Earlier this week I had the honor and privilege of being on the panel at the first annual “The Influencer Series” in Kansas City. It was an event specifically for influencers in the area to gather, connect and have genuine, unscripted conversations about our journeys to get where we are today. It also sparked a really important topic of conversation and I left pondering the question, “what does it mean to be an influencer?”
What Does It Mean To Be An Influencer?
First, I thought I’d define the word influencer.
“An influencer is an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his/her audience. An individual who has a following in a particular niche, which they actively engage with.” – Influencer Marketing Hub
I don’t love the fact that the definition mainly refers to a person’s ability to impact what people buy, vs. what they believe and value. Those are things I strive to impact with my platform, in addition to sharing brands and products that I love.
why i don’t like the word influencer
During my time on the panel I admitted to the audience that I dislike the term influencer. No offense at all to the host of the event, “The Influencer Series“. That is what people in the industry are called these days, so that title makes sense.
However, I don’t like to be referred to as an influencer, simply because I feel that it has gotten a negative connotation over the years. Instagram has blown up and sponsored posts are much more prevalent now, so most people have a bad taste in their mouth when they hear the word. When someone calls me an influencer it makes me feel slimy. Although I’m not sharing Flat Tummy Tea or anything… but still.
Yes, I participate in sponsored posts and I do make money from some of the things that I share, but it’s not the main reason I show up every day. And, for the record, I only share things that I love and believe my followers will love, too.
how can we change people’s perception of the word “influencer”?
After the panel was over, someone in the audience (who actually works in influencer marketing) challenged those of us who said we dislike the word influencer. She encouraged us to embrace and OWN the term instead, as well as try to change people’s perception of it for the better.
From her eyes, being an influencer is an awesome, positive thing. She talked about what an honor it is to be in this role where you do have the opportunity to influence others — it just depends on how you choose to use your influence. I completely agree.
Because she is in the industry, she recognizes how hard we all work behind the scenes to do what we do, which everyone in the room genuinely appreciated. We all know that from the outside looking in, this world looks easy, glamorous and like it’s rainbows, butterflies and free stuff all the time.
However, I can assure you, it’s a lot more than that. It can be very trying at times. You don’t see the fact that most people are still working full-time jobs, juggling kids and families, pulling late nights and early mornings to create content that hopefully benefits you in some way. Not to mention the inevitable comparison trap.
Anyway, she believed that more people think positively of the term “influencer” than negatively.
what do people think when they hear the word “influencer”?
So, I went straight to my followers to gauge their thoughts. Getting direct feedback from you all is one of the most valuable things I can do. I appreciate your transparency and honesty with some of these responses. Sadly, I was right; there were more negative feelings towards the word “influencer” than positive. I’m sharing the responses I got below, in case you’re also curious to know what others think.
Negative Thoughts About The Term “Influencer”
- Someone who is pretty/skinny/lucky enough to have people care about what they are doing.
- Taking pretty pictures and being cute (to me) doesn’t earn anyone the right to influence. But if there is a message or platform that the person is sharing clearly, then it fits.
- “Hey guys!”
- People from the Bachelor or Bachelorette.
- I used to think it was a person who had a positive outlook or helped people in some type of way. Now I think of someone who is trying to sell/market things.
- Sellout. Promoter of everything and anything. It’s negative or a joke word in my opinion.
- I HATE the word! I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m “influencing” them.
- Swipe up, ads, “the Instagram algorithm sucks so go like my last 800 posts”.
- People who get free stuff sent to them and I’m jealous.
- I think if someone has to call themselves an influencer, they’re not an influencer! I like when influencers are raw and real too! If they’re just selling things, I’m not a fan.
- Shallow, inauthentic. Self-absorbed.
- I hate this word! Everyone technically is an influencer if you think about it.
- That job must be stressful because you always have to appear perfect.
- Somewhat annoyed by the word. Everyone wants to be one. Millenials. Fake.
- It’s getting to be negative. I think it depends on who you follow.
- Influencers to me are the people promoting laxative shakes and hunger candy.
- Makes me cringe.
- “Buy this! Buy that!”
- They make me feel left out because they get invited to cool things and the rest of us don’t.
- People bragging about the things they can buy and how many followers/likes they have.
- I often want to unfollow influencers because it makes me feel less than good enough and that I don’t have the money to do/buy whatever.
- Lots of money, lots of followers, and doesn’t care or notice my comment.
- I feel silly saying I saw it from an “influencer” so I usually say “blogger” instead.
- Superficial. Tries too hard. Materialistic.
Now maybe people can understand why I have a hard time “owning” the term influencer. However, I was relieved to hear that many of the people with negative responses mentioned that those were not things that I do with my platform, otherwise they wouldn’t be following me. So I appreciated that reassurance!
Positive Thoughts About The Term “Influencer”
- I think positive! I am being authentically influenced to try a new product or a new lifestyle.
- Someone who shares great ideas and finds! I like the word!
- Mostly positive! I think it has to do with who you follow as to what your perception is.
- I think it’s so cool that people are able to make a living from IG.
- Positive! You stepped out and did something brave!
- Someone who has devoted their time and lifestyle to try and help others better theirs.
- USED to have a negative connotation, now I have a positive one.
- I work at an agency, so influencer is considered “new marketing” – not a bad thing!
- Positive – I think of my fav accounts that I follow, like you! <3
- Positive: it is someone who has become well known and influences style, eating habits, etc.
- Someone who spreads the word for the greater good.
- Can be good and bad. Good if the influencer has your best interest in mind.
- I think of it as a good thing! Your account influences healthy eating habits/lifestyle.
- Girls who make me feel like my life/house/wardrobe is messy, but also inspire me to do better. I don’t feel the pressure of needing to be perfect on your account unlike others. <3 <3
Neutral Thoughts About The Term “Influencer”
- Someone with power to impact others’ decisions. Often get paid to promote brands.
- Influencing you to think, do or buy something. Hence, only following the ones you trust.
- Both positive and negative, depending on the person and what they are “influencing”.
- Has a large following that can “influence”.
- Getting paid to sell. Products, lifestyle, etc. Product tester.
- Someone who gets paid to post things online or who has a decent following.
- Someone who is a walking advertisement.
- It’s a pretty literal description of what popular people on Instagram are.
- I think of it like any other job: banker, teacher, influencer, nurse…
- Anyone who has the ability to change or redirect someone’s mindset. Good or bad.
- We can all have influence no matter who you are or how many followers. Influence doesn’t always have to be on social media. Often the most influential aren’t.
- Everyone has influence, but everyone’s reach varies. It’s also what you choose to do with it.
how can current influencers be the change?
With all of that being said, how can current “influencers” make a change in the industry? How can we show people how much hard work we put in, how much we actually care about our audience AND the things we share on our platforms? How can we encourage everyone to start posting with passion and purpose, not just the intent to sell or get more followers?
What would be a better word to use in place of “influencers” for the individuals you follow on social media and genuinely trust, admire and respect? And whose content you absolutely love to follow? Motivators? Change agents? Leaders?
During my time on the panel, I had a chance to give some of my advice for people who do want to join the “influencer” space and/or grow their following/business/whatever their goal is.
My Advice For New or Aspiring Influencers:
- First and foremost, stay true to yourself. If you’re not being authentic, it will show.
- Only promote products/brands that you really love and believe in. It’s okay to turn down offers. In fact, saying no is a good thing. Be choosy about who you work with to maintain your brand’s integrity. This is hard in the beginning because it’s exciting and new and you will want to accept everything, but trust me! It will pay off to show your followers they can trust you.
- Provide VALUE to your audience. I can’t stress this one enough. What problem are you solving for your followers or what need are you fulfilling? If you’re not providing value in some way and only trying to make a buck, people won’t stick around. Even if it’s just entertainment or humor that you’re providing, that counts, too!
- Make genuine connections. Whether that is with your followers or your peers, connect with people. Be a real human. Respond to comments/DMs. That’s what this is all about.
- Follow others in your niche and/or other areas of interest. Engage with their posts by liking and commenting – that is, IF it feels authentic and you actually like their stuff. (Genuine engagement; not comments like, “check out my page!” That’s a good way to get people to NOT go to your page… unless it was somehow relevant to their post.) Make friends by responding to stories and having real conversations. DMs are one of the best ways to interact.
- This might be an unpopular opinion, but avoid loop giveaways. This is where your followers have to follow 20+ people to enter, you have to buy in and you don’t know half of the other influencers participating. It’s not a good way to get real, engaged followers and it looks spammy, in my opinion. If anything, partner up with a few people you actually know and love and whose message/content aligns with yours for a giveaway, or a shout out. Even if it’s a smaller prize, you’ll likely get a bigger return, and you won’t turn off your current, loyal followers.
- Most experts like Julie Solomon and Jenna Kutcher recommend not participating in engagement pods. I tried a few in the past, but never found them to be beneficial in terms of engagement, and they caused me more stress than anything just trying to keep up with everyone.
- As cliche as it is, HAVE FUN with it! There can definitely be a lot of pressure in this space to be consistently posting and delivering quality content, to be perfect all the time, to say all the right things, etc. But that’s not reality. No one is perfect and we all screw up sometimes. People may twist your words around or misunderstand what you are about, or just straight up dislike you. But if you ever get to a point where you are no longer having fun, I would urge you to take a step back, reassess what you’re doing and what your goals are and adjust your strategy accordingly.
always Remember Your “Why”
Back when I started my blog, I had no idea what it could potentially become. (Because blogging & Instagram were barely a thing back then.) I certainly didn’t expect it to become a business or a “side hustle”. With that said, I never want to lose sight of why I started doing this in the first place, or get a big head, no matter how many followers I have in the future.
When I created Wellness For The Win in 2015, I thought of it as a creative outlet. A passion project. Something that would bring me joy and distract me from real life responsibilities. I figured it would be a fun place to share recipes and inspire others to live a healthy lifestyle through food and fitness.
I quickly learned that it was a great way to connect with like-minded people and make a lasting impact in people’s lives. As silly as it might sound, I feel like it’s my duty to show up for all of you. As much as I enjoy spending time unplugged and taking breaks from social media, I feel like my blog and Instagram account also give me purpose in a way. That’s not to say I don’t have days where the stress is high and the comparison is real and I consider quitting social media all together.
Over the past four years, Wellness For The Win has become about much more than just food and fitness. I am grateful for the shift that has occurred both in my life and my blog during that time. For more on that, click here or here to read more about my intuitive eating journey.
a big thanks to @heatherlaneevents
I want to give a big shout out to @heatherlaneevents for bringing us all together for this incredible event. I think it was such an awesome reminder that we truly are all in this together, and that we should be lifting each other up — not competing. This community is about so much more than the number of followers by your name.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, we are all unique and have something special to offer the world, both on and off of social media. Strive to be a light in a space where there is clearly a lot of hate, negativity and comparison going on.
Let your page be a safe place where people can come to get inspired, styled, motivated or entertained. Show how much fun it can be to be an influencer, but don’t forget to show people that you have hard times and struggles, too. There are too many people out there making their lives look perfect 24/7; we don’t need more of that.
There is enough room for all of us in this weird little social media world to create, inspire and influence, hopefully in a positive way. Thank you Heather, for starting this important conversation. I’d love to hear all of YOUR thoughts on this topic. Please drop a comment below or shoot me a DM on Instagram. I always enjoy hearing from you! Thank you so much for reading.
“Supporting women will ALWAYS be on trend.”-Heather Coday of @heatherlaneevents