Don't call me an influencer: The rise of the 'content creator' – Stuff


“When everyone is famous, no one will be famous,” US author Michael P. Naughton wrote. The same is true of influencers.
That’s why some of New Zealand’s social media personalities are stepping away from the term influencer itself.
The profession has been tainted by an oversaturation of social media marketing, high-profile scandals about the authenticity of paid posts, and backlash against ‘grammers who flouted rules, and flaunted luxury, during the pandemic.
Kennedy Anderson, 27, is a photographer by trade, who leveraged his 36,900 Instagram followers into a role as creative director of his own digital marketing agency, Glass Elephant.
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Despite his aesthetically pleasing feed of fashion, artful mirror selfies, cars, and holidays – there’s no way he’d call himself an influencer.
“I’m a content creator,” he says.
“I started saying to clients ‘look what I’ve done with my stuff, here’s what I can do for you’”.
Anderson believes we’ve entered a “new age” of marketing. Big corporates are snubbing the blunt instrument of putting products in the hands of attractive people to plug poolside, in favour of user-generated content.
"Thanks to TikTok, everyone is an influencer now,” he said. “Whether you have a platform or not, whether you’re ‘famous’ or not – you can sell video to a brand.
"So it took the wind out the word. We’ve watered it down."
Remember Lyia Liu, the Kiwi entrepreneur who sold $3.5 million worth of waist trainers in 2017, following one paid post by Kylie Jenner? “If you were to pay her $1 million for a post, you would not see that same return today,” Anderson says.
"A lot of us who make a living online haven’t grown in a while. We don’t have the same pull we had, maybe even two years ago.”
Content creator, influencer, digital advocate, collaborator, brand ambassador – whatever – isn’t it the same thing? Courtney Rupe, head of social and digital at Outspoken by Odd talent agency tells me: No.
She represents the likes of Simone Anderson, Sharyn Casey, Vaughan Smith, Rachel Hunter, and Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck, who are all referred to as talent. The agency has a plethora of “content creators”, from all different industries, on its books.
But only a handful of people have real influence.
“Simone would probably be one of few who can really push sales, or drive the needle of a brand forward,” Rupe says.
Anderson says the biggest difference between a content creator and an influencer is the amount of work required.
“If you’re a creator, I expect you to come back with three videos taken with a real camera, and have concepts and ideas around it. If I send my teeth whitening product to an influencer, I expect a couple of Instagram Stories with a discount code attached to it.”
He uses the example of Daniel Simmons, a Kiwi-based in London with millions of TikTok followers. Each day, Simmons shares a video of how he pulls an outfit together. He doesn’t share anything else about his life.
"I wouldn’t consider him an influencer, however, if he puts a clothing brand into one of those videos – most likely it’ll sell out," says Anderson.
“Brands who hire creators aren’t going to them for their follower count, or how much they talk about their lifestyle.”
For instance, Hallensteins often pay him to create videos for their socials, but he’s not expected to post them on his personal account.
According to Murray Bevan, head fashion publicity agency Showroom 22, it’s the monetisation of that as a profession, which has become hard for people to fathom.
“Frank Sinatra was an influencer. Marilyn Monroe was an influencer.”
Although some of Bevan’s clients are only interested in using influencers.
Word of mouth is still the most valuable form of marketing, he says, but influencing has muddied the waters of its authenticity.
“The word influencer has become tarnished by people who’ve done a bad job at it. So we’re getting things like ‘content creator’ and ‘digital advocate’ and ‘key opinion leader’, as people try to disassociate themselves from this idea of garish, narcissistic, inauthentic person who’s taking a cheque left, right, and centre.
“They’re all much of a muchness.”
Agencies like Bevan’s are moving away from the ilk of influencers who do an ad for a cereal one day, and show up to a party with an exclusive handbag the next.
People with an authentic message are wanted, he says, but hard to find. Even so, he still calls the good ones influencers.
"It’s a bit try-hard to peg them as something else, because that’s what they clearly are. This is their full time job, and good for them.”
When Ethically Kate’s Kate Hall tells people she is an Instagram Influencer, “they picture me lying on my couch taking selfies all day.
“They assume my husband supports me financially (he doesn’t) and that my life consists of free gifts, taking photos of my latest organic smoothie, and getting just the right thigh gap for the social media likes to flood in.
“This is far from the truth,” Hall penned in a recent blog post entitled Why Instagram Influencing Is Harder Than It Looks.
The climate change activist and educator acknowledges influencing is her profession, but says "the word comes with quite a bit of baggage. Personally, I prefer sustainability inspirer”.
More broadly, Hall shares Anderson’s take. “Changing the lingo to ‘content creator’ helps to draw a line between people who share their life online, and people who make their living on socials,” she says.
“An influencer isn’t necessarily someone who creates content for a living.”
Still confused? Yeah, us too.
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