Influencers and content creators – what’s the difference?

By Jessica L on 20 July 2021

Influencers and content creators have been happily co-existing for years. But what actually is the difference? Are the two synonymous, or do they deserve greater distinction? Before we get into the Venn diagram, let’s look at how and when the terms entered the modern lexicon. 

Where did they come from?

The rise of the social media influencer might seem meteoric, but really it’s been a slow evolution. Influencer marketing can be traced back as far as you like; even Roman gladiators are thought to have been paid for product endorsements. 

The real shift in modern times came with the rise of a new kind of celebrity – one that was active on Youtube and difficult to find an accurate name for. Before we arrived at the term 'influencer', this early aughties class of digital upriser was trying on a different moniker: 'creators'. It’s not clear who came up with it, but it gave authority to an emerging class of internet users with significant fan counts, and differentiated them from traditional stars.

If Youtube was first to give creators a platform, it’s arguably Instagram that enabled the influencer phenomenon to explode into what it is today: a $13.8 billion industry and lucrative marketing tool for brands.

So does it depend on the platform?

Not necessarily. And nor is gender a determiner, although globally, 84% of influencers posting sponsored content on Instagram are women. Both terms are ostensibly platform-agnostic; the distinction is really down to the reason for producing content.

Generally speaking, creators are focused on their specific craft – they’re photographers, videographers, writers and artists – and it is the creation that is the objective. Their modus operandi tends to be more to do with putting beautiful content out into the world than supercharging community growth.

Influencers, on the other hand, are primarily motivated by audience engagement. They are extremely effective at community-building and typically amass large followings that look to them for lifestyle influence. Because engagement is so key, some of the most powerful influencers are of the micro – even nano – sort: those with four- and five-figure follower counts and extremely targeted, niche communities.

What does this mean for brands?

There are good reasons to work with creators. If you’re looking to enlist skilled creatives and are less focused on gaining followers, this kind of collaboration can serve brands really well.

When the aim is to boost brand perception and increase awareness, well-vetted influencer collaboration can drive results. There’s a raw, unfiltered quality that they can bring to paid content, which resonates with a sometimes brand-sceptical consumer. If the partnership feels authentic, influencers can connect brands with highly interested audiences in a way that’s hard to achieve without them.

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