Seemingly parading their freedom and claiming work as the purpose for their trips, influencers received widespread condemnation on social media – so much so, that the conversation reached national daytime television.

The proliferation of inauthentic sponsored content and arguably selfish behaviour gives many creators a bad name. We know consumers are aware of this, but there are still a number of myths the industry must dispel.

Influencer or creator?

There is an important distinction to be made between influencers and content creators. The social media creators who bring the most value to brand partnerships and campaigns are creative directors in their own right. They collaborate with marketers, but interpret content briefs as their own in an artistic, contextualised and compliant way.

Brands have been quick to overlook the use of creators in their campaigns because of negative perceptions towards the ‘traditional’ influencer. But working with skilled creators can be a highly valuable experience for brands, building awareness among relevant audiences, driving high levels of consumer engagement and ultimately generating ROI.

These are the people brands and marketers should be working with. We call them creators. This terminology may seem like a minor shift, but it’s an important one, and we’re witnessing the emergence of a widening gulf between the two.

Creator viewpoint

Creators themselves are hungry for this distinction to be understood by brands and consumers alike. Experiencing the other side of the brand-creator relationship, OTB Tom recognises that creators can be seen as artists or performers. Influencers on the other hand are ‘showcasers’. Tom says “the influencer is like an art gallery, not the artist who creates the art.”

Tom argues that there is a difference in the amount of content influencers are able to produce compared to creators: “I think an influencer can churn out a far higher volume of content than a creator”. While posed product placement shots may take anywhere from 30 minutes to half a day to capture, as a creator Tom can spend much longer to brainstorm, develop and execute his content.

“Sometimes, as a creator, I can spend an entire week editing a comedy sketch or a stop-motion video”. OTB Tom

He also recognises the accountability which comes with his job and wants to see traditional influencers step up in 2021, stating: “There’s a responsibility which comes with influence. I’d like to see influencers step up to that bar more! I don’t claim to be an influencer, but am constantly aware that my actions online will potentially influence my fans to do things”.

Tom agrees that consumers are becoming savvier to inauthentic brand-influencer partnerships and believes marketers will turn their attention to creators to promote their products and services. Their ability to create entertaining and creative posts that are native to their feeds promise longevity in the industry.

Arguably, the swipe generation has become more and more blind to stock images of influencers holding products and are more likely to engage with content that’s been carefully and creatively directed with the consumer in mind. This has become increasingly important over the last year, with many of us stuck at home, seeking entertainment from wherever we can obtain it.

Working with the right talent across the right platforms

The industry must remember that content which works is valuable not only to the brand or creator behind it, but also to the audience consuming it. During the pandemic, we’ve learnt that the content creators who have been most successful are those who demonstrate compassion and understanding, and share content responsibly. Despite the vaccine rollout, we remain in unprecedented times, and any content deemed out-of-touch could lead to a backlash.

The most successful social media creators of the last year have brought us all joy on TikTok when spirits were low, kicked off mental health discussions on Instagram, and educated through longer form YouTube content.

Despite restrictions easing, audiences continue to crave reassuring content that helps to tackle the isolation, boredom and anxiety brought about by lockdown. Consistently, creators who share an honest window into their own lives receive the most positive engagements compared to those posting aspirational content. More than ever, social media content needs to be a source of entertainment, creativity and positivity.

Brands will need to respond to this switch in consumer mindset and ensure they are promoting the values and ethical stances of the creators they wish to work with to ensure an authentic partnership.

The future of influence

It’s easy to forget just how much the industry has changed in the last few years. Back in 2018, TikTok was only just starting to establish its roots as a challenger platform. Since then, it became the world’s most downloaded app in 2020 and has acted as a breeding ground for thousands of cultural hooks – the sea shanty trend being a perfect example. Nathan Evans, who kicked off the trend last year now has a number one chart single, and renowned journalist Sophia Smith Galer recently used a sea shanty to explain how the Evergreen ship blocked the Suez Canal. It reached two million views in a day and generated engagement from long-time YouTuber Casey Neistat.

The use of short-form video has massively accelerated since the start of the pandemic and will continue to be used by brands and influencers alike to capture consumer attention. Platforms such as TikTok have democratised the ‘influencer’ space, and only the most unique and culturally aware creators will succeed in standing out.

Alongside the spread of short-form video content, the gulf between influencers and creators will continue to grow. This could see the balance of power shift more in favour of influencers who produce authentic content focused on niche interests – the foundation TAKUMI was built on.

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