What does it mean to be an influencer? Am I one? Are you one? Is it a bad thing?
If there’s one thing I learned from listening to Gary Vaynerchuck*, it’s that the internet, social media and what we can do with both, are changing more quickly than we can ever keep up with. So it should come as no surprise to us that the past two years has seen the birth of a whole new moniker, or, at least, given a new meaning to a pre-existing one: influencer.
What does it mean? To me, there are two definitions. At a basic level, the definition of “influencer” has its roots in one’s ability to influence. If you posted a snap, an Instagram pic or a blog entry on a pair of shoes you bought, and a random stranger went and bought those shoes too – congratulations! You influenced their purchase, and can reasonably expect to call yourself an influencer now. Think of it as a real-life version of a Snapchat trophy.
But, more than that, for me the term “influencer”, at least when used on one’s CV, has to do with what one does with that influence. Let me explain.
What is an influencer?
Sure, you might be an influential person, whose style and purchasing decisions get copied far and wide – but you probably won’t be writing “influencer” on your Twitter bio unless you’re going to use it as a way to make money. So, for me, calling oneself an influencer implies not only that you are influential – that you have an engaged online following that pays attention to your recommendations – but that you are happy for brands to approach you to collaborate on your social media channels, purely on the basis of that influence, for money. (Note emphasis.)
By that definition? I’m definitely an influencer – I’ve done collaborations with brands and businesses such as Charter Medical and Let’s Get Checked, based in a major way on an online following that listens to what I say and trusts my recommendations. (But I won’t, for example, take money to shill weight loss quick fixes or waist trainers – being an “influencer” is pretty much entirely based on the fact that my audience trusts me, and that’s not something I’m willing to risk damaging by going for the quick buck.)
I’ve seen a lot of talk lately, both from inside and outside the “influencer” bubble, about how much people hate the term. Influencers don’t want to be called influencers; non-influencers don’t want anybody to be called an influencer.
Being an influencer is a bit like being a wedding singer…
The closest analogy I can think of is wedding singers. Say, for example, you’re in an indie rock band. You write all your own music, you play guitar, you play small venues all around the country and you’re really proud of the music you produce. Then, maybe once or twice a month, you sing cover songs at weddings to bring in some funds – and someone refers to you as a wedding singer. Are you offended? Probably – after all, you’re a serious singer-songwriter. Are they wrong? Nope – you sometimes sing at weddings.
Without being rude, the best thing I can say to everyone who hates the term influencer is: deal with it. So, you have an issue that people with a large online following are earning money from that following – which they’ve spent years building up, engaging with, fostering a sense of community and gaining their trust. Why shouldn’t they then make a living from that, or at least part of a living?
Then there are the influencers who hate being called influencers, because they’re so much more than that. Like the wedding singer, you just need to get over your snobbery. Either that, or stop taking money in exchange for leveraging your influence. That way, no one can ever reasonably call you an influencer, and you won’t ever fall into the same category as people who’ll take €1,000 per Instagram post to endorse protein bars.
Influencer is not a set term – change is inevitable
Like any new media, the concept of the influencer is going to change hugely over the next few months. A lot of people say it’s a bubble that’s going to burst, and to a certain extent I think they’re right.
Obviously, I have a horse in this race, and when and if the bubble does burst, I’d like to come out still standing. Because I may be an influencer, but I’m also a content creator, and whatever way you look at it, we’re still a way off a world in which this average-looking 30-something Irish woman is going to make a good living from her Instagram. (Sob.)
Questions? Comments? Observations? Leave ’em in the comments or, if you’d rather be anonymous, ask me anything on Curious Cat.
*Actually, I learned a whole lot from listening to the audiobook version of his latest release, Ask Gary Vee, and though I found the narration ever so slightly irritating, I would highly recommend it if you’re interested in this whole social media universe.