Creators vs. influencers

Interchangeable? Not in our house

Hi, everyone! Not to get too into self-promotion (she says as she writes a newsletter literally called Smoothletter), but we’re doing something super exciting next week: hosting an event for creators in LA. Watching our team’s incomparable attention to detail in planning this event has inspired me to ask them on no fewer than three occasions if they’d plan my wedding. So…

The event: We’re teaming up with Notion to host a stellar event (on 10/25) all about running your creator business like a startup—useful insight and fun conversations for creators and operators alike. RSVP here.

—Kinsey, cofounder and head of editorial

Creators vs. Influencers: Who You Got?

Just kidding. It’s not a competition…unless…?

It’s currently New York Tech Week (sorry, #NYtechweek), and we’ve popped into a couple panels about building and selling apps, creating product-market fit, and mobilizing teams to think in decades instead of days. That last one is what I’d like to talk about today.

In the creator industry, there’s a tendency for operators who support creatives to think in decades while the creatives themselves think in days—or more specifically, videos and posts and deliverables. With the day-to-day responsibility of content creation, creatives are often left with little means, motive, or opportunity to think for the longer-term. That establishes something of a misalignment, or at least a diversion of focus, between creatives and operators.

Earlier this week, a conversation about doing just that got our team talking about the difference between a creator and an influencer. To anyone outside this industry/all of our parents, they’re the same. But to us, they represent vastly different long-term paths and long-term versions of success.

And that matters. Because a creative optimizing for the long-term needs to know where they fall on the spectrum of influencer ←→ creator in order to make the most informed decisions about opportunities, teams, and ambitions.

So here’s how we differentiate between the two:

Influencers are creatives whose biggest asset is the trust of their audience.

  • They’ve built parasocial relationships with their consumers by offering inside looks at their lives. Their content isn’t hyper-specific but rather encompasses a whole world (the influencer’s).

  • The endgame: to become a celebrity. Their currency is reach, and earning billing as a household name is the key to unlocking long-term staying power. Consider Alix Earle, who has begun to build an enviable influencer empire by sharing intimate details about her acne, boyfriends, clothes…her life.

Creators are creatives whose biggest asset is their expertise.

  • They’ve zeroed in on a niche by establishing community in addition to reputation. They focus on an industry, hobby, idea, or pursuit that defines their content and subsequently their TAM.

  • The endgame: to become a business. Their superpower is specificity, and they can benefit from inch wide/mile deep brand-building to disrupt existing media power structures. They speak the language their audience speaks, which is a wide moat. These are often the types of creatives we work with, like Colin & Samir, Miss Excel, etc.

These two are different, but: One is not better than the other, and some creators are both—we think Emma Chamberlain falls into that category. Her lifestyle videos earned her acclaim, but her focus on mental health and wellness earned her expertise.

Understanding which you are or which you serve—influencer or creator—helps anyone in our space to 1) make better decisions 2) work with the right people and 3) set the right expectations. And while this might seem like splitting hairs over semantics, we feel strongly that vocabulary is a useful tool for pushing the industry forward.

So which category do you fall into?

#digibuzzcodevoxious is a term we coined back in our Morning Brew days—a portmanteau of Digiday, BuzzFeed, Recode, Vox, and Axios. Obviously, the year was 2018 and the interest rates were zero. But still, the sentiment of “interesting media trends and news” remains. So the name stays.

Last week, the Smooth team got together for SQIRL (or Smooth Quarterly IRL, our quarterly off-site/on-site/excuse to get together in-person to make fun of Head of Partnerships and Very Competent Business Person Colin Richardson for loving cow’s milk).

As part of our Smooth programming last week, we had a heated game night that ended in defeat for my team, the Rothenbergers.

Our punishment for losing: We must watch Cats (2019) and deliver a thoughtful review of the film to be published here in Smoothletter. So keep an eye on your inbox for the best Smoothletter yet, and in the meantime please enjoy this photo of the team doing cute team things (going to lunch). ❣️

Thanks for reading! Please send any critical thoughts about Cats. We’ll see you next week!