YouTubers, please stop allowing yourself to be labeled an “Influencer.” It’s bad for you and it’s bad for our industry.
Over the last few years this insidious word has taken root as the clearest way to describe and quantify a YouTube creator and his or her audience. It’s used as a shorthand so individuals at advertising agencies and brands who don’t fully understand the YouTube and online video ecosystems can at least somewhat understand the potential value prominent online video personalities can bring to their advertising and marketing efforts. However, using “Influencer” to describe creators suggests that the person, his or her films, his or her merchandise in fact, the creator’s art, talent and entire brand – is only as good as his or her ability to shill for a corporation.
Creators are able to influence their audience to buy soap, coffee, burgers, etc. and therein lies their value.
That’s a big problem.
It’s a problem because it can trap a creators into the stuffy confines of making commercials or branded entertainment for the rest of their career. Why? Because the term “Influencer” is solely about the value of the creator to the brand, not the actual value of the creator. In other words, you the content creator are not relevant until or unless you are quantified, and your content is not worthy of attention unless it moves a product to a specific number of people that a brand identifies. So, if you want to continue to do what you love to do, which is making entertaining content (art) for your fans and audience, demand to be called what you are:
A star is known for their art. They get paid for their art, and they get to do it over and over again.
To illustrate these points, I ask you to take a look at two things. First look at the very first paragraph currently on the Wikipedia Page of “Influencer Marketing”:
“[Influencer marketing] identifies the individuals that have influence over potential buyers, and orients marketing activities around these influencers.”
Note how it says nothing about entertainment, authenticity, creators’ art or their talent.
Now take a look at the Google image search for the term “Influencer“. Here’s a sampling of the first few images:
These images illustrate the complete and total disregard “influencer marketing” has for creators, their art and the audiences for their art. The use of pictograms is dehumanizing, and by dehumanizing creators and their audiences it makes it even easier to propagate the paradigm that creators are only as valuable as their ability to get their audience to buy a brand’s products.
If you’re a creator, you shouldn’t stand for this paradigm. You are valuable for your art because without it, there is no audience and therefore no influence. The fact that mainstream media by and large hasn’t yet caught on that YouTubers are legitimate stars is no excuse (it is, however, getting the hint). You are entertainers. You sell-out massive venues for your concerts, you are New York Times best selling authors, Emmy-winning filmmakers, artists, musicians, creatives, producers and actors in online programs, TV shows and features films.
You are “Stars” and you should demand to be treated as such. Part of that is demanding that no one ever calls you an “Influencer” again.
Matt Gielen is the Director of Programming and Audience Development at Frederator. Matt leads the programming team building Cartoon Hangover (currently at more than 1.3 million subscribers, 100 million views) and The Channel Frederator Network (with more than 300+ partner channels, 7.5 million subscribers, 1 billion+ views). You can follow Matt on twitter @mattgielen.