A few months ago, I wrote about understanding the real meaning behind particular marketing buzzwords. I recently watched the HBO documentary, Fake Famous, which was based on an experiment in creating social media influencers. The film highlighted the controversy around influencers and what makes a real influencer vs. just a person with fabricated influence. Which brought to mind the question, what’s the difference between a celebrity, an influencer, and an expert?
A celebrity endorsement helps build awareness
While the definition of celebrity is a bit of the crux of the documentary, in this context I’m using it as anyone who is famous for having a particular skill or expertise – whether they are a musician, politician, actor, activist, athlete, or anything in between. A celebrity promoting a product or service brings a recognizable face to a product (or service). Oftentimes, the celebrity and product are related, e.g., an athlete and a sneaker brand. Other times, the celebrity has nothing to do with the brand – they are used to grow brand awareness since they are famous and, thus, an influencer.
The right social media influencers can help you go viral or at least reach a specific audience
Traditional celebrities are one type of influencer, but some every day people have become influencers. So what differentiates an influencer from a celebrity? An influencer is anyone who has a “large” following regardless of skill or expertise. Although, I suppose the ability to create an enviable life via social media posts is a skill.
Within the influencer world, there are macro-, micro-, and nano-influencers. These terms are simply describing the number of followers that person has. More is not always better – sometimes nano-influencers will have a more targeted following or more influence amongst their followers than a macro-influencer. They may even be subject matter experts.
However, this is where the gray area begins when people believe all influencers are also experts.
Subject matter experts bring credibility – especially to more complex businesses
Experts can come in all forms – someone with lived experience or someone with educational or professional experience. There is no set of credentials that make someone an expert, but there are standards within each industry. For instance, a medical degree would bring more credibility to an expert than someone who reads WebMD as a hobby.
In other fields, it may not be as easy to identify an expert. Simply because someone posts beautiful shots of them on vacation does not make them a travel expert. Or just because your meal photographs beautifully doesn’t mean it tastes good. As the film and other sources have shown, people often fake an experience or expertise for likes and follows.
But does it matter?
It depends. Let’s start with the serious side of social media (and media in general). If you’re promoting something that is health and safety related, be very careful with who you partner with and amplify. While this should be a given, trust scientists and medical professionals – as in real experts with the credentials to back it up. On the lighter side, if you’re selling a t-shirt, then follower counts and general aesthetic of an influencer’s account are equally as important as any potential fashion degrees or experience.
And a very important final note – whether you are working with a celebrity, influencer, or expert, make sure they align with your brand and organizational values.