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Content Creator vs. Influencer: The Great Debate

By: Viral Nation | 9 mins read |
With the rise of social media platforms, content marketing has been evolving rapidly to keep up with the ever-changing trends. People on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok consume more and more content every day. And whether it be an ad or a subtle promotion, we are all constantly exposed to content marketing. This consumerism lifestyle has propelled influencers and content creators into the limelight. The line that separates those two terms is often very blurry, and often, the terms are used interchangeably. Yet, despite sharing the same platform and brand sponsorships, the content produced by each of these individuals is entirely different. With increasing competitors, content creators and influencers are challenged to create new engaging, and innovative content. Many have, over time, discovered the niche or trademark that makes them distinct and unique from others. So what exactly is the difference between an influencer and a content creator?

Content creators

As we know it today, the term "content creator" can be traced back to its origination on YouTube back in 2011. It was used to promote the platform and its first YouTube stars, where they used the word ‘creators’ solely based on its holistic meaning. As social media began to grow in relevancy, both celebrities and rising YouTubers could identify with this term, as content creators are often professionals and experts within their niche or specific industry. Content creators come in many different forms. They are photographers, video producers, creative directors, or artists who showcase their works on their social media pages. They are comedians or gamers or any number of different areas of interest that inhabit the landscape today. They usually use their social media accounts as their portfolio to market their brand, and in many senses, content creators are also influencers. On many occasions, you can say these individuals became influencers by chance, as the large following they gained was not necessarily the creator's intention. Many simply used their content as a creative outlet for their interests, hobbies, and areas of expertise.   According to Business Insider, it was estimated that in 2019 the digital marketing content industry had reached $9 billion. The statistics also show competition among creators is very fierce, as creators must find new and entertaining ways to produce high-end content that allows them to stand out from the aspiring amateur and fellow professionals. Brands interested in working with content creators should not look at the size of their following with the same value as the quality and craftsmanship of their content. The term creator is also often tied with the social media platform that they are using. Most YouTubers would describe themselves as creators because of the different videos that they produce.

Pros of content creators

Working with a content creator provides numerous advantages.

High-quality content

Individuals who fit the mold of a content creator yield high-quality content, often due to their extensive knowledge and expertise within their industry. The quality of their work cannot be matched with those of influencers, though some influencers have stepped up their game. Creators use blogs, images, videos, and other related content to supply a mix of information and entertainment to their audience.

Various skillsets

Creators are rarely one-dimensional, and they often have a multitude of skills related to their expertise. For example, a videographer could have the skills to generate creative video ideas, produce and edit their own videos, and even ideate concepts that are both appealing and effective to market to your target demographic. After all, how do you think they gained their following? Content creators learned these skills and refined them as a means to stand out from the competition.

Help brands save on production resources

Due to the potent mixture of skills and knowledge that they bring to the table, creators can fill various roles in your marketing campaign. Though capabilities and interest in a role of this magnitude may vary by creator, brands have an opportunity to save time and money by empowering them to handle a bulk of creative elements of the project - instead of employing numerous people. While this situation is not always feasible (or desired) by brands, this type of insight and input from the creator can prove to be invaluable to your efforts.

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While the two share many synergies, influencers have a different approach than their counterparts - digital creators. In many ways, it can be said that influencers focus on the relatability and interaction that they share with their followers. This helps them build their brand and grow their followings to huge numbers. The size of their following varies, from nano-influencers (1k to 10k followers) to macro-influencers and even celebrities, whose follower counts can be in the millions. Influencers exist on nearly every social media platform, including YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitch. Influencers have come of prominence for the reason they have their namesake - they influence us. People feel connected to these individuals and trust the advice that they provide.  The content they produce may be straightforward in many cases, and some may even venture to say it lacks the same quality as creators. Like all things creative, specifically, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this assumption is very subjective. However, one thing that isn't subjective is that influencer content is often more engaging and targeted to its audience. Much like content creators, influencers have various topics and niches that they specialize in, ranging from lifestyle to fashion to finance. Regardless of their audience size, their followers are not only interested in it; they are invested in their content.   Many brands focus much of their influencer assessments on audience size. The general train of thought is that the larger their audience, the more efficient their marketing strategy becomes. While this may be true in some instances - such as mass marketing campaigns - influencers are most effective when appealing to a specific, hyper-targeted audience. Influencers have a profound impact on their followers' buying decisions with the products and services they promote. Many Instagrammers and TikTokers identify as "influencers" because their content is heavy on sponsorships and brand deals. Many of their posts contain affiliate links or act as an advertisement for numerous businesses. It's a status symbol to be an influencer these days, and with that status also comes stigma. Regardless, influencers are here to stay for the long-term, and the rapid ascension of influencer marketing in the digital landscape has made it a strategy used by brands around the world.

Pros of influencers

Partnering with an influencer is a marketing tactic that offers many benefits.

The relationship with their following

One of the great advantages that influencers possess is the interaction they have with their audience. The trust, loyalty, and support of their followers provide brands with the guarantee that their product or service will be exposed to potential customers - the kind of consumers who hang on every word and suggestion made by the influencers they know and love. Often, influencers act as a bridge to access the trust of potential buyers on social media.

Increasing your brand's reach & demographic

As alluded to above, brands can expect to experience immediate growth in their demographic when they tap into influencers’ audience. Influencers enjoy the benefits of having both large and highly-targeted audiences, helping to increase the chances that their followers will have interest in your promotion. Additionally, having the increased exposure helps to boost your web traffic and build your online presence.

Similarities and differences between creators & influencers

It seems somewhat obvious, considering the source of the debate in itself, but there is an overlap between content creators and influencers. Brands are no longer pigeon-holing themselves, often using both approaches to maximize their exposure and remain relevant within their industry. Both creators and influencers are great at advertising and promoting brands. Their expertise in their specific niche and the digital world makes them great storytellers who connect deeply with their followers. They highlight the functions and the reasons why their audience would enjoy using a brand's products and services.   But most of all, both influencers and content creators have successfully mastered entrepreneurship and the digital marketing industry. The influencer marketing industry is estimated to reach $22 billion in 2022, so the vital role it plays in an organization's overall marketing strategy can no longer be ignored. Yet, there several distinct differences that separate content creators and influencers. For instance, many YouTubers spend numerous hours recording and editing their video content, whereas Instagrammers often focus on creating short and well-designed captions to attach to their posts. While these are generalities, it begins to show a pattern of divergence in each individual's technical elements. The level of difficulty is also a big difference for creators and influencers. Everyone can aspire to become an influencer. You only need a smartphone and creativity to start building your brand. Creators, however, need technical skills, expertise, and knowledge to produce high-quality content. The monetization of their brand also differs. Creators can monetize their videos on YouTube through Google Adsense, affiliate links, sponsorships, and the number of views obtained. Influencers receive their income through sponsorship contracts.

The stigma of the term "Influencer"

It's almost unfair when you think about it. As social media culture has become woven into the fabric of our everyday lives, influencers (and the lifestyles and popularity surrounding them) have become a subject of interest for many. The seemingly overnight fame, glamorous lifestyle, and massive incomes that some influencers bring in have become an aspiration for many. Age is also a factor that affects the perception of the term. Nowadays, teenagers aspire to become influencers, and it has become the dream job of many children who see their favorite celebrities on social media and want to be just like them. According to Mediakix, more than 75% of children age 10-17 want to become influencers. But with the unfathomable growth of social media and the personalities that occupy it, the term ‘influencer’ has become commonplace, losing its appeal to certain creators. The glamorized lifestyle and drama that exists among some mega-influencers have made the title somewhat redundant, even offputting at times for some within the industry. In other instances, some in the general public assume that ‘influencer’ is an easy job that does not require any knowledge or talent, whereas some may compare those to the high expectations set on creators. This perception is unfair and untrue, as many influencers balance the challenges of a never-ending schedule while still building and maintaining a strong connection with their followers. As a result of the stigma that is now being attached to the title, influencers are shifting the dialogue and the terminology more towards "thought leaders," Key Opinion Leaders (KOL's), "advocates," and "ambassadors."

How both content creators & influencers can help your brand

In the modern marketing world, both content creators and influencers are used for advertising and promoting products and services on social media. When working with creators, you have newfound access to creativity and knowledge that can typically only be achieved through a partnership with these content unicorns. In many instances, creators do not have access to the larger, "general population" like influencers do; but their engagement rates are similar if not higher. More brands are becoming interested in content creators and what they have to offer, as many of these individuals have found their way into the influencer world. On the flip side, some influencers are making efforts to be more creative and produce higher quality content to compete with their counterparts. Yet, their focus remains largely the same: aiming to engage their audience in clicking and buying the products and services they promote on their social channels. Choosing between partnering with a creator or an influencer will largely depend on the company's priorities for its marketing efforts. For example, if brand exposure is the primary KPI for the campaign, then working with influencers is likely your best approach, as they will be best equipped to expose your brand to a wide audience. On the other hand, obtaining high-quality content at a fraction of the cost of contracting an influencer is where a creator can prove to be valuable. The best strategy to determine who is more suitable for the job is to assess three main things. Do they create high-quality content that meets the company’s standards? What is their engagement rate? And lastly, did they build trust and loyalty with their followers, and is it maintained? The answer to these three questions will help you decide which content creator or influencer is best suited for your campaign.

Final thoughts

The terms ‘creators’ and ‘influencers’ have been used interchangeably for the last few years. However, we see that some key differences exist between the terms that make them distinct and unique. In time, businesses will not have to decide between the two, as the lines are getting blurrier while the competition becomes more fierce and barriers built by stigma are broken down. Utilizing content creators and influencers is truly a best of both worlds scenario and a winning strategy for brands to market their products and services.

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_About the author
Viral Nation

Viral Nation is a new media innovation group that powers the social ecosystem through integrated solutions that align strategy, talent, media, and technology. As pioneers in the influencer space, Viral Nation is comprised of a full-service creative agency, a creator and athlete-influencer representation agency, and a technology division creating modern marketing solutions for the social media age.