Are influencers really creators?

The other day I read a good piece in Vice by Lauren O’Neill, a staff writer specialising in millennials and the internet. It was a report about BorderlessLive, which, says Lauren, was billed as the UK’s first ‘influencer festival’ and which took place in East London in early September.

The event focussed on the travel industry and the aim was to bring together brands and destinations, and ‘the world’s top influencers’. I don’t follow many travel influencers (too busy keeping up with the fashion influencers), so I didn’t really recognise the bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTubers who appeared, but no doubt they were big names.

There were formal networking sessions, lectures, workshops and panels. I’m not quite sure where the festival part came in, but some of the socials looked fun and I imagine those who went had a great time and made some useful contacts.

In the Vice story, which was headed ’People are poking holes in influencer tactics – what comes next?’ Lauren summarises the negative stories about influencers that have broken in the last year (the notorious Fyre Festival is one example and the ASA has upheld complaints about influencers like Marnie Simpson and repeat offender Louise Thompson).

She writes, “Many people have reached influencer boiling point, with our tolerance for their necessary artifice at an all-time low, and our suspicion of them through the roof.” I’m not going to completely go along with that, but influencers have increasingly been held up to scrutiny by the media and the public have certainly become more aware of how influencing works – how influencers earn their crust.

However, Lauren also highlights the move, apparently very visible at BorderlessLive, to rebrand influencers as ‘content creators’ or even just ‘creators’. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but perhaps it’s becoming more mainstream, and I find it interesting because ‘influencer’ is a pretty straightforward descriptive label, whereas ‘creator’ seems to me somewhat less clear. In fact, you could argue it actively obscures the fact that the job of an influencer is to influence their followers so that they purchase a particular product or service.

Back in February last year, when Prizeology commissioned research into what the public think about influencers (Under the Influence: UK Consumer Attitudes to Social Media Influencer Marketing), we found that over half of the UK public (61%) believed influencers don’t have to disclose that they have been paid to talk about a product and, crucially, that over half of the UK public (60%) said their perception of a brand improved when the brand was transparent about its use of product promotions.

Lauren actually cites the Prizeology research (as does the ASA in its long-awaited and recently published report on The Labelling of Influencer Advertising) and this suggests that, even 18 months on, it’s still very relevant. I would hope that if we were to repeat the research now more people would know that influencers must disclose when they’ve been paid to talk about a product (that’s where #ad comes in).

However, research by Ipsos Mori for the ASA’s report did find that a “notable” proportion of subjects failed to identify ads which included product shots, brand names and logos as “definitely advertising”, so perhaps I’m kidding myself…

Anyway, I’ve always argued that it’s still early days for influencers –I’ll continue to call them that for the time being, because that’s what they do – and their job description will no doubt, but that evolution from ‘influencer’ to ‘creator’ is definitely one I’ll be watching with interest.

Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist and a wannabe Doughnut Influencer.

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