Digital creators vs. influencers: Which performs better for your brand?

January 19, 2021

Two YouTubers. Both have around 1 million followers. Both have millions and millions of views. But one's a digital creator, and the other's an influencer. What's the difference? Well, one could have a significantly bigger impact on your marketing than the other...

Not many people understand the difference between digital creators and influencers, and just presume someone with a fan base on YouTube or Instagram or Twitter will make them millions of dollars. This isn't necessarily the case. Here's everything you wanted to know about digital creators and influencers but were too afraid to ask.

What's an influencer?

You might think that everyone on social media with millions of followers is automatically an influencer. But they're not.

Generally speaking, an influencer is someone who influences their followers in some way. It's the beauty guru who poses with a new lipstick (sponsored, of course.) Or the fitness freak who shamelessly promotes his new gym gear.

Influencers influence. Influencers convince someone to follow a brand, buy a product, or make some kind of purchasing decision. Influencers influence because of their fame or notoriety.

Influencer Marketing Hub has this definition:

An influencer is someone who has:

  • The power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience.
  • A following in a distinct niche, with whom he or she actively engages. The size of the following depends on the size of his/her topic of the niche.

So, what's a digital creator, then?

A digital creator, on the other hand, is someone who creates content for digital properties, such as YouTube or Instagram. Creators consider creating content to be their career. It's their job to create content, not to influence... See the difference?

Here's another definition:

"A creator is someone who is responsible for the contribution of information to any media and most especially to digital media. They usually target a specific end-user / audience in specific contexts."

Sure, creators can still influence people, and influencers still create content. However, the difference is in the intention. An influencer's job is to influence; a creator creates.

"An influencer might be the teenager who blows up on Instagram for viral makeup tutorials and starts selling beauty products via sponsored posts. Or the stay-at-home mom turned fashion vlogger who uses her following on YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest to shill her custom-clothing line," notes The Atlantic.

A creator is different. It's the specialist with years of experience who uploads videos about a niche topic. It's the person who reviews their favorite products. It's someone who tells stories.

Why does any of this matter?

Working with a creator and working with an influencer will produce very different marketing results. Influencers will influence how their followers dress, what makeup they should wear, or what products to buy. Creators, on the other hand, create content that gets people engaged — how-to guides, a-day-in-the-life, tips, tutorials, etc.

"You may not see [creators] on the steps of the Met Gala or with their own MTV reality shows," says AspireIQ. "They may not sell merch with their faces on it, and people may not follow them solely for their charming personalities. However, content creators can have a large following,"

Creators can be just as effective as influencers. Marketers work with creators to sponsor and monetize videos and move prospects through their funnels.

An example? When Felix 'PewDiePie' Kjellberg, one of YouTube's biggest stars, was sponsored by the energy drink company GFUEL.

What's the problem with influencers?

Most marketers instantly default to influencers and work on customized content that targets their followers. The problem is, millennials are becoming increasingly wary of influencers — 52 percent of them don't trust influencers at all. There's an ever-increasing perception that some influencers just crave the money that comes from having a sizeable social media following, and they don't even use the products they endorse.

There are legal issues, too. Only 11 percent of influencers are actually fully compliant with FTC advertising guidelines. It seems, then, that the lines between influencer content and ads are still blurred.

Using content discovery and social monitoring platform CrowdTangle, we analyzed 196,000 Instagram videos tagged #sponsored or #ad over 3 months. Surprisingly, only 39 percent of videos overperformed or performed as expected.

Over on YouTube, the results are similar. Only 35 percent of users watch pre-roll ads — they skip them to watch the actual content from digital creators. This means nearly one in three users won't sit through a random brand advertisement on the platform.

This is not to say that influencing marketing is dead. Quite the opposite, in fact. Research shows that the influencer marketing sector will grow to around $9.7 billion this year, with more than 380 new influencer marketing-focused platforms and agencies being established in 2019. Moreover, the average earned media value per $1 spent on influencer marketing has increased to $5.78.

"Influencer marketing is still a highly popular and effective form of marketing," says Influencer Marketing Hub. "Although the media may at times run reports from naysayers criticizing the industry, those who actively participate can clearly see the effectiveness of influencer marketing."

But all of this doesn't mean that brands should just rely on influencers to fuel their marketing campaigns. Digital creators should be used alongside influencers for explosive results.

Curastory makes video simple. We allow video creators to shoot, edit, and monetize their videos for free and with our brand partners. It works like this: Before sponsorsing, brands verify video matches through video topic tags and micro-community demographics, and on the other side, video creators record their own ad segments.

The result? Deeper engagement with prospective customers for brands and better monetization without just relying on platform ads for creators. Happiness all around.

The bottom line

There's no either / or. Influencer marketing still proves lucrative for many brands who want to increase awareness and promote products and services, but creators can be just as effective when it comes to marketing. Using a combination of both can be great for a diverse marketing funnel. In this game, there's room for everyone.

Want to sponsor video content from digital creators? Click here to learn more about Curastory.

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