There are plenty of hot takes on whether folks who work in Developer Relations can be considered influencers. The idea behind the concept is simple: we try to influence people to adhere to the philosophies our company or organization espouses, the product we are a part of, or the ideas behind a movement in the community. In that way, I'll reluctantly admit, yes, Virgina, we are influencers.

However, the problem starts there, with a basic understanding of what an influencer in fact is. Let's try to define a few things and rebut a few notions to see if we can't figure out if "influencer" is the right term for the work we do.

"Anyone can be an influencer"
This is an idea put forth by many folks in and out of DevRel. It's not a new idea. The concept is anyone with a phone and internet access can build communities around the content they produce. But is it true?

Yes, and no. It was true about ten to fifteen years ago. The world of social media was a bit more primal and people could do a lot with very little. A few YouTube videos could catch the attention of record label execs and, BAM!, Justin Beiber is a thing. Some well placed Vines combined with a few tweets and suddenly, BOOM!, Jake Paul is foisted upon us (no one said influencers had to be good people). Success was based on a combination of luck, timing, and being authentic. Or at least, a version of authentic that would catch the hearts and minds of the world.

The no comes in with the modern context. Now, influencers are an industry, with studios, lighting, production, filters, scripts - these things are not spontaneous or off the cuff - not the ones making money, at least.

The same is true in DevRel. Many new practitioners start at single positions in unknown or early-stage companies. They don't have the budget to break through and be the next big thing. Sometimes they work to overcome that by producing so much content. That can work, but can also lead to burnout.

So, sorry, no everyone can be an influencer. And that's probably a good thing.

"Influencers come and go in cycles"
Another fairly common statement and it underlines the fact that most of what we do in DevRel is actually cyclical. Like believing Object Oriented languages will be the answer then switching to Functional languages - or oscillating between waterfall and agile and DevOps as a working philosophy. Things change and popularity can wax and wane.

A great practical example came to us during the pandemic. DevRel had begun to diversify and some large scale organizations decided they wanted practitioners who were well-liked, had lots of Twitter and Instagram followers, even if their abilities in the product aspects of said company were questionable. Often, their main focus was to appear and speak at events to bring more notoriety to the organization.

Enter the pandemic. No events. No need for those folks. We saw a wave of people leaving the industry because their value as "influencers" disappeared. Those who had a broader skillset - creating content, streaming, bringing people in via other techniques than in-person events - tended to survive. This trend seems to be continuing during the current wave of layoffs.

"We must be influencers because we are really just another form of marketing"
I've talked about this extensively, here and around the world. While we may be a kind of marketing, we aren't really marketing as we do not (and probably should not) have the same goals and metrics. And that's okay.

Our jobs are to share ideas - about philosophies, concepts, and products - that the community can benefit from. They really are the influence we should be driven by. Not the person on the stage, writing the content, or streaming the new "Getting Started with X" video, but the community that content is built for. They should have influence over our actions, plans, and forward momentum.

Influence and influencers are separate concepts. I've always skirted around using the term "thought leader" because it's just as loaded and pretentious in its given perception as "influencer". For now, maybe we consider ourselves the voice of our communities. The megaphone or mouthpiece helping to build, not by leading or influencing, but by working together with everyone involved.