Who Was the First Influencer?
In its most basic form, influencer marketing has really been part of the marketing word as long as word-of-mouth referrals have. Consumers have always relied on the experiences of friends and family to make purchases, or in the absence of that, influential figures like celebrities.
Technically, one of the first influencer collaborations was in 1760. Wedgwood, a potter, made a tea set for the Queen of England. Since the monarchy was an influencer of the time, Wedgwood leveraged the tea set to success with “Royal-approved” branding, elevating it to luxury status.
Many other influential figures can be considered influencers of their time, such as the fashion icon Coco Chanel, Michael Jordan and his celebrity endorsements for sports gear, and Jennifer Aniston and “The Rachel” haircut from the hit show, Friends.
Of course, this isn’t what we know as influencer marketing, which is largely tied to social media and blogs. The earliest influencers began with blogs and grew to microblogging, YouTube channels, and eventually, influencer partnerships.
The First Mommy Bloggers as Influencers
As mentioned, Wedgwood is arguably the first-ever influencer and leveraged his relationship with the Royal Family to success for his brand. But that’s not the start of influencers as we understand them.
The modern-day influencer didn’t start on social media, but it did start in the digital world with mommy bloggers. The first wave of mommy bloggers started in 2002 with Melinda Roberts and TheMommyBlog.com. She gained success by sharing the ups and downs of motherhood, tips, products, toys, and other details to help other mothers with parenting.
Naturally, things escalated from there. Many stay-at-home moms got into blogging about parenthood and sharing insights with other mothers, building a following. Eventually, brands took notice.
Moms began to strike deals with major brands and sold aspirational content and products with personal recommendations, gaining both followings and money for the brand.
The Start of Social Media Influencers
Social media platforms have been around longer than many of us realize, but they didn’t gain widespread use until the past decade. After MySpace, people began to get involved with platforms like Facebook and YouTube, slowly growing a social media presence.
In 2010, Instagram launched and gave users something unique – a platform that was based on images. The earliest influencers began to use Instagram for more than sharing photos of their kids or pets – they saw an opportunity to connect with followers and share product recommendations. Once paid advertisements were launched, brands were able to connect with influencers across the platform and sell products quickly and easily by leveraging the reach of the influencer.
Another big milestone in social media influencers came with Twitch, a live-stream gaming platform that launched in 2011. Though intended to connect gamers and spectators, it quickly grew beyond gaming to include content from all different types of industries. Gamers can make money playing and endorsing games, while other content creators can use the platform for product reviews and recommendations in other categories.
The next wave in social media came with TikTok in 2016. TikTok was unique among the social media platforms because the content is highly curated and in short-form video, so users have a tailored and entertaining experience. Influencers quickly adopted the platform and found success in new and unique ways, such as promoting brands through song and dance trends or challenges.
Though it may go back centuries, influencers will always bring to mind social media content creators with huge followings and plenty of sway over their audiences. With TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, Instagram, and more, influencers have a myriad of options for how to engage with followers, and build lucrative connections with brands.
As of 2021, influencer marketing is a $13.8-billion-dollar industry. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, 59 percent of brands have a separate budget for content marketing, and roughly 75 percent of them are dedicating it to influencer marketing in 2021.
Furthermore, Insider Intelligence forecasts the US influencer marketing spend to reach $4.14 billion in 2022, and growth is expected to continue well into 2023 with campaigns approaching $5 billion.
Trends in Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is booming and only likely to grow. Virtual influencers, who are completely computer-generated, are starting to gain more traction, and with the advent of the Metaverse and Amazon’s upcoming live shopping channel (QVC for the new generation), influencer marketing may become more important than ever before.
With the technology constantly changing and evolving, influencer marketing is here to stay.