Is influencer the right word?

Influencer has become something of a dirty word, both among social media creators themselves and the general public.

Finding a language which values creativity
Influencer has become something of a dirty word, both among social media creators themselves and the general public. It seems only to be marketers who can use the word without wincing just a little. Here at No Logo, we’ve been thinking about why that is, and how to find language which does justice to creators and helps them to thrive.

Three reasons the word ‘influencer’ is under scrutiny:

1. It under emphasises creativity

The word ‘influencer’ was invented by marketers. This means that it highlights the creator’s ability to get more ‘likes’ and monetise their content, rather than their ability to create. This makes it seem inauthentic: the greatest millennial sin. And when we do get round to recognising their creativity, that can be undervalued too. There is an age-old notion that creatives who monetise their work are ‘sell outs’, as if art and business cannot collide. The popularisation of things like Fyre Festival has connected it further to an idea that its all about money and has thrown authenticity out the window.

2. Influence means many things to many people
I’m guessing if you were to name 3 people who had truly influenced you in your life, the list wouldn’t include Kim Kardashian (or any Kardashian, for that matter). In fact, it’s more likely that your mum is on that list. Or perhaps it’s a business leader or a creative icon who has inspired you to pursue the path you are currently on. Social media personalities are influential in different ways – they can entertain, inform, and yes, inspire. It’s a totally different category of influence.

3. Popularity is taboo
Whether online or offline, no one wants to be seen as a try-hard. Where we ourselves do not want to be defined by how many followers we have or how many likes we get, we resist those who make a living out of it.

Black and white overhead view of a wave crashing onto the beach.

Black and white image of a telephone with a long black curving wire attached.

It’s not always easy to find language that works for everyone. Here are three things which we believe at No Logo can change the conversation:

1. Recognise them as leaders and entrepreneurs
Someone who has followers is a leader. The job of a CEO is ultimately to create followers. If you’ve tried to manage a team or a business, you know that casting vision isn’t easy. Creators and artists throughout history have led the way in culture. Now that is showing up online, too. We must not mistake follower numbers for superficial popularity. What’s more is that every influencer has had the gusto, the consistency and the creativity to actually start their own business. They should be valued as entrepreneurs.

2. Call them by what they do
If someone is a fashion editor, a food stylist or a meme-maker, say it! Unsurprisingly, influencers don’t want to be defined by their numbers either: their content is the reason people follow them. While followers can be bought, those with real engagement have worked hard and used their creativity to get where they are today. Identify which industry they belong to, or the skill that they have, and use language which reflects that.

3. Think of them as expert communicators
They create content which people love, whether to inspire, amuse or educate. There is a reason marketing managers are so keen to tap into their skills. Influencers do more than just populating their feed: they are experts in engagement and community management. They can spend hours a day replying to comments and questions. Ultimately, they nurture and grow their communities in a way which most companies can only dream of!

In Summary

The term ‘influencer’ isn’t going to go away. While ‘influencer’ is useful as a term for a type of marketing, it falls flat when describing individuals across varied creative industries. Let’s emphasise what people truly are: content creators, entrepreneurs and communicators and not fall into the trap of defining them by just their followings.