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Influencers vs. Celebrities: The Critical Differences

More and more brands are scrambling to partner with influencers. That’s because influencer marketing works, giving brands credibility and a human face.

In fact, a recent Twitter study found that their users trust influencers nearly as much as friends.

Around 40 percent of respondents said they’ve purchased an item online after seeing it used by an influencer on Instagram, Twitter, Vine or YouTube.


But what is the difference between an influencer and a celebrity? This distinction came up on a recent #SimplySocial podcast that Kevin and I recorded. 

2015 Instagram Influencer Report

I referred to the Kardashians as influencers. Kevin disagreed, reminding me that we have to be careful about that fine line: celebrity spokespeople vs. social influencers. I instinctively agreed, but where does the boundary lie? And why does it matter?

The Difference

So I began to ask around. I spoke to Ron Schott, Senior Communications Manager at Microsoft. Ron’s first response? “Social influencers don’t show up on TMZ.” Good point, Ron. He went on to explain:

It’s a question of mass reach versus mass impact. Influencers carry weight in subjects. Celebs bring exposure.

This definition implies that the difference between influencers and celebs is expertise. I asked Matthew Knell, VP of Social and Platform Partnerships at, what he thought the difference was. He told me:

Influencer = self-built star, using social channels. Celebrity = built up by traditional channels.

Matthew went on to say, “I think when you jump from doing it yourself to someone doing it for you, you go from influencer to celebrity.” Matthew’s definition implies that the difference between celebrity and social influencer is the mechanism by which they’ve achieved fame. 

Kelsey Ohman, Digital Engagement Specialist for the Boston Bruins & TD Garden, agreed:

The interesting nuance to Kelsey’s response is that it mentions the importance of an influencer’s credibility. 

Sandra Amstutz, ‎Social Media & Digital Content Specialist at Cokesbury, has another perspective:

Sandra sees influencers as being a subset within the celebrity category. 

The Traits of a Desirable Brand Influencer

To sum up my informal Twitter poll, a social influencer is: 

  • A Subject Matter Expert
  • Self-Built
  • Famous on the Internet First
  • Credible
  • Well-Known (A Celebrity in His or Her Own Right)

A celebrity, on the other hand, is:

  • Primarily Valued for Level of Exposure He or She Can Provide, Not Necessarily Tied to Knowledge Base or Credibility
  • Made Famous Through More Traditional Channels (TV, Radio, etc.)
  • Not Necessarily Running Their Own Social Accounts: The Brand Partners with the Personality, Not the Creativity or Content Creation

But Why Does It Matter?

Here’s why the influencer vs. celebrity distinction matters.

Well-partnered influencers give brands a deeper relationship than celebrities do. When you get Scott Disick to showcase your product on Instagram, you’re getting a lot of exposure…

…but not necessarily the level of understanding, connection, and credibility tied to your product that will make a purchasing decision happen.

Influencers provide more specific audiences. Influencers are so special because instead of pumping out your message or product to millions of people, they can activate your target audience because that audience is already their audience.

That’s quite a mouthful, but the basic gist is this: your product will get in front of fewer people, but they’ll be the right people.

Influencers offer a level of creativity celebrities often don’t. They can even make you think about your brand’s larger marketing strategy in a different way, and give you a level of understanding about your target demographic that you didn’t previously have insight into.

What do you think about the influencer vs. celebrity distinction? Am I missing anything? Let me know on Twitter. Your opinion counts! Maybe I’ll even add you to this post. And, you know, follow me. I’m an influencer. Or maybe a celebrity…

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Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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