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Why I Despise the Term ‘Influencer’

The term implies that influence is a binary, not a continuum.
Nov | 16 | 2015


Nov | 16 | 2015

It’s a natural human tendency to want more. It’s also apolitical. Even left-leaning labor leaders want to deliver “more” to their constituencies.

In professional settings, this often results in trying to sound more important than we are. Today there’s no shortage of new “chief officers” of one sort or another. Why describe yourself as an office manager when head of office experience seems more significant?

It turns out that I’m hardly the only one who’s noticed this. The picture below from the recent NY Times‘ piece Your Job Title Is … What? sums up our current infatuation with title inflation quite nicely:

Influence is not a binary; it’s a continuum.

Indeed, ours is an era marked by Big Data, rampant social media, and borderline-inscrutable job titles. I’ve always felt that the title on a business card should convey what the employee does to others clearly and succinctly. Sadly, many times I look at someone’s resume or job title on LinkedIn these days and shake my head. Although the intent may not necessarily be malignant, why would someone intentionally confuse others with opaque terms?

The Meaningless of the Term Influencer

You can put the term influencer at the top of my list for the following reasons:

  • It implies that influence is a binary when it’s a continuum. In fact, everyone possesses some degree of influence. Have you ever met anyone without any influence at all?
  • On a related note, it’s not remotely descriptive of what anyone does in a given day. I’ve never met anyone whose sole responsibilities involved influencing others.
  • Quite often companies determine one’s influence by simply looking at social-media numbers. The problem is that these stats are easily gamed. It’s neither hard nor expensive to buy Facebook likes, Twitter followers, etc.
  • Most important, people with real influence rarely brand themselves as influencers or another self-important term. This is akin to great artists, writers, actors, and musicians who generally comport themselves with humility. If you’re good at what you do, then you don’t have to tell people as much. Others know.

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