Influencer vs influential – what has the most power in a marketing plan?

- May 5, 2022 4 MIN READ

Influencer marketing is all the rage these days, but is it truly as ‘influential’ as we think? PR and marketing specialist Annette Densham explains the difference between the two, and why it’s unwise to put all your eggs into one marketing basket.

When my son was at that age where adults asked “What are you going to be when you grow up?”, he told me he wanted to be a Twitch star. I will admit to being completely in the dark about what that meant, but as I listened to his explanation, I was gobsmacked – people got paid because others are happy to stare at their screen as they built a Minecraft world or did a dance routine.

It was here I first heard the term ‘influencer’.

Never before in the history of the planet have so many people been so consumed with creating content and consuming content in such massive volumes. The prolificness of content that influencers produce is incredible.

Over the past few years, with the growth of Instagram Reels and TikTok, there has been an influx of this ‘look at me’ marketing, as more and more people take to social media to make their mark, find their moment of fame and draw people into their world.

While the whole idea of marketing is to get in front of as many people as possible to share what you do and how you do it, this obsession with ‘self’ diminishes the impact of a powerful message and the opportunities for people to stand out.

We are diluting talent, skill and expertise because social media is creating a whole new ‘every child wins a prize’ mentality.

Social media influencer trying on makeup

Are influencers enough?

The humble word ‘influence’ has taken on a whole new flavour, as the influencer space has taken on a life of its own. Recent studies from the US reveal that 72.5 per cent of US marketers from companies with 100 or more employees will use influencer marketing in 2022. This is up 70 per cent from 2021 and a spend of $4.14 billion (forecast to be $16 billion this year).

It’s a booming industry. Influencer marketing has driven the incredible growth of eCommerce and created opportunities for individuals and businesses. Using influencers can have excellent ROIs for the right business or product.

But it also detracts from meaningful engagements. Before striking me down with calls of ‘Karen’ and ‘boomer’, hear me out.

When people are so focused on vanity metrics – how many people like them, how many engage with their content, monetisation of likes and followers – and are paid to say nice things about something, is there longevity in this form of advertising? How, as businesses, can we make room for real connection and the development of know, like and trust if the online space is full of people being paid to say nice things?

Don’t get me wrong, in the modern marketing mix, an influencer strategy for the right business is an integral part of a robust plan. All businesses should have a solid marketing plan that embraces multiple channels and great content to connect with an audience. But it shouldn’t be the only strategy employed for business growth and awareness. It should be a tool well-researched, digging into what type of person you are handing your money over to. With the TGA’s recent ruling on banning influencers from spruiking health products, it is a minefield that doesn’t always elicit the desired results.

influencer instagram post

Influencer vs influential

When you hand your business over to someone else to influence your prospective audience, YOU lose the opportunity to connect with your audience. It is why advertising is seen as ‘selling’ and PR as ‘telling’. PR enables you to be influential, which is a powerful place to be in business.

There’s a big difference between being an ‘influencer’ and ‘influential’, besides being a noun and an adjective.

Influencers are paid to promote products. They are the vehicle for brands to get noticed, tapping into the popularity of the influencer. You have to pay the influencer for their influence. But are they really influential? After all, they are being paid (called advertising) to purchase a product or service. Their messages about said products or services are driven by how much they are being paid. That is not influential. There is not a deep transformation for the audience; it is highly transactional.

Someone who is influential is driven by purpose. An influential business or person is driven by the desire to serve people, to change lives. This is the kicker. The biggest difference between being an influencer and being influential is not about you; it is about other people. Influential businesses power their audience with data, insights and information.

When you look at what tools you add to your marketing tool belt, influencer marketing may be one, but do not let it be the only one. You have the power to connect with your audience by sharing your stories, educating your audience, sharing insights, and to be really influential on your terms, not someone else’s.

‘Tell, don’t sell’ still has enormous power in the marketplace. Now, more than ever, people want to connect with businesses, their vision and purpose … and you cannot outsource that.

Of course, that takes planning and sticking to it, and that is a whole other article.

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