The ‘I’ Word – Is It Time To Kill Off The ‘Influencer’ Label?

More than influence 

‘Most influencers, upon being called influencers, will say that they do so much more. That they are so much more. Perhaps this means we want to prove ourselves before being relegated to 2017’s equivalent of a reality star’.

Aside from a mighty poke in the eye to any former Big Brother contestants, this quote from Leandra (Medine) Cohen (founder of the Man Repeller website) shines a light on whether we should be calling our influencers ‘influencers’ at all.

The reality is that many successful content creators or key opinion leaders (more acceptable terms) wince at the thought of being known as an ‘influencer’.

Many feel it undermines the uniqueness of their creative skill, diminishing the hard work and expertise that has got them to where they are.

It’s hard to argue, particularly if you’ve built a devoted social following through your own creative energy, only to be culturally parcelled up alongside celebrities with more fame than talent.

But, however you feel about that word, it’s probably the most common way for marketing professionals to talk about what you do. The trick, therefore, is to show them precisely what makes you far more than ‘just’ an influencer.

Story tellers or fame hunters?

It may be rather cruel, but there are serious content creators out there who believe anyone actively calling themselves an influencer don’t actually have the influence they claim. Ouch.

But, in fairness, there are some pretty simple ways to test whether that person with the big following and lots of likes on Instagram is capable of influencing an audience, no matter what they call themselves.

In a nutshell, calling yourself an influencer is about as reliable an indicator of real influence as calling yourself a submarine captain. What brands should be looking for instead is the expertise, passion, creative flair and communication skills someone demonstrates on social media – and the real engagement they earn as a result. (There’s a really useful checklist for spotting authentic social media influence on the Successful Blog).

Time for a new name

So, if ‘influencer’ doesn’t really capture the complexities of the role, what on earth should we be calling each other?

‘Key opinion leader’ or ‘content creator’ seems like an excellent place to start, with the emphasis very much on ‘creator’. After all, the best content creators we work with aren’t just lazily snapping pictures and scribbling hashtags. They are crafting, curating and creating compelling stories that people stop and take notice of.

(Interestingly, when we interviewed top blogger Jessica Weiß (@journelles) she said she referred to herself as Editor in Chief – a title that more accurately reflects the effort and expertise that goes into producing her content.)

Also, the people who are kind of to blame for this aren’t content creators themselves, but rather the marketing industry that has painted the words ‘INFLUENCER MARKETING’ in big letters over what you all do.

Thanks to that, brands are often searching for influencers rather than creative, knowledgeable partners. Some brands are even looking for an influencer whose audience they can leverage, rather than someone whose imagination and authority can help them reach and persuade valuable customers.

Now none of this to say you can only earn the title of content creator through being an expert photographer or a genius copywriter. All it means is you must have an authentic interest, that you share in an inspiring way, which makes people want to engage with you.

And if you do that bit right, you can kinda call yourself whatever you want.