Should We Stop Using the Term Influencer?

One of the most popular buzz words to pop up in PR and marketing circles over the last several years is “influencer.” In one sense, the term’s popularity can be tied to the rise of social media, which led to PR pros having to “pitch” people who don’t fit into any neatly defined category like journalists or spokesperson.

The term has been completely immersed in the PR community, and we’ve used it many a time as well. Large agencies have even developed product offerings around it, like Ogilvy PR’s “scalable Influencer Relationship Management (IRM) influencer activation platform.”

Also, there is an entire category of “social targeting” and other similar advertising technology companies attempting to crack the influence code, albeit from the advertising perspective as opposed to communications.

However, some are expressing doubt in the “influencer” term.

“Maybe there is no such thing as an influencer,” asks Jeff Jarvis, former creator and founding editor of Entertainment Weekly, turned media consultant and teacher.

He continues:

…if it’s the message that is, indeed, the key to influence then there’s really no way to predict and thus measure and replicate its power; messages spread on merit. That is a frightening idea for marketers because the viral influencer in social media – pick your buzzword – is their messiah for the digital age, the key to escaping the cost and inefficiency of mass media (and the cost and apparent tedium of real relationships with us as individuals). If you can’t bottle influence, you can’t sell it.

Now it’s true, of course, that the most magnificent message ever won’t spread if no one hears it, if a person with zero followers on Twitter says it. (Tree, forrest, etc.) But a banal message in Miss [Kim] Kardashian’s Twitter feed – I know, it’d never happen – will go thud and die no matter how many people she speaks to if no one cares about it.

Jarvis makes a bit of a contradiction here, saying, “But if it’s the message that is, indeed, the key to influence then there’s really no way to predict and thus measure and replicate its power,” while at the same time stating earlier in his post that he’s invested in 33Across, an ad technology company which tries to do exactly that: measure influence on social graphs and then serve ads to people who are connected, or influenced by one another.

We don’t think influencer is going away anytime soon. However, like any other overly-used term – take “hipster” for example – it means so many different things to different people that it almost doesn’t mean anything anymore.

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Publish date: April 2, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT