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The History of Influencer Marketing: Everything You Need to Know

  • 14 August 2017
  • Dean Schmid

Word of mouth marketing has always worked. So, when brands caught wind of these people on social media who had millions of people listening to what they have to say, they took notice.

In 2017 everyone is a publisher. Anyone can start a blog, write a post, or reply to a tweet, but that doesn’t mean everyone is an influencer. It’s important to distinguish between the two.

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Recommendations on social media from friends is customer advocacy, and it’s still important but reaching out to influencers is something else entirely because these people have connected engaged communities. People listen to them and care what they say.

We are going to take a look at the history of influence marketing. How we got from the birth of the internet to a place where Fortune 500 companies include teenage YouTube stars in their marketing strategies.

The History of Influencer Marketing: Everything You Need to Know

Before social media platforms, influencer marketing never had the opportunity to become what it is today. Channels were restrictive and only allowed a few people to rise in the public eye. But there are still examples in the history of influencer marketing that dates back to the 1700s.Image result for royal endorsement marketingBefore TV stars and YouTube influencers, there was one very famous family in the recently formed Great Britain. The Royal Family gave their Royal Warrant to British brands spanning industries and centuries. Today there are about 800 Royal Warrants in circulation with 20 to 40 given or lost each year. After the Queen got the whole Royal family evaluated, the study concluded that the Royal Warrant was worth £4 billion to the companies that receive them.

Brands started to approach and pay celebrities from the second their fame lifted them above the masses. is an example of a trade card, from the late 1800s. It shows stage actress Lillie Langtry. Mistress to future King Edward the VII and society beauty. She was a popular figure. Popular enough that Brown’s Iron Bitters choose to put her on the front of their card, which promotes their tonic as a thorough tonic for females, on the back.

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In this old print ad, we see actors promoting Pepsi Cola as their drink of choice. While this type of advertising played a role in influencer marketing’s conception, celebrities aren’t influencers. It’s a fine line and one that a lot of brands don’t draw as often as they should.

The History of Online Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing has been on social media since the beginning. When Myspace launched in 2003, founders Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe traveled around recruiting emerging bands and popular clubs.

This was revolutionary influencer marketing for the time. Once bands, clubs, and DJs were on myspace their fans followed, and it snowballed from there.

In its heyday, Myspace was the second most popular site on the internet, and it was all kicked off by influencer marketing.Image result for Myspace

YouTube was the next big social platform for influencer marketing. It came out in 2005, and creators did their own thing for a while. Brands really only started to take interest once the following was already established.

Brendan Gahan was an early adopter of influencer marketing, who paired Smosh with a small brand that produced Mp3 players.

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The story goes that he only went with influencer marketing because of the client’s small budget, and his company was planning to give them a pass.

Smosh created one video and it generated so much traffic it crashed the brand’s website.

This was the deal that put influencer marketing on the map. At the time, there was no other way to monetize a YouTube account, but content deals like this showed publishers that they could monetize their online influence on YouTube, and this realization improved the quality of content.

The Social Web Starts to Take Shape

Facebook was founded in 2004. LinkedIn became profitable in 2006. The Instagram app gets its first download in 2010, and Snapchat’s post hits their first blog in 2012.

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Maker Studio and Machinima are YouTube networks that have signed deals with thousands of channels. In June 2012 Marker Studio announced that it had over 1000 channels signed to their network.

Machinima focused on the video game market and spread their content over Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. The company began on and released software to help gamers create content, but from 2010 onward the company transitioned away from its site attracting large audiences to their Facebook and posting videos solely on YouTube.

Snapchat and Instagram let creators build an audience just by posting updates about their day to day. This lets influencers create a new kind of connection. These stories are authentic, trustworthy, and they are easy to build a community around.Screen Shot 2016-09-15 at 10.26.36.png

Brands don’t have influence. People want to listen to other people, and the fact that we are already on these channels and engaging with influencers organically because we want to makes for non- disruptive advertising that’s trusted by its audience.

“60% of YouTube subscribers say they would follow advice on what to buy from their favorite YouTube creator over a traditional celebrity.” The YouTube Generation Study

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It wouldn’t be an accurate look into influence marketing if we didn’t cover Vine. The 66-secondvideo app burned short but bright and a whole generation of influencers were forged in the flame.

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What happened to vine?

38% of brands were using Vine for content marketing to reach out to 200 million monthly active users. Vine’s downfall was that everything it could do another platform could do better. Snapchat and Instagram were better platforms for sharing videos, anything over 6 seconds was going to YouTube, and all the good vines made it onto Facebook anyway.

The Future of Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is in a weird place at the moment. Brands aren’t taking the time to measure engagement. Influencers with lots of followers are being overpaid and influencers that have better engagement but less followers are underpriced.

Influencer marketing is becoming automated and structured with marketplaces. This will improve the quality of content that they create for brands and highlight influencers that can work well with a brand. These marketplaces along with general advance in analytics are making it easier to track influencer marketing and attach a ROI to your efforts.

These are still early days for social media and influencer marketing. Most social media platforms are less than a decade old. Brands haven’t even looked into Snapchat, and they only just started on Instagram. It is still a great time to get into influencer marketing and find influencers that work well with your brand.

About Dean Schmid