Whether assembling in-house teams or hiring outside vendors, smart companies are pulling back from ego-driven Influencers in favor of true content from independent content creators.
This tactic often is not only less expensive, but — posting authentic content on your own website can create better outcomes.
Step back. When conventional TV failed to reach mass audiences in traditional numbers in the millions, marketers wondered how to get their numbers back in shape. Snap. Individuals with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media could fill that gap. The math was easy: ten Influencers with 100,000 followers brought you one million eyeballs.
Trouble is, that knee-jerk fix has raised uneasy doubts about authenticity and impact. Some professional social media personalities had gamed the system and bought “followers.” As the click numbers went soft, hard questions about efficacy popped up. While Influencers are professional social media personalities, their celebrity is the modern version of paid celebrity endorsements. In other words, borrowed interest, the flimsiest form of advocacy, influence or persuasion.
What to do?
Well, whatever happened to the solid professional writers, photographers, filmmakers and podcasters who have substantial audiences built around their shared passions?
Rather than Influencers, who are subject-matter experts in social media, true content creators are subject-matter experts in their field of passion — telling authentic stories via feature articles, films, photo essays, documentaries and other media.
Whereas influencers have channel-specific followers on TikTok, Instagram, Pinterest or other social media, creators have devoted audiences that follow their content across social and digital channels, from Instagram, YouTube and Netflix to National Geographic, NPR, BBC, The Atlantic and The New York Times.
Creator passions, likes, and affinities are the raw juice of authenticity. Their content is not branded. Influencers make their living through paid product placements and endorsements and, like the celebrity endorsements that came before them, there’s always the unspoken question.
Comparisons aside, true content is especially important for direct-to-consumer enterprise.
“Authentic content has proven its unique ability to increase awareness, drive new members and lower costs,” declares Scott Lugar, chief marketing officer at the 120-year-old AAA (American Automobile Association).
Faced with an aging audience, Lugar was looking for an innovative way to find new members. Rather than the obvious tactic of seeking out young Influencers, Lugar switched from traditional advertising to placing true content directly on his club website. Because readers are interested in the content, they stay longer and evolve a real relationship with the AAA community.
Explainer. Content creator J.R. Switchgrass and his partner Kit Whistler travel back and forth across the North American continent in “Sunshine” their egg yolk yellow 1976 VW microbus. “My personal goal is to travel every road in the country,” says Switchgrass. After studying documentary filmmaking, the twosome set out in their bus in 2011, the same year that Instagram started.
Their launch also intersected with the trend of nomadic adventuring.
“Van life has been something we have been intimately involved with,” says Switchgrass. “Being able to make comments that I actually believe in about this culture and ideas has been a wonderful symbiotic relationship.”
Switchgrass and Whistler have tens of thousands of people who follow their infinity loop across the country. “I document our life on the road,” says Switchgrass. “Kit adds the extra value to it.”
Whistler takes the unusual experience and synthesizes it into universal truths. “We share experiences of our life and illuminate human truths through that,” outlines Switchgrass. “General audiences like to enjoy a good story. Allowing that to be hosted by a brand, is a good win for everyone.”
“True content is a compelling promise for e-commerce brands,” adds Liz Dolinski, chief growth officer at sleepwear fashion brand Lunya. “We have been able to convert prospects at a higher ROI through a unique, content-first approach.”
True content even works for DTC brands pushing daily sales numbers.
“We drove a 31% higher return on ad spend,” reports one delighted DTC CEO. “We have increased our spend and continue to drive exceptional results.”
The understory here is that powerful creators can be more influential than influencers. They even can be more compelling than traditional advertising.
Liz Riden is a terrific example of the advantages of a content creator over Influencer. Based on the East Coast, Liz has her own line of leather goods, and also writes about startups and women-owned businesses. She is also a photographer, stylist, set designer, wardrobe person.
“I’m kind of a multi-hyphenate,” laughs Liz. As an entrepreneur herself, Riden’s relevancy is high. And as a creator, she offers unique benefits for both the brand and the consumer.
“The advantage to the company is that the product is something that has meaning for the content creator,” suggests Riden. “Whether that’s the company ethos, or a product that’s just phenomenal. Influencers can do that, but influencing is basically about selling the product. Content creators are more aspirational about selling the brand — and the ethos of what the brand is all about.”
True content by true creators connects with people who are seeking information relevant to their lives. When people discover stories about the things they are interested in, they dig in, stay longer and come back for more. That’s genuine connection and genuine influence.
Powerful brands don’t need influencers, they are influencers.