While Kanye West, JK Rowling and Donald Trump occupy spaces on Time Magazine’s second annual list of the 30 Most Influential People on the Internet, social media creators from YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram fill most of the slots.
The presence of PewDiePie, Pinterest Queen Joy Cho and DJ Khaled should come as no surprise since we’re talking about influence in the online digital world. Yet, traditional celebrities like James Corden, Drake and West’s wife Kim Kardashian have used social media to build on their presence on traditional media like television, music and movies. In the case of Corden, his Carpool Karaoke videos perform far better on YouTube than they do on his ratings-challenged show. The videos are helping music sales of the featured performers, however. Maybe he should be considered more of a social media creator running influencer marketing campaigns with pop stars with a side job as a talk show host?
Last year, the only real social media creator on the list was PewDiePie (real name: Felix Kjellberg) but now more than half of the list is made up of social media creators. Kjellberg is joined by the likes of the Snapchat pair behind the “Damn Daniel” meme, vlogger Lily Singh, Instagram fitness guru Kayla Itsines and Millennial sex ed promoter Laci Green. Furthermore, most of the social media creators on the list are working in influencer marketing or are building projects for traditional media. PewDiePie is in strong demand for campaigns and has his own mini-network in RevelMode, Cho has worked with Toyota and Target, Singh has created movies for YouTube Red, Itsines has launched apps and Green is developing a series with MTV.
A few controversial figures slipped onto Time’s radar, too. Essena O’Neill is included, the Instagrammer who famously called out social media as a fake source of authenticity after she appeared in a series of influencer campaigns that would have raised eyebrows with the FTC. The list also includes Josh Ostrovsky, who goes by “The Fat Jew” on Twitter, a comedian who built a huge following on social media on content he liberally borrowed from other sources.
For marketers perusing the Time list for possible campaign partners, it’s worth mentioning that while the potential reach of a Kanye West or even the 42 million PewDiePie followers sounds exciting, actual engagement and brand affinity really matter. Finding the ideal influencer that has the right audience (not necessarily the largest one) is the best way to produce content that will build meaningful connections that go far beyond what can be accomplished with regular advertising.
The Time list is also a reflection of the blurred lines between traditional and social media celebrities. Both can work with brands and media companies to produce content. The main difference is how an endorsement from social media influencers has additional value because of the relationship forged with their audience, their regular interaction with followers as themselves (not a character in a film or television show) and the communities that form amongst their fan base.