Influential vs Influencer

30 October 2020. Thoughts in Social Media by

“I’m not an influencer. I’m influential”. This has become somewhat of a mantra amongst some celebrities, and well, influencers. But what exactly is the difference? And why are influencers and celebrities choosing to identify themselves as ‘influentials’ as opposed to ‘influencers’? 

The influencer economy has erupted in the last number of years, although the idea of influential individuals touting an aspirational lifestyle has been around for a far longer time. Recent influencers have mainly gained popularity through the use of social media channels and brands have been quick to leverage the personal connection these aspirational individuals have with their followings. However, social media influencer followers quickly started noticing that not everything that influencers proclaimed could be trusted.

What happens if trust is broken?

Macro influencer sentiment decreased. Perceptions of inauthenticity and superficiality gave rise to the micro-influencer – individuals with fewer followers but more trust with their online community. Dave Murray on talkinginfluence.comsubmits that “now more than ever, followers are peering deeper into the intimate personal lives of influencers and building stronger connections with them as a result”. 

Peering deeper into influencer lives means that followers interrogate whether there are consistency and authenticity in influencer messaging, and often, this is found to be lacking. National Geographic positions influencers as ‘the modern entrepreneur’, and as with all entrepreneurs, agreements are made as a means for income generation, and not as followers might want to believe, due to passion and genuine brand loyalty and trust. Many brands have also found that walking the influencer tightrope means attempting to balance brand values with influencer popularity. Authoritative bodies have also started clamping down on misleading influencer marketing by forcing influencers and brands to disclose when a piece of content is advertising, or if any part of it has been paid for.

Role models vs Influencers

The evolution of influencer to influential means that influencers can start positioning themselves more as role models. The Nursery London places role models as individuals whose behaviour, example or success can be emulated by others. Influencers, they state, are individuals with access to a large online following that can influence decision making in followers. Influencers have the peer effect as followers look across to these individuals, as opposed to looking up to role models, according to The Nursery.

And although the peer effect means that followers feel a sense of familiarity towards influencers, role models establish a far more profound admiration and long term following. Being influential is perhaps the middle ground as it relies on more than merely having access to large numbers of followers but is simultaneously not as demanding in terms of follower expectations. 

Being influential includes more than one area of an influencers’ life. Belief driven buyers expect influencers to express strong opinions towards societal, and environmental issues. “The percentage of ‘Belief Driven Buyers’ – people who choose or don’t choose a brand based on its societal stance – rose from 51% to 64% from 2017-2018 worldwide”, according to Edelman, and “81% of global respondents feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment”.

Influencers with strong and clear preferences and societal impact are becoming more appealing, and as a result of the pandemic, 2020 has accelerated the move toward cross-category content for influencers. The impact on millions of lifestyles across the globe has challenged influencers, or the ‘influential’, to create content that fits the needs and subject matter relevant to today’s world, according to Murray.

Influentials that are making an impact

Different types of ‘influentials’ are gaining market share as many of these have become popular not through sheer numbers and brand support but through making an impact in their respective fields before becoming ‘influential’. “We now see influencers that are trailblazing in industries such as female gamers in esports”, states a report titled Influencer Economy 2.0 by I See Africa. The report lists several other categories of influencers currently gaining popularity in Africa’s digital space, namely cultural, nano, kid, and healthcare influencers. Virtual and avatar influencers have also started gaining more popularity and “synthetic personalities” (Accenture & Fjord 2020) are becoming influential entities.

“Brands will become more strategic”, according to an Influencer Marketing Trends report by The Corner. Brands will attempt to “increase and retain brand loyalty, which is where longer-term partnerships with influencers have been showing real value. Collaborating on an extended-term with influencers allows for both consistent messaging and stronger alignment between talent and brand”, states the report. 

Macro, micro, nano and synthetic influencers will all have their parts to play in marketing brands across mainly social media channels and creating brand awareness and trust. Partnering with influential personalities from either of these categories might require brands to go beyond the obvious choices. As brands are challenged to become influential themselves, collaborating with ‘influentials’ as opposed to ‘influencers’ could yield better and further reaching results should the collaborations be aligned, authentic and appropriate.


Perelli A, Whateley D, and Bradley S. (1 September 2020). How the coronavirus is changing the influencer business, according to marketers and top creators on Instagram and YouTube. Retrieved from

Murray D. (29 June 2020). Key Trends That Will Shape Influencer Marketing Post-COVID-19. Retrieved from

Wilkinson F. (December 2019). Influencers: The Modern Entrepreneur. Retrieved from

Influencer Marketing Trends. The Corner. [26 October 2020]

Role Models and Influencers Webinar. The Nursery. Webinar. Available from: [October 26, 2020]

Accenture Fjord Trends 2020 Report (2020). Retrieved from


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