Why is the term ‘Influencer’ such a dirty word?

Why is the term ‘Influencer’ such a dirty word?

A few days ago I was mindlessly scrolling Twitter looking for something funny or ironic to retweet, when I stumbled across a lifestyle blogger telling her 240 thousand followers that she’d like to abolish the term ‘influencer’ and go back to using ‘content creator’ as a job title.

As is the way with these kind of strong statements, lining the bottom of said tweet were numerous replies from other people I’d say were in fact ‘influencers’ sharing how they too find the expression repulsive.

Why is the term ‘Influencer’ such a dirty word?
Why is the term ‘Influencer’ such a dirty word?
Why is the term ‘Influencer’ such a dirty word?

This got me thinking…

For my sins, I am an influencer marketing manager and on a daily basis I am tasked with sussing out how to amplify ecommerce brands through the help of ‘influencers’. Darn, there’s that word again…

…Cue the downward spiral. So. Many. Questions.

If the influencers don’t want to identify as influencers, then how should I describe my service? What is an influencer? Heck, the agency I work for is even called We Influence…

Influence, influencer, influence, influencer… WHAT DOES IT EVEN MEAN ANYMORE?!!

In recent times, the term ‘influencer’ has come to mean almost everything and nothing at the same time. It’s a loose, ill defined term that we all try to get a grasp on.

As digital marketeers, we shape it towards whatever marketing objective we need to achieve. In the digital marketing space, clients need a ‘term’ — nobody likes ambiguity and everyone likes to give things a label, I can certainly see why the term ‘influencer’ has stuck over time.

But why has it become such a dirty word?

Influencer marketing specialist Nik Speller has in the past said that:

“Influencer isn’t only a poor choice of words because of the complexity of influencers. It’s also a poor semantic choice, because of the complexity of influence. The term influencer suggests that the person in question has influence over their audience — and that, somehow, that influence is inherent within that person.”

As digital marketers, we need to define the different kinds of influencer for the varied objectives we need to achieve for our clients.

Almost anybody can be an influencer; they could be a Youtube star with over a million followers, or, it could be the woman who sits opposite you on the bus; you admire her dress sense and she influences you to go out and buy that £100 Topshop teddy coat.

Many brands tend to put a lot of premise on audience size, an audience large, or small does not automatically imply influence and the minute content doesn’t interest or engage, the influence is lost. However, these days it seems anyone is an influencer if they have a following. This article by GQ entitled: ‘If you’re an influencer, you’re probably not influential.’ sums it all up nicely.

Typically, we tend to call upon social media, Youtube and blogging personalities as ‘influencers’, though realistically the real ‘influencers’ are much more than that, they’re the game changers of the world: Anna Wintour is an influencer of the fashion space, Jeremy Corbyn is an influencer in politics, Steve Jobs, he was an influencer in tech.

It has to be said that the people with real influence don’t care about ‘influencing’ as digital marketers think of it — how many ‘likes’ they have on a tweet or how many comments they get under a photo on Instagram. The term has become far too broad, it’s used to describe too many people.

So maybe Lily Pebbles has got a point. Maybe she’s right to not want to be identified as an influencer — perhaps she wants to stand out from her competition as a genuine, content creator — not an influencer.

How does this complex issue of definition tie into marketing practices?

You might believe that influencer marketing is the next ‘new and interesting’ thing, but it is in fact one of the oldest tools in marketing.


Time and time again, I’ve seen brands throwing money at influencers with no real rhyme or reason behind it, they see a big follower count and want a slice of that engagement action. The reality is successful influencer marketing really boils down to 3 steps:

1. What does the brand need?

 More sales? Better search visibility? Brand awareness?

2. Play matchmaker

Once you’ve worked out what the brand needs, match them with an ‘influencer’ who can help fulfil those needs. Maybe it’s a blogger with an excellent domain authority who can help improve SEO performance. Maybe it’s a creative content producer who can front and promote a campaign for you? It could even be an expert from the niche industry of dry stone walling. Whoever it is, they have to have the right expertise and the right audience.

3. Then, brief them!
The key to successful influencer marketing is to get the right personalities involved in the creative process. They are content creators with influence who will help you achieve the tangible results you need.

Introduce your objectives from the start, ask them ‘how can you help us achieve this?’ Above all else, trust these kinds of influencers; they know their audience and they know what works. By branding them with the same ‘influencer’ label as the ‘sell outs’ — you’ll piss them off.

As marketers, we need to navigate the field with care

Many agencies fail to understand that they are not the influencer. If they were, they’d be the ones opening the email, not sending it. We all have an objective we need to fill, in the case of We Influence, it’s that all important link value or brand awareness.

Genuine influencers aren’t just influencers, they are content creators and they are cautious about what they put their name to.

If you are reaching out to an influencer, it is important not to deliver a brief so rigid that it suppresses all creativity or pulls in the wrong kind of ‘influencer.’ These are the ones that don’t give a shit about what you’re promoting, they just see the pound signs rolling in!

For Example: An influencer may have carved a reputation and built an audience through creating makeup tutorials and demonstrated a passion for makeup. One day out of the blue they upload a picture of them dry stone walling stating how much they love it, the next day they upload a video of them promoting how much they love jiu jitsu and the day after that, they’re holding a whitening toothpaste against their plastic veneers saying what a difference it had made.

It’s just not authentic

The key is in attracting the people who have managed to build an audience and a reputation that they aren’t prepared to sell out on. These are the real online influencers and in my opinion they need another label to differentiate them from the sell out #SPON pushers.

In summary…

The term ‘influencer’ has become too large and, in some areas, has massively sold out. We need a new term for the real mccoy engagers, the creative content creators, maybe we could look to ‘enabler’ or ‘ambassador’ marketing and shake the negativity of the generic and loaded ‘influencer’ for once and for all!

What do you think of the term influencer?

Follow me on Twitter: @holliebradbury