The 2 Types of Social Influencers

Like, I think, most people, I generally don’t like to be categorized. I’m me and I’m nobody else. Don’t box me in. But there are some boxes that I nonetheless fit into. Male, Caucasian, 30-40 years old, married, father, U.S. citizen, Californian, etc.

There is value to society to putting me in those boxes. That’s why we have Census and other forms.

As marketers (another box I fit into), we don’t tend to put social influencers in separate boxes. Instead, we tend to put them all in one giant social influencer box.

But there is tremendous value to marketers to make a distinction among online social influencers. There are actually two types of social influencers: content producers and content distributors. The two groups offer distinct potential benefits to marketers, and require different approaches from marketers.

What’s the difference?

Content producers write.  A journalist is a content producer. Most analysts are content producers. A blogger is often a content producer. A content marketer is a content producer. So long as they have at least limited voices on social. On the other hand, writing tweets, Facebook status updates, etc. is not enough to make people content producers. They need to be producing content outside of social media networks, then using social media networks to promote that content. Content producers often share others’ content, but their own content is an important, if not primary, source of their influence. Many content producers have deep knowledge and expertise on the topics they write about — but not all do. 

Content distributors, on the other hand, primarily or solely share others’ content. They share content written by content producers and other writers, and their influence comes from the size of their social networks, the quality of the content they share, and the high engagement of their networks. Most influential content distributors also have unique online personalities.

For both groups, how influential they are is tied to the scope, quality and engagement of their audiences.

Anyone can produce content. That alone doesn’t make them an influencer. The content that influential content producers publish is widely read, liked, commented on and shared — often by the most influential content distributors.  The size of an influential content producer’s network doesn’t have to be large. The size of an influential content distributor’s network is always large. Elite influencers (a rare group) are top content producers and distributors.  

Not every social influencer fits perfectly as a content producer or a content distributor. For example, an influencer might blog once per week, but might share others’ content hundreds of times. The best approach for marketers is to determine if the influencer’s value to them is primarily as a content producer or a content distributor, then work with him or her accordingly.

Why does the difference matter?

It’s important for marketers to think of content producers and content distributors separately because they offer separate benefits.

Content producers might write about what the marketers are promoting, or they might share it. If content producers write about what marketers are promoting, marketers get the benefit of exposure on the producers’ media outlets, blogs, etc., plus to the content producers’ social media audiences.

Content distributors generally won’t write about marketers’ content, but they have their social media audiences to offer. They generally are more likely to share content than content producers, whose sharing often takes a back seat to the promotion of their own content. Plus, since content distributors’ worth is connected so closely with their audiences, top distributors tend to have large followings.

Both types of influencers offer great value. Content producers offer the traditional value of an article placement, plus a varying amount of social media visibility. Content distributors tend to offer only social media visibility, but it generally is a good amount.

Another thing that differs between content producers and content distributors is marketers need to approach them differently.

To get content distributors working for them, marketers need to offer value. They can begin by following and communicating with distributors on their social media networks, but ultimately a pay-to-play sort of system is often necessary to get the full value from influential content distributors.  This is perfectly acceptable. It’s how the game is played. It’s business. This can take the form of some sort of offer, perhaps a consultant agreement, with one of the benefits being them sharing marketers’ content.

With content creators, marketers need to earn their respect or attention with great content, deep subject matter expertise and thought leadership. Pay-to-play is rarely an option.  A good way to start developing a relationship is social sharing of content creators’ work and commenting on their blogs, articles, etc., but ultimately marketers need to have quality content or information that the content creators will find interesting enough to write about or share. Some content creators might go along with a pay-to-play system content distributors profit from, but many, especially journalists, would be highly offended.

Final thought

It’s a challenge for marketers to work with influencers, but it’s one worth taking, as they can greatly help with the visibility of marketers’ brands and content.

It’s a process. Unless marketers have something truly amazing to offer, it takes time to develop relationships with influencers. But by recognizing the two types — content creators and content distributors — marketers will have a much better chance of succeeding in this endeavor.

Post written by HRmarketer / SocialEars HR team member Eric Anderson.

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