Influencers vs Creators: What‘s the Difference & Which Should You Invest In?

In the world of digital marketing, influencers and content creators have become essential for brands looking to connect with online audiences. But while these terms are often used interchangeably, they actually fulfill quite different roles.

As we head into 2024, understanding the distinct value that influencers and creators provide is crucial for optimizing your marketing budget and strategy. In this guide, we‘ll clarify the key differences between influencers and creators, and provide a clear framework for deciding when and how to leverage each in your campaigns.

Defining Influencers and Content Creators

Let‘s start with some definitions. An influencer is an individual who has built a substantial following on social media and can sway the opinions and behaviors of their audience. They establish credibility by sharing content related to a particular niche, such as beauty, fitness, or technology, and their endorsements or recommendations carry weight with their followers.

Kylie Jenner is a prime example of an influencer. With over 370 million Instagram followers, a single post from Kylie showcasing a product can drive massive sales and brand awareness. Her influence is so strong that when she tweeted negatively about Snapchat in 2018, the company‘s stock dropped 6% within a day, wiping out $1.3 billion in market value.

On the other hand, a content creator is someone who produces entertaining, educational, or inspiring content for digital platforms. This could include blog posts, videos, podcasts, graphics, or social media posts. While content creators may have substantial followings, their primary focus is on crafting high-quality content rather than promoting products.

Peter McKinnon is a great example of a content creator. His YouTube channel, which provides photography and videography tips, has over 5.7 million subscribers. While he occasionally partners with brands, his main focus is providing valuable educational content to his audience.

So in essence, influencers are paid to influence, while content creators are paid to create. All influencers can be considered content creators since they have to produce content to maintain their influence. But not all content creators are influencers – many are focused on their craft rather than wielding influence.

The Rise of Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing has seen explosive growth over the past decade. According to a Mediakix report, the global influencer market was valued at $16.4 billion in 2022 and is projected to reach $84.89 billion by 2028.

Influencer marketing industry growth
Image Source: Mediakix

There are several reasons for this growth:

  1. Changing consumer preferences: Traditional advertising is losing its impact, especially among younger generations. Millennials and Gen Z crave authenticity and are more likely to trust recommendations from individuals they follow and admire.

  2. Targeted reach: Influencers have highly engaged audiences within specific niches. Brands can partner with influencers to get in front of the exact demographics they want to target. For example, a fitness brand wanting to reach women interested in yoga and wellness could partner with an influencer like Adriene Mishler, host of the mega-popular Yoga with Adriene YouTube channel.

  3. Strong ROI: When executed well, influencer campaigns can drive impressive returns. A 2019 survey by Mediakix found that 89% of marketers say ROI from influencer marketing is comparable to or better than other marketing channels.

  4. Versatility: Influencer partnerships can take many creative forms – from sponsored posts and product reviews to event appearances and long-term ambassadorships. This allows brands to integrate influencers into their marketing in authentic and varied ways.

When to Invest in Influencers

While most brands can benefit from influencer partnerships, there are some key scenarios where they can be particularly effective:

1. Reaching Gen Z and Millennials

Younger consumers are notoriously difficult to engage with traditional ads. A 2022 study by Sprout Social found that only 9% of Gen Z and Millennials believe brands are being authentic on social media.

Partnering with influencers is an effective way to break through this skepticism. These generations are the biggest consumers of influencer content, with 40% of Millennials and 37% of Gen Z saying they discover products through influencers.

For brands like SugarBearHair, a line of hair vitamins, influencer marketing has been key to reaching young, style-conscious consumers. The brand has partnered with a range of Gen Z and Millennial influencers – from Kylie Jenner to Tess Brooks – and credits much of its success to these collaborations.

2. Cost-effective Promotion with Micro-influencers

Mega-influencers with millions of followers can drive extensive reach, but they also come with hefty price tags. For brands with limited budgets, partnering with micro-influencers can be a more cost-effective approach.

Micro-influencers are generally defined as having between 10,000-100,000 followers. While their reach is smaller, they tend to have higher engagement rates and more close-knit communities. Their followers view them as more relatable and trustworthy.

A 2022 study by Hype Auditor found that micro-influencers have an average engagement rate of over 3% compared to around 1.2% for mega-influencers. Nearly 80% of micro-influencers operate in a specific niche, allowing for highly targeted partnerships.

Micro-influencers also tend to have lower sponsorship rates, making them more accessible for small businesses or tight budgets. Don‘t underestimate the collective impact of multiple micro-influencer partnerships – they can actually drive stronger results than one expensive mega-influencer.

3. Entering New Social Platforms

New social platforms are constantly emerging and capturing different audience segments. TikTok has boomed with Gen Z, while Twitch is a hub for gaming and live-stream enthusiasts. Establishing a presence on these platforms through traditional methods can be challenging.

Partnering with influencers who have already built followings on these platforms is an effective shortcut. They can introduce your brand to their audience in an organic way and help you gain traction.

The Washington Post, for instance, has successfully built a strong Gen Z following on TikTok by partnering with journalists and creators to produce comedic, behind-the-scenes content. This strategy has earned the media company over 1.5 million followers and helped it reach new, younger readers.

When to Leverage Content Creators

Content creators serve a different but equally important role in your marketing mix. Here‘s when you should consider collaborating with or hiring content creators:

1. Scaling High-Quality Content Production

Consistently producing fresh, high-quality content is crucial for building brand awareness, engaging your audience, and driving SEO. But many marketing teams lack the bandwidth or skills to create certain assets in-house.

Outsourcing content creation to skilled freelancers or agencies can help you scale your content efforts while maintaining quality. Whether you need blog posts, videos, podcasts, or graphics, there‘s a creator who specializes in your desired format and topic.

Fractl, a content marketing agency, has helped brands like Budweiser and Fannie Mae boost their online visibility through data-driven content campaigns. By leveraging a network of skilled creators, Fractl develops unique, newsworthy content that earns press mentions, backlinks, and social shares for its clients.

2. Crafting Authentic Brand Stories

In the age of the empowered consumer, brand storytelling is more critical than ever. Customers want to understand your brand‘s unique values, personality, and mission – not just your products.

Partnering with content creators to develop blog posts, social content, videos, and other narrative assets can help bring your brand story to life in a relatable way. Creator-led storytelling feels less like marketing and more like a trusted friend sharing their experience.

Take Airbnb‘s collaborations with travel bloggers and photographers. By inviting these creators to stay in unique Airbnb properties around the world and document their experiences, the company showcases the diversity and authenticity of its community. These stories are far more compelling than generic ad copy.

3. Supporting Your Content Marketing Funnel

Strategic content marketing involves creating valuable content to attract, engage, convert, and retain your target audience. Skilled content creators can help you produce assets for each stage of the funnel.

Top-of-funnel content like blog posts, infographics, and videos educate and build trust. Middle-of-funnel assets like case studies and product comparisons nurture leads. Bottom-of-funnel content like testimonials and demos drive conversions.

Hims, a tele-health company, does this well with its partner-produced blog content. The brand works with medical experts to create educational articles on health topics relevant to its target audience, like hair loss and ED. This top-funnel content attracts organic traffic and establishes the brand as a trusted resource, priming readers to consider Hims products.

Combining Influencers and Content Creators for Maximum Impact

While influencers and content creators fulfill distinct roles, they are not mutually exclusive. Many top influencers are also highly skilled content creators, and vice versa.

Brands can amplify their marketing efforts by taking a dual approach:

  1. Partnering with influencers to expand reach and borrow trust
  2. Collaborating with content creators to develop high-quality, on-brand assets

Together, these efforts can supercharge your content marketing, delivering both broad impact and long-term value.

Sportswear brand Gymshark is an excellent example of this tandem approach. The company regularly partners with fitness influencers to create sponsored content and drive sales. At the same time, it produces a wealth of high-value fitness content in-house and via collaborations with trainers and athletes. This combination has helped Gymshark build a dedicated community of over 5 million Instagram followers and £900+ million in annual revenue.

Influencer and Content Creator Marketing Best Practices

To get the most out of your influencer and creator partnerships, follow these proven best practices:

  1. Prioritize authenticity over reach. Choose partners whose values, aesthetic, and voice align with your brand, even if they have smaller followings. Genuine fit is key.

  2. Think long-term. One-off sponsored posts can drive a quick boost, but ongoing creator partnerships build deeper trust and loyalty over time.

  3. Set clear expectations. Provide a detailed brief outlining your goals, content guidelines, approval process, and success metrics. But avoid being overly restrictive – let creators‘ unique voices shine.

  4. Amplify creators‘ content. Don‘t just rely on the influencer or creator‘s audience. Promote the content they create across your own channels to maximize reach.

  5. Track and learn. Use UTM parameters and tracking pixels to measure the impact of your creator partnerships. Double down on what works and iterate on what doesn‘t.

The Future of Influencer and Creator Marketing

As we move into 2024 and beyond, the influencer and creator economy will continue to evolve. Staying ahead of key trends will be crucial for brands looking to leverage these partnerships. Some key areas to watch:

  • Mainstream adoption of CGI influencers like Hatsune Miku and RacholoWoho. These digital characters offer brands more creative control and less risk than human partners.
  • Continued growth of video, especially short-form. With the rise of TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts, short videos will be essential for capturing attention. Brands will need to lean into this trend in their creator partnerships.
  • Expansion of social commerce. As platforms roll out new shopping features, influencers and creators will play an increasingly important role in driving sales. Get ready for more "swipe up to shop" calls-to-action.
  • The mainstreaming of CGI influencers like Miquela, a virtual personality with millions of Instagram followers and brand deals with Prada. These digital characters enable new levels of brand control and creative freedom.
  • The normalization of performance-based compensation. More brands will shift towards paying influencers and creators based on metrics like conversions and sales rather than flat fees.

As younger, digital-native generations gain purchasing power, influencers and content creators will only become more essential to your marketing mix. Investing in creator partnerships now can cement your brand‘s position with these audiences for the long-term.

The key is understanding the unique strengths of influencers and content creators and leveraging each strategically. Influencers are your megaphone, content creators are your storytellers. Together, they are a powerful force for building awareness, trust, and revenue.

As the creator economy continues to grow and evolve, stay on the pulse of emerging trends and be ready to adapt your approach. The brands that find authentic, innovative ways to collaborate with influencers and content creators will be the ones that thrive in the new era of digital marketing.