How ‘influencers’ became ‘creators’ and what it means for brands

Creator or influencer? 

“Creators are people who put the art of creation first and then share that through communities. That’s very different from an influencer,” says Jim Louderback, general manager and senior VP at ViacomCBS and CEO at creator conference VidCon. “[An influencer] just wants to get rich and famous. They aren’t creating, they’re really just leveraging [social media] in a way to get rich and famous.” He points to a celebrity like Kim Kardashian-West and her 250 million Instagram followers as an example of an influencer, compared to a creator like filmmaker Ryan Connolly whose YouTube show, “Film Riot,” has 1.3 million subscribers.

Brands, Louderback says, can benefit from both depending on what their campaign goals are. With creators having specific followings, there’s the potential for higher engagement and the opportunity to speak to more niche segments of audiences, whereas with influencers, their clout comes in the form of broad reach and popularity. “The depth of commitment and love for specific creators can translate to really powerful connections for brands,” he says. “You can also get great results with influencers, but then it’s a scale game.”

The key performance indicator for influencers is, for the most part, what the title implies: influencing their audience to do something like buy a jacket they are wearing or skincare products they show in their morning routine, says Evan Horowitz, CEO and co-founder, Movers+Shakers, a creative studio. They monetize their platform predominantly through brand deals and affiliate programs.

Creators, on the other hand, can have both large and small followings, and are typically less of a household name, Horowitz explains. Also, as the name implies, the focus of creators is content creation. “Influencers can also be creators, but not all creators are necessarily influencers,” he says. “Oftentimes, influencers start out as content creators as they build their presence and personality on the internet.” 

One major difference between an influencer and a creator comes down to how they are measured and why audiences are following them in the first place, says Gabe Feldman, senior business development lead, Viral Nation, an influencer agency. 

“An influencer is measured on quantitative factors such as audience reach, viewership, engagement rate. Ultimately, an influencer is essentially word of mouth at scale – with a friendship-like relationship with their audience,” Feldman says. “Whereas a creator is different; a creator isn’t measured on reach or viewership, but the quality and caliber of their content. Audiences are attracted to creators primarily because of the depth and breadth of content they produce. Generally speaking, creators produce content that otherwise would be expensive to execute in traditional capacities (i.e: high-end studios).”

Deciding between the two

Brands typically turn to influencers when they are looking to elevate their share of voice on a specific platform or drive revenue and acquisition of customers, Feldman says.

Influencers often have a larger following and are more instantly and widely recognized, says Horowitz. This can be a strong asset for brands that are trying to gain broad exposure, grab attention and impact sales.” 

Brands looking to establish a presence on a new platform, might look to creators to help build strong content, Horowitz adds. Creators also tend to have certain niches and can help bring a brand in front of a specific audience. 

Marketers can also lean on creators to supplement their content production needs, Feldman says, adding that creators give brands a two-for-one deal. “They get an abundance of high-end content, paired with the likeness and credibility of a talented content creator.”   

Jessica Philips, founder and CEO of The Social Standard, an influencer marketing agency, says they recommend a different approach for brands depending on marketing goals. For example, The Social Standard worked with Mexican restaurant chain, Qdoba, to construct murals in Nashville with creators who could paint a mural and share it on social media. However, when Chrysler wanted to promote the latest features of the Pacifica, the agency partnered them with family influencers who could demonstrate how it worked in their daily lives.  

But there is a price difference typically involved, with creators, perhaps surprisingly, sometimes seeking a higher price tag. “The reason being, production costs paired with content licensing and usage fees can inflate costs significantly if the partnership isn’t negotiated correctly. From my experience, brands wouldn’t be paying for their social ‘clout’ or viewership, but would be paying for production plus usage of that content, like if the brand wants to repurpose and integrate their content into other mediums of advertising,” Feldman says.