Influencer marketing has been around in some form or another since as early as the 1700s. One source claims that it began in 1760 with the Queen of England when a potter made a tea set for Her Majesty. However, royalty and noble families were the equivalents of A-list celebrities today. So, this doesn’t quite embody the grassroots movement people refer to when they speak of influencers.
A closer middle ground comes from Coco Chanel in the 1930s. She is one of the most popular fashion icons of her time and beyond. Still, she was also a celebrity and a household name, so she did not embody the modern-day grassroots movement of influencer marketing either. She would be more comparable to hiring Taylor Swift to market clothing from a store as opposed to a cheerleader in a local community.
What Is Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing refers to levying someone’s influence over a group of people to encourage them to purchase a product or service. Influencers can also leverage their social power to advocate for causes or compel people to see particular issues in a different light. Up until a decade or so ago, influencer marketing referred to hiring celebrities as brand ambassadors.
In more recent times, the meaning of influencer marketing has changed because almost anyone with an audience can be an influencer. Now, when people use the term, they speak of self-made icons who are not celebrities in the traditional sense. While these influencers are not necessarily household names, they have a powerful sway over a particular niche.
Over time, the status of these influencers can rise to celebrityhood. One common example that comes to mind is the Kardashians. Some people often joke that they have become famous for being famous because they have built entire careers on marketing the family’s influence and connections.
What Is a Social Media Influencer?
When most people think of influencers, they think of someone who has built up a large or engaged following online. This person is known as a social media influencer. In some cases, the person might only have a brand on one or two platforms because some brands do not translate well into different spaces. For example, a fashion icon might do well on Instagram and YouTube but might struggle to gain traction on text-based Twitter.
Not all influencers are social media influencers, even when they are not celebrities. It is perfectly possible for people in local neighborhoods to become influencers because other people trust their opinions on certain matters. Imagine, for instance, a small farmer who survives a rough year ahead of all the competitors, but offers assistance instead of merely enjoying his lead. If the local fertilizer shop gives him a sign to put up outside his farm, chances are half the farmers in the area would want to try their products.
When Did Modern-Day Influencer Marketing Begin?
In the more modern sense, influencer marketing began with the dot com era and the movement of social time into online spaces. This enabled a lot of people to carve out their niches in the online world of blogging. Companies then found ways to make blogs more social and to create micro-blogs that became the basis for social media.
When social media use exploded, so did influencer marketing. MySpace is likely one of the most popular and influential social media platforms that come to mind. It was the foundation for many musicians and other artists who are now traditionally famous or social media famous. Some people might have even been able to wield influence through the use of BlackBerry messages and texts.
Because of all these factors, it’s hard to put a rigid start date on when modern-day, grassroots influencer marketing began. However, a good guess would be the early 2000s.
What Will the Future of Influencer Marketing Look Like?
A decade or two ago, few people would have predicted the way influencer marketing developed. Who knew that companies would begin to rely on social media users with as few as 1,000 followers to market their products? Could anyone predict that even Amazon would be willing to pay just about anyone a commission for placing converting links in their blogs?
Technology and social norms change rapidly, especially as younger generations mature enough to affect social expectations. Even so, it seems like a safe bet that influencer marketing will only continue to grow. The one downside is that it might change the way people use social media. With so many people now transitioning from casual users to influencers, it might begin to feel like everyone has something to sell.
The key to outperforming everyone else is to boost engagement.