Superfans Vs Influencers: Who Comes Out On Top?

What influences you more? Seeing your own neighbor do an interpretative dance while singing (literally) the praises of their morning coffee, or the compensated, silky-voiced celebrity cooing about how much they adore their razor?

As a brand gateway, social media continues to meet new challenges and opportunities. Within that, influencers have the ability to drive positive attention to client brands extremely quickly. But what influencers have in charisma, everyday brand fans possess in scale. The likes of Starbucks and Taco Bell regularly lean into fans to generate moments of affinity, which in turn drive viral social moments. By creating easily accessible and fun templates on TikTok, these brands unleash authentic love from consumers: the highest order of flattery. The question then begs, does the superfan outweigh the influencer?

Today’s social media landscape sees a myriad of platforms wrestling for supremacy. TikTok’s ability for users to easily engage with it to develop their own content makes it the pack leader.



Brands looking to engage with TikTok, among other platforms, understand that spontaneity drives the platform. Naturally, this makes it the nemesis of the media planner, whose ability to forecast and budget is central to their role. But social media thrives on what happens in the moment. That’s where the brand loyalist, or superfan, comes to play. Community participation, as we have seen from brand followers like Stanley, Hidden Valley Ranch, and McDonald’s Grimace shake lead to national spikes in attention, with millions either watching or creating content. These often hilarious and wildly entertaining videos drive straight to the heart of authenticity. Ask a brand loyalist to show their love, and the rest is magic.

There is no formula that governs the relative equivalence between influencer versus brand loyalist. When a brand partnership makes sense, it connotes a certain level of authenticity. Operating in the realm of production and coordination, influencer marketing partnerships can occur on a timetable, allowing for a greater sense of planning than the viral brand moment on a platform.

So, does the superfan outweigh the influencer? To an extent, it depends on the brand in question’s goals. As consumers increasingly show their preferences for social media-driven marketing, brands are faced with creative opportunities pitted against scale and reach.

For a luxury retail brand looking to reach new but exclusive audiences, tapping fashion influencers for content partnerships will likely prove more effective than a mass social media strategy. But for a national QSR brand looking to drive large-scale awareness, brand loyalist social media integrations are likely the order of the day.

That said, I’m inclined to advocate for the superfan – with caveats. Think of “Fancy Like,” the Effie-winning Applebee’s superfan-turned-paid influencer-alignment campaign from 2022. It went viral on TikTok, with fans joining in on the trend nationwide. The context felt plausible and the enthusiasm genuine, creating a moment of authentic national brand engagement.

Authenticity lies in the eye of the beholder, but brands that can harness and tap into that elusive concept ultimately win. The bond between brand and consumer becomes a question of joy. The best brands know that, if consumers care, the love gets reflected back -- and, sometimes, measured in millions.&

1 comment about "Superfans Vs Influencers: Who Comes Out On Top?".
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  1. R. M. from self, February 22, 2024 at 2:48 p.m.

    "For a luxury retail brand looking to reach new but exclusive audiences, tapping fashion influencers for content partnerships will likely prove more effective than a mass social media strategy"
    An assumption that Superfans are only found in "mass social media"?
    By category defintion, the Superfans of Luxury would not be located in mass social media, but rather the more niche aspects of lux fashion... of the designer, of the collection, of the store/commerce channel, of the travel destinations they show off the lux fashion.
    Lux retailers already have the data on their power shoppers... those shoppers belong to clubs & organizations (and at global level). 

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