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Influencer? Let’s face it – I’ve been called worse…

August 28, 2016

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.

Rosemary Mac Cabe what does influencer mean

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.

Rosemary Mac Cabe what does influencer mean

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.

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  • Reply Lorraine August 28, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    Are you using this blog post to “throw shade” on Joanne Larby’s one about the term influencer?

    • Reply Rosemary August 29, 2016 at 9:09 am

      Ha! This actually made me laugh. To be honest, I don’t “throw shade”. If I wanted to have a go at someone, I’d have a go at them. This post is definitely partly in response to Joanne’s article, but also a piece in the Times by Una Mullally, and a conversation in an Irish Bloggers group I’m in on Facebook. So it’s definitely a response, but I didn’t mean to “throw shade” in any way!

  • Reply Louise August 29, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Jealous individuals are always looking for a way to drag down those that are slightly more successful in an attempt to prove they are just like normal people. There are very few Irish Celebrities, true A-List celebrities, our Bloggers/Models (now Influencers) are filling the gap on TV, in Print Media and anywhere there are opportunities similar to what international “celebrities” do in their home country. People hate the term influencer, but could you imagine the hilarious backlash if you started calling yourself a celebrity. It’s not a surprising Irish attitude, a lot of people simply like to begrudge success on people if it comes via non-traditional means. If people happily take beauty/fashion advice off the Kardashians and the cast of TOWIE, for the £££ they get promoting stuff then they really need to cut the double standard. We have moved completely in to a new digital age and the world of influencing is simply a by-product of that.

    Like model/actor/writer, influencer is a job title, it’s hard to embrace for a lot of people because it’s not a comfortable word. It does have certain airs and graces about it, but people need to get over themselves. It’s almost like they are coveting some sort of fame from it all because there is this notion that blogging and the work surrounding it isn’t a real job and there is no hard work involved but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Alternatively, its society looking for an excuse not to from their own opinions of products/social issues and they are looking for a group to take the fall because they were influenced by naughty naughty people with no true credentials 😉

    It’s all a bit exhausting really, such madness and conflict over a word! I’m glad your embracing it though. There is no reason not to at the end of the day.

  • Reply Padraig August 30, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Good contribution. The problem here is as much, if not more, on the part of those who seek to procure influence as it is anyone that projects themselves as an influencer. I am Chair of the judging panels for the annual PR Excellence Awards. This year we had a mini tsunami of claims for ‘achievement’ through engagement with ‘influencers’ but without any analysis of the profile of those people’s influence (does being regarded as an expert on, say, fashion / sport / theatre imply influence on choice of wine / food retailer / mobile phone) or of the reach and engagement with key audiences.

    ‘Influence’ is as old as the hills and tapping into it makes perfect sense and is a completely legit and effective way of promotion for any organisation trying to sell something. It’s also entirely appropriate that those who have as you say spent time “building up, engaging with, fostering a sense of community and gaining their trust” should seek to make a living from it.

    The ‘problem’ is that in the digital context there isn’t yet enough rigour on the part of many protagonists to sort the real from the try on. Consequently, like at any new frontier, people get excited and then disappointed and rancour follows.

    Although it can be messy – and I didn’t think the piece helped as the lack of diversity in the profile of those nominated reinforced prejudices – I think the debate is good as it is airing the topic.

    In truth it is almost impossible to ‘prove’ influence but it is very possible to profile awareness and demonstrate sustained engagement.

    Those growing or aspiring to grow a profile as an influencer should look to develop a business mindset that includes an ‘engagement profile’ and an ability to demonstrate engagement through analytics.

    It might seem a bit ugly but it is exactly the same as the newspaper or radio station selling ads. If the numbers are there and stack up, then the deal follows and it is ‘win win’

  • Reply Sorcha March 29, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    Really enjoyed reading your blog and your vlog thoughts on fertility….glad I’m not alone in not wanting kids! I’m 37 so doubt that’s going to change any time soon….

    • Reply Rosemary March 29, 2017 at 8:07 pm

      Oh thanks Sorcha! For my part, I really enjoyed hearing that you STILL don’t want kids and don’t regret it – why is it that we’re SO instilled with the terror that we’ll change our minds and “it’ll be too late”…?!

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