New York Times journalist, Taylor Lorenz, debunks popularity myth of influencers' cultural relevance


Being popular is about being liked or admired by many people. Being influential is an ability to change something. Be it altering behaviours, changing opinions or adapting actions. In short: popularity wins attention; influence inspires action. 

Deep influence is founded on relationships. Relationships are formed when people identify a connection of shared culture, ideals or circumstances with one another. 

This is being more than a fan. This is feeling the influencer is a kindred spirit. One of us. Not an unattainable ideal. The creator provides the follower with a sense of intimacy. 

Last night Taylor Lorenz, technology and internet culture reporter for the New York Times who covers content creators took to TikTok. In the sub-one-minute piece-to-camera, Ms Lorenz took aim at the often conflated terms: popularity and influence. 

“Your relevance on the internet and culture doesn't have anything to do with how many followers you have. It has to do with who follows you,” explained Ms Lorenz.

“If you look at people that are actually pretty relevant in culture, or especially those who are blowing up, even in media or just sort of like in cultural conversation, a lot of them they don't have as many followers as you think,” the reporter explained.

Ms Lorenz, who is currently on book leave writing a book about the rise of the influencer/online creator industry, said that on TikTok there were plenty of creators who, whilst enjoying follower counts running into the millions, lacked cultural relevance. On the other hand, it was often the creators with audience sizes below 100,000 who had the most cultural relevance.

She went further to say that creators could “even have 10,000 followers, but if you have really, really influential people following you, then you have cultural capital, which means you're going to get media attention, you're going to get brand deals, you're gonna get a lot more opportunities than if you had 20 million followers, but they were all just kind of average people. Yeah, it's not about how many followers you have. It's about who follows you.

Instagram has also finally conceded that popularity is not always the same as influence. The authors of the recent 2022 Instagram Trend Report said: “Today young people are impacted by a wide spectrum of creators and their relationship is more tightly aligned around shared interests and less so on how popular they’ve gotten.” 

Picture credit: Taylor Lorenz via TikTok.

Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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