Often in social media and digital marketing, there’s a lot of confusion about what exactly an influencer is, and how exactly that differs from a content creator.
- Both content creators and influencers reach their followers using social media
- Both create a variety of engaging content that keeps their followers coming back
- Both often work with brands to help monetize their content, as well as spread the word about new and exciting businesses
So what’s the difference exactly?
The difference is that influencers focus on content distribution, while creators focus on content creation.
A bit of context
It’s important to keep in mind that both content creators and influencers – from the outside – do roughly the same thing. The difference is what they focus on.
If you want to get a message in front of followers, you have to do two things: (1) create content, and (2) distribute it.
Every marketing agency has known this forever.
(1) Creating content is called “ad creative”, and it is not cheap. Those Super Bowl ads you see on TV cost millions of dollars to create, but not only big-name advertisers spend top dollar on ad creative. Almost every business you can think of spends money to have other people develop their ad creative: photos, videos, ad copy, graphic design, print media, and so on. After all, if you are going to put something in front of customers, you have to make it good.
(2) Of course, you need to get that ad creative in front of people as well. Those Super Bowl ads you see on TV cost millions of dollars to distribute as well. A 30-second commercial viewed by tens of millions of people costs about 5 million dollars. Most businesses cannot afford Super Bowl ads, so instead they use Facebook Ads or Google AdWords (or any other social network you can think of) to get their business in front of customers.
Whenever we’re thinking about marketing, it’s important to remember there are two major jobs. Content creation and content distribution.
If you’re an influencer, you’re probably familiar with this as well.
Say you put a lot of effort into creating an Instagram post. You plan the shot, gather the materials, set the scene, take the photo, fix it up in post-production, add your caption, add your hashtags, and finally – finally! – hit the Share button.
If you don’t have any followers, then all that work doesn’t really matter. You nailed it on content creation, but fell short on content distribution.
Now consider the alternative. Over the years, you’ve developed a large following on Instagram. You put a lot of work into maintaining your audience, and making sure you meet them where they are. You have an online presence on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and even a personal blog.
It is hard to create content that fits all of these platforms. How do you even get that Snapchat video onto Twitter and then that Tweet onto Instagram? You can’t really do it – which makes creating content for every distribution channel a bit difficult.
In other words, if you focus on reaching your followers where they are, when they want it, you may focus a little less on creating the best content possible for every platform. This is a tradeoff everyone has to make.
By now the difference between content creators and influencers should be clear. Content creators focus on content while influencers focus on distribution.
Neither one is necessarily better than the other. You need both.
There’s no distribution without first having content, and there’s no point in content without having distribution.
How content creators become influencers
Almost every influencer starts as a content creator. That’s because you need original content to distribute. You need to create things people love and come back for. And as your following grows, so does the extent of your distribution.
People follow content creators because they love the content. It’s thoughtful, it’s clever, it’s eye-catching, it’s fun.
They feel a personal connection to the creator – even a sense of loyalty – and followers appreciate a creator’s authentic devotion to creating content that people love.
As content creators grow their followings however, it becomes harder and harder to consistently create great content.
For example, you can’t create the same exact content as before because your larger fanbase may not appreciate it the same as before. Perhaps in the past you could be a little edgy, but with a larger audience, you can’t.
Or you may find that you don’t have enough time to create content on every social media channel – some are simply not worth investing the time and energy.
Or you may find that advertisers come to you with a very specific description of content they want, and you aren’t really able to exercise much creative oversight over what you put out there.
This is the realm of the influencer. As your following grows larger, you often have to make sacrifices in the quality of content that you would like to put out there.
Why businesses work with creators and influencers
Content creators focus on their craft and therefore tend to focus less on the absolute numbers of their followings. Again, this can mean posts which require a ton of effort are met with very little attention on social media.
But it also means that followers recognize that creators are doing what they do because they love doing it. They are focused on creating great content no matter what. A focus on content creation makes you more relatable and authentic.
We can see this clearly through the “engagement rates” of micro-influencers. Micro-influencers tend to have small followings and focus on creating great content. As a result, followers feel a closer connection to the creator, and therefore click through links or purchase products more.
Sure, their following is smaller, but when they promote a product, their followers are much more likely to buy it than a big influencer. Engagement rates for micro-influencers tend to be around 5-10%.
On the other hand, influencers with large followings tend to be more like billboards. Everyone sees the billboard, but not everyone has that same emotional connection with them. The billboard gets a lot of people to see it, and therefore performs really well when it comes to brand awareness.
But when it comes to sales, conversion rates can be substantially lower than micro-influencers – around 2-5%. This is because while followers may like what they see, they don’t feel enough trust or genuine connection to actually make a purchase.
Again, being an influencer or a content creator is neither better nor worse. It really depends on what you want to focus on.
Brands which come to you for brand awareness will prefer the larger distribution of an influencer. They will often specify the ad creative in advance and make sure the message is distributed in just the right way.
Brands which come to you for direct sales will prefer the higher conversion rates of a content creator. They let you develop the ad because they know you know your audience best, and you’ll create whatever you need to which resonates most.
As a result, you should focus on whatever you do best: content creation, or content distribution. Brands will come to you with different goals – sometimes brand awareness, other times direct sales – and leave it up to you to accomplish those goals.
The rise of "Authentic Media"
Since the beginning of time, marketers have always focused on distribution. They focused on radio distribution and TV distribution and online ad distribution. They wanted to make sure their brand was seen and visible.
But big businesses could never make a dent in being relatable. After all, just how relatable is being a Nissan car or eating Cheerios for breakfast?
Everyone knows those are businesses – not people – so it’s hard to truly connect.
Social media, however, unlocked the ability for people to build their own brands.
Said differently, social media allowed for content creators to build their own distribution.
Because social media is centered around people, genuine connections are now possible. Nobody will relate to Nike sneakers the same way they relate to Michael Jordan wearing those Nike sneakers. People buy from people they believe in, not businesses.
Social media has given rise to a new type of online brand: the authentic creator. Content is no longer simply about occupying a space in your social media feed (as you swipe by). It is about resonating with fans.
This is the rise of “authentic media.” It’s no longer about just getting into someone’s social media feed – it’s about truly connecting with them. And this is what content creators do best.
Brands will always need both content creation and content distribution, but if they want to build a brand that resonates with customers, it’s often best to let content creators do what they do best. That is, create content which engages their fans.
At EarnLocal, we believe this is the type of content influencers enjoy creating most, and followers enjoy seeing most. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to help influencers promote the brands they truly love, not just the stuff businesses reach out to them. It’s as simply as finding your business, grabbing its link, and creating content!
If you’re interested in getting paid to promote the places you love, sign up today here!