Social Media Sacrilege: Influence vs. Popularity: Semantic Argument?

As the headline suggests, I’m about to commit what amounts to sacrilege within the digital marketing world. For the past couple years digital marketing pundits have been blogging and tweeting until they’re blue in the face about the importance of reaching online influencers and yet have been made it painstakingly clear that influence does not equal popularity.

But then a thought came to me. Maybe when we hear the word “popular” we think of the popular kids in high school and the superficiality of that whole scene and therefore the word leaves a bad taste in our mouths. But isn’t popularity a component of influence? I Googled “define: popularity” and Google’s definition was “The state or condition of being liked, admired, or supported by many people” Wictionary goes even further, “The quality or state of being popular; especially, the state of being esteemed by, or of being in favor with, the people at large; good will or favor proceeding from the people;”

“The state of being esteemed by, or of being in favor with…good will or favor proceeding from the people” Why, that sounds almost noble…almost….influential?

Here’s a “Yes, but…” answer. There’s two caveats.

1. Influence, like fame, might not last forever

2. Context + Influence matters even more

There’s a lot of similarities between influencer marketing and celebrity endorsements, the key difference being that the influencer doesn’t usually get paid (apart from free product and/or perks but it pales in comparison to what the celebrity gets). And celebrity endorsements only work, as Laura Ries put it “when the consumer has a credible belief that the celebrity would be interested in buying and using your product or service despite being paid to do so.”


1. Context first

2. Popularity within context is an important element of influence

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