'Influencer' is a dirty word for brands and creators

Traditional media brands are struggling to understand the difference between a reality star, an Instagram influencer, a sports personality and a creator or entertainer.

Strictly: Sugg was credited with bringing a younger audience to the BBC
Strictly: Sugg was credited with bringing a younger audience to the BBC

The term "influencer" is a "dirty word" and "insulting" to creators, according to industry experts speaking at a VidCon London panel on Friday.

James Hancock, co-founder of talent management company Free Focus, said that influencer marketing is a phrase that came from marketing companies wanting to label, name or pigeonhole and does not reflect the reality of the creator ecosystem.

Hancock added that traditional media brands have struggled to understand the difference between a reality star, an Instagram influencer, a sports personality and a creator or entertainer. This, he said, is a state of play that means a former Love Island contestant has become the shorthand for what constitutes an influencer in media coverage.

"It’s a little bit insulting to say to a creator that they are an influencer. They create more than just influence," Hancock said.

This theme was also highlighted by Lucy Loveridge, head of talent UK at Gleam Futures. She stated that none of the talent and entertainers on Gleam’s roster would describe themselves as "influencers".

Loveridge said that many brands and media agencies have approached influencer marketing in the same way they would a brief for a TV campaign. For example, many have fixated on the trend for "unboxing" by asking creators to simply unpack products on their channels – even if that is completely out of step with the content they usually create.

"Influencer marketing is a line for every brand’s media brief, but a lot of them don’t know what it is really for," she explained.

Melissa Chapman, chief content officer at Jungle Creations, predicted that media owners are going to move towards getting more influencers in content. "It’s not who you know who gets you through the door and that is a really powerful and important thing. You don’t need to know someone in TV any more and that is liberating," she said.

Loveridge added that broadcasters have noted the fact that Joe Sugg’s appearance on Strictly Come Dancing last year has brought a younger audience to the BBC. However, the panel agreed that traditional broadcasters need to think about why they want creators on their platforms, not just the audiences they bring.

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