How to Differentiate Social Media Influencers and Content Creators

Jesse Ingalls
May 5, 2017
Last Updated On

Yes, there is a difference.

The Internet has changed EVERYTHING.

Before we get into this piece, I'd like to preface it with a personal anecdote that will be relevant, promise.

In 2016, I began working with @reebokclassics, but the story starts back in 2012, the year I bought a big boy camera to learn the fundamentals of photography. At the time, I was in school studying art direction and getting sick and tired of trying to source stock images for projects. Since photography employs the same principles as art direction, I figured it would be a complimentary skillset to learn and make me a more dynamic creative.

After some practice —actually, a lot of practice— I started progressively sharing some of my work. My IG account developed an identity: sneakers. Then one day, I opened up my Instagram to a barrage of notifications, including a single tagged photo icon. Hypebeast had shared one of my photos. A week later, Hypebeast shared another one of my photos. (Um, what is life?)

As it turns out, Reebok Classics was looking for content creators around the same time, and found my work through Hypebeast. We’ve been working together ever since.

Mine is the story of a content creator, not an influencer. Reebok works with me not because they are looking to leverage my audience, but instead because they are looking to leverage my creativity.

Below we'll make the distinction between content creator and influencer. Why? Because they fill completely different business needs. These differences are subtle and nuanced, but understanding them will improve your ability to recognize what type of person your brand should be collaborating with to engage in social marketing.

While we’ve treated content generation and influence as two separate entities for the purpose of this article, the reality is that the two are not mutually exclusive. What’s important is understanding both concepts separately so that you can make more informed, strategic decisions for your social media plan moving forward . 📈

What Is a Content Creator on Instagram?

Simply put, content creators are artists.

Before Instagram, the Internet, and even modern civilization, there were artists. And no matter what happens in this life, art will exists as long as the world does because to some, it is as vital as breathing. And it doesn't concern audience size, monthly reach or engagement rate because art doesn’t work that way.

Why work with a social media content creator?

Companies aren’t working with creative agencies the way they used to. Back in the diz, client side marketing departments were held together with a hope and a prayer, a stapler, and a stack of Post-It notes. All outward marketing and creative was shipped off to an agency. Times, they have changed.

Businesses are growing their internal marketing teams, developing increasingly innovative brand-building strategies, and keeping the creative work in-house. But alas, the need for content just keeps growing and growing, and growing and growing, with no signs of slowing. DYK that today, more pictures will be taken in 2 minutes than in all of the 19th century combined? Um, yeah.

This is where content creators come into the picture and fill the void. Think of a content creator like a boutique ad agency with a niche specialty that operates at 1/8th the price of a traditional advertising agency. This type of individual will help build a library of proprietary brand assets, or help you bring a specific campaign or idea to life as your creative partner. They're able to read a brief and produce something that's in line with the company branding and objectives.

When working with content creators, throw all of your preconceived notions about audience size out the window because in this case, it is not an accurate indicator of quality of work. Quality of work isn’t measured in double taps, it’s measured through composition, symmetry and contrast.

Some of the world's biggest brands, not just your baby brother’s “lifestyle account”, are leveraging content creators to produce world class visuals on a global scale. In keeping with the shoe theme we've got going already, here are a handful of examples of big brands working with what we just described as content creators.

@finsihline works closely with content creators like @shermyszn to help develop super high quality, branded Instagram content.

Meanwhile, @reebokclassics works closely with other content creators like @shotbyfalkpictures and @dou.bled to develop their Instagram visuals.

#What Is an Influencer?

Simply put (and for the purpose of austerity in this article), online influencers are distribution channels.

This definition might seem crude; they are obviously people too, but it's fundamentally the truth. As a brand, above all else, you seek out influencers with one specific objective in mind – exposure.

Why work with an social media influencer?

Unlike content creation, influencers are Internet phenomena. At no other time in history have individuals beyond nobility and traditional celebrity wielded so much singular authority. Influencers may seem like they're everywhere, but believe it or not, we've found through statistics that only 0.018% of Instagram accounts have over 100K followers.

Think of an influencer like your media partner. The content they publish is not necessarily crafted by them, and what they lack in visual quality they make up for in savvy and strategy — undeniably two very valuable assets worth leveraging.

Influencers bring more eyeballs to your account, which translates (hopefully) to more sales. Business is so simple, isnt't it 💁. You could have the greatest product in the history of mankind, but what difference does it make if no one knows about you? This is the void influencers help fill.

Let’s say you're @creppprotect, a niche sneaker protection and cleaning product. To build clout and gain exposure with sneakerheads, developing a relationship with the right influencer is important to unlocking access to a passionate, engaged audience. That's why @crepprotect works with @the_ perfect_ pair, one of the sneaker community's most influential voices.

You’ll note the caliber of the above photo is not that of a content creator's. It’s good, but it’s not stop-scrolling-and-show-your-friend good. Or even “bookmark” good. But it doesn’t matter. In this case, @the_ perfect_ pair is an OG that people listen to wihin the sneaker niche, and that’s precisely what Crep is in it for.

What’s the Sweet Spot?

Like when Future wore Gucci AND Prada, a good digital strategy leverages both content creators and influencers at the same damn time. The first step is to make sure your own account is 🔥, because your influencer marketing won’t be effective if it isn’t.

Imagine for a second you get your product or account in front of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of hyper-targeted potential customers through the help of an influencer. Whoop whoop, you’ve done it 🎉. Their audience clicks through to your account and it’s populated with mega mediocre, subpar content. You’ve lost your shot, because first impressions are everything, and spoiler alert: you didn’t make a good one.

Start by making your brand's account amazing with the help of a content creator. Only after this critical component is sorted should you start employing an influencer strategy to broaden your audience and capitalize on such opportunities.

World domination, here we come.🤝

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