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From influencers to creators: are content-makers evolving?

By Sam Anderson | Editor, The Drum Network

Kairos Group

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The Drum Network article

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February 7, 2022 | 8 min read

According to some, 'influencers' are out and 'creators' are in, heralding a shift from glitz and glamour to craft and artisanship. At the same time, regulators are ratcheting pressure on creators. So what does this moment really mean for online creators - and how can brands and conent-makers adapt to the shifting landscape? We asked six experts from The Drum Network.

Angela Seits, head of strategy, planning and insights at PMG

The resurgence of the term 'creator' brings us back to the industry’s roots, when being a creator not only meant creating digital content but also having an authentic point of view on a topic.

Many people have claimed that 'aspirational influencers' are out. This misrepresents the sea change that has happened in the industry. Aspiration still fuels engagement in creator content, but there has been a generational shift in how Gen Z defines what’s aspirational and who embodies it.

An influencer taking a selfie

Is the industry moving from 'influencers' to creators'? / Mateus Campos Felipe via Unsplash

Increasingly, attention follows entertainment above all else. Gen Z sees through the staged highlights reel and demands more relatable entertainment and authentic connections.

Tinx (Christina Najjar) is arguably the most relevant recent breakout influencer, representing Gen Z’s new version of aspiration, defined by authenticity and relatability. Fit and beautiful, Tinx maintains an aspirational image in physical appearance but flips the script by showing her funny, sharp-witted and vulnerable side. She admits her style inspiration is Adam Sandler. Instead of a perfectly-curated set, she shares her quirky life on the go, filled with intimate AMAs and candid advice on tough topics. She’s illustrative of how the new generation made TikTok a phenomenon and changed the Instagram aesthetic along with it.

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This demand for more relatable content is a signal that it’s time to return to co-creating influencers. Give more creative freedom and fewer prescriptive briefs. Sponsored content is no longer the only option. With platforms investing heavily in creator-led monetization tools, influencers are gaining control over content and income streams. Instead of relying solely on brand deals to fuel earnings, the next generation are empowered (and incentivized) to showcase their authentic selves.

Harry Hugo, co-founder at The Goat Agency

As social media matures and the internet pushes toward Web3, we're seeing users demand transparency and authenticity, not just from platforms but from those with influence across social.

To maintain influence, creators must provide value beyond curating an aspirational lifestyle; they must provide value through entertainment and skill development. Social algorithms value shareability and saves over passive engagements such as a mere ‘like’. Therefore, for content to be favored on Instagram and TikTok, social media users must flex creative talents to disrupt the mindless scrolling and create thumb-stopping content that captures those with dwindling attention spans.

The term ‘influencer’ has become outdated, with many social media stars preferring ‘creator'. Why? Top creators aren’t just posting aesthetic content. They do so much more.

MrBeast is not simply an influencer. He's delivering interactive, engaging and entertaining content, pulling in views that some TV shows could only dream of. Brands are approaching him to advise on marketing campaigns, showing a reliance on creative-led strategies.

Lauren McFarland, influencer marketing director at Journey Further

Agencies are pushing to use the term ‘creators’ instead of ‘influencers’ because they think it distances them from the mistakes the industry is making. It doesn’t. If we want our jobs, we need to address the issue instead of polishing over and renaming it.

If a ‘creator’ has an engaged social following, they have influence. Being an influencer isn’t negative. Influencers shouldn’t be punished for the mistakes of celebrities (or their managers) who don’t fully understand regulations or the social platforms they’re on.

The change that’s happening now has been happening for years. As humans, we don’t like curated, polished content because it makes us feel bad about ourselves. We find solace in others experiencing the same struggles as us. If influencers truly want us to engage with them, they need to share the good and the bad. We want to be the first to know all of the exciting things happening in their lives, but we also want to know when they’re having a shit day. We want the whole story.

It's difficult for the whole story to be told through a static Instagram image; it's easier through video. I imagine we’ll see more influencers (and therefore brands) moving back to YouTube this year.

Ryan Green, vice president of marketing and innovation at Coegi

The shift between influencers and creators might be subtle, but authenticity is the central difference. Savvy brands have long leaned into the authenticity quotient when selecting talent to align with; often these creators have smaller, more regional follower bases. Users now rely more heavily on the opinions and recommendations of nano-creators over the mega-influencers and celebrities who once dominated.

The talent selection process will become both more thorough and more focused on niche creators, which could strain understaffed influencer departments. Agencies and in-house teams need to embrace automation tools and flexible processes to move with deliberate speed, while clients need to expect slightly-longer lead times to activate longer engagement cycles with creators.

George Sharpe, co-founder at Favoured

At Favoured, we have 3 TikTok creators in-house who work all day on TikToks for our clients.

It's vital to implement your brand onto TikTok this year. TikTok is making it easier for brands to sell on the app, thanks to the recent launch of TikTok shopping. We commonly drive £5,000 per day in sales just by doing TikTok Lives for brands, without any other marketing activity.

There's a super-simple formula on using organic videos as spark ads to help reach new audiences: 'don’t create ads for TikTok; create TikToks and use them as ads'. Get content creators to make fantastic TikToks and then use those videos in your TikTok advertising campaigns.

Drew Townley, managing director at Kairos Media and chief growth officer at Kairos Group

There's a reason the phrase 'content creators' is used by anyone worth their salt in the space in 2022. Different creators have different audiences. Fashion content creators aren't going anywhere just because there are new options in the fine dining/home cooking world; these are completely different audiences. Brands need to understand who they're trying to hit (shock) and if it's a more educational or creative, potentially more mature community, there's more to choose from now than there was 5 years ago!

TikTok has been a massive factor in this growth and can take a lot of credit for forcing innovation in content creation and paving the way for the next generation of influencers. This doesn't mean glitz and glamour creators have gone anywhere, but it does mean there's more educational content on, say, investing in property or stocks (for better or worse) for brands to utilize.

Innovation and competition only leads to higher-quality content across platforms, so it's a great time to be accessing the influencer space.

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Content by The Drum Network member:

Led by experts with more than 100+ years of gaming and media industry knowledge, Kairos Group comprises multiple entities including Kairos Media, Kyma Media, Turopium Sports & Entertainment and Kairos Ventures.

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We are Favoured.

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Coegi is an independent digital agency providing services across digital strategy, media buying, paid social, search and influencer campaigns. We bring together people, platforms and tech partners to create custom marketing solutions focused on your business results.

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We’re the leading global social media marketing agency powered by influencers. We pride ourselves in bringing together data-led performance, real human relationships, expert creative strategy, authentic, engaging content and laser-sharp paid media targeting.

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Journey Further is a performance marketing agency based in Leeds, Manchester, London and New York.

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PMG is a global independent digital company that seeks to inspire people and brands that anything is possible. Driven by shared success, PMG uses strategy, creative, media, and insights, as well as its proprietary marketing intelligence platform Alli, to deliver Digital Made for Humans™. Our team is made up of over 500 employees globally, and our work for brands like Apple, Athleta, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Kohler, McDonald’s, Nike, Old Navy, Sephora and Shake Shack runs across 85+ countries and has received top industry recognition from Cannes Lions to Adweek Media Plan of the Year.Ranked by Deloitte, Inc., Entrepreneur, and Adweek as one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation, PMG has grown because of its commitment to continuous improvement, business integrity, cultivating dynamic relationships, and putting people first. Named 7X Ad Age's Best Places to Work, 3X Best Places for Working Parents, and among Fast Company's Best Workplaces for Innovators, PMG has also been named Adweek's Breakthrough Media Agency of the Year and MediaPost's Independent Agency of the Year.

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