personality to get their message across. Instead of relying on educational content, influencers rely on their followers to purchase products based on their trust and affection for the influencer.
Adobe defines the content creator as, “someone who creates entertaining or educational material to be expressed through any medium or channel.”
New content creator channels make it easy for technologically skilled professionals to connect with brands and create campaigns designed to connect with people on a less personal, but more polished level.
Rather than relying on a single personality, creators showcase a client's attributes in a more informative, less personal way.
What’s the influencer vs. creator difference?
It might seem like influencers and creators do the same job, but they have very different functions. Both are responsible for reaching an audience with their content; however, the big difference is the way that brand trust is perceived.
Influencers offer a one-person perspective and creators offer a more across-the-board overview of a brand. While both are capable of gathering a large number of followers, the trend is that creators are seen as more trustworthy and less biased by personal monetization.
How do influencers and creators work with brands?
Creators and influencers might seem interchangeable, but they work with brands in very different ways. If a company is getting ready to launch a new product, there’s a good chance that it will first turn to a content creator. By working with the content creator, they are able to produce clever digital content that will create a buzz. It’s a great way to reach a large audience, but it may not be enough.
That’s where influencers come in.
Although the content created by the creator is likely to be licensed by the brand, the use of the product is not. If an influencer shares a photo or video involving the product, they reach their own large audience and it boosts the creator's overall reach.
Influencers are often compensated through their partnership with the brand, but the majority of their revenue comes from social media monetization.
Conversely, creators are often hired by a brand to put out the initial message and are seen as part of the brand — influencers remain individuals.
Which one should you choose to represent your brand?
Deciding whether your campaign would benefit the most from an influencer or a creator depends on your overall goal.
If you’re looking for more informative, constantly changing, high-quality content, creators are the go-to. They work with the brand to ensure that the proper voice is conveyed and often work on a short-term basis.
Creators are often seen as being enabled to deliver a more educational message designed to inform the consumer.
Influencers, however, are free to promote a product in any way they wish. Whether it’s a selfie or a highly produced video, involving an influencer can help you reach a larger target audience while spreading your brand’s message for an unspecified amount of time.
If your brand is already established and has plenty of content, an influencer may be the most effective choice.
With the vast array of platforms shifting toward a more trusted, content creator reality, it doesn’t mean that influencers are going anywhere.
They’re just being rebranded and, in a sense, being forced to up their game and become creators to compete. It will be interesting to see how the two continue to merge in the future.