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The word “Influencer” has been tossed around the digital creator landscape so much in the past several years that it has nearly lost its meaning. It has become a meme – the decade+ creator community steers clear of its use, while the younger generation automatically attributes the word to a particular type of personality. It is embraced by hundreds of media agencies, misused by news outlets worldwide and often stated in executive meetings as a “catch-all” for the modern creator.

However, the use of the word presents many dangers to the creative lifecycle and our businesses. It emphasizes a focus on an expected result from the creation of media instead of process or media itself. It alters the common perception as to why most of us modern creators do what we do and lessens the purpose. It encourages traditional creatives and studios to look down upon and mock the digital creator community.  

In order to combat these issues, we first need to adjust what data we look at and find a better model. We need to observe and embrace the below:

SUBSCRIBER/FOLLOWER COUNTS DON’T MATTER

Here is what that topline, often quoted number truly means:

One potential viewer on one potential piece of content if/when the platform decides to surface said piece of content.

Follower numbers are a documented history of previous engagement, not current active engagement. They present that at one point in time a user decided to click a button on a channel. That initial engagement maintains historical context as well (perhaps a user followed to enter into a giveaway or perhaps they followed based on a platform recommendation; perhaps they followed for a single type of content or because they are personally involved with the creator). The whims of each platform’s algorithm will adjust who from this historical engagement will receive a piece of content, which can increase or decrease based on a variety of factors far too extensive to cover in this article.  

Take a look at a handful of million+ follower accounts on YouTube for example. How many views has each creator had on their past few videos? It is very rare that you will find those channels driving over a million views per video.

Even our President, who touts his incredible followership of over 30 million daily, can be shown to have a far lower engaged base on his digital platforms upon further review. (At the time of this post, 48% of his base is estimated to have not been engaged or active on the platform in over three months). His base could now be viewed as a base of 19 million – which approximately 100k-200k engage on a per tweet basis (actually .5%-1%). Those are who he potentially has “influence” over – definitely not 30 million.

CONTENT IS MORE THAN JUST A VIEWERSHIP NUMBER

Viewership totals are fantastic to most eyes. They are a great beacon for many to determine whether or not something should be viewed. (If one person stands outside looking up at the sky, some may glance up but most won’t. But if a group of 5 or more are looking up, more will stop to look up).  We trust the crowd, but what if the crowd has been misled into viewership?

Clickbait has been rampant on platforms for years. It has become common in the creator landscape to chase trends in order to gain views. There have been many success stories in viewership and subscribership by doing this type of strategy, but upon closer inspection of platform data, you will find an actual “influencer” through comparison data.

For example, below are two Audience Retention graphs from two YouTube channels. They have similar subscribership counts and similar viewership counts. Where they differ is that one chases trends/topics and the other has a regular, expected format with their audience.

Can you tell which is which?

The one on the top creates video content based on what is the most popular in Google/YouTube search. They lose 30% of the viewer base in the first 30 seconds of video and struggle to keep consistent viewership for the length of video. There appears to be a lot of click forward behavior (as showcased by the graph) with the user seeking something to watch before they abandon.

The one on the bottom has built an audience base that expects content on a regular schedule and is not beholden to what a search result might yield. It experiences minimal loss at the start of a video and maintains a stable viewership cycle. This is actual “influence.”

Simply getting eyes onto a piece of content isn’t the only goal. Keeping those eyes alert, engaged and communicative should be the main focus, as that is what affects further content being seen on the majority of social platforms. YouTube switched to “watch time” as a main metric for a reason.

THERE IS HUGE VALUE IN NICHE COMMUNITIES

Based on the above, you can immediately see that a base of highly engaged individuals can prove more value in the marketplace. Sometimes those initial bases are smaller, but are incredibly dedicated to the content creator. I personally know small Twitch channels that drive more direct subscription revenue than million+ sub YouTube channels would in ad revenue. Can you guess what the best part is for advertisers? The smaller Twitch channel actually has an audience that has proven conversion – as opposed to passive viewership. They know who supports them directly and are wanting to develop something with a partner that gets it. They aren’t purely looking for a paycheck.

The best viewership/consumer drivers on YouTube tend to be niche, focused communities. They have direct alignments with existing brands/brand types and maintain particular audience demographics. These are the content creators who are prime to sell-through a product for a brand partner or develop a new series within their genre. Although that big name creator may be appealing, your diamond in the rough may be that startup channel that perfectly aligns.

Market Averages for Engagement (Number of likes + comments) / (Number of followers -or- Views)

SO WHAT NOW?

Let’s begin by breaking the mold of what has been communicated. Let’s look at what data actually matters, look closer at what content truly drives meaningful viewership, and pay closer attention to active niche communities.  

We have to acknowledge that creative minds that utilize digital mediums are years ahead of those who rely on traditional models. We control our content and our distribution. We have a direct connection to our fan base – most of whom would prefer supporting us directly. We are the ones who are redefining the content delivery model.  

So please stop lumping all creative minds into a generalized category. Stop looking at historical topline data and pay closer attention to what we’re making.

Please stop referring to us as “influencers.”