A brief history of influencer marketing—and 2 trends that define its future

by | Mar 27, 2023 | Public Relations

In the last decade, influencer marketing has exploded onto the scene and become one of the most popular and effective ways for brands to reach their target audiences. However, the history of influencer marketing dates long before the internet was even a thought. Throughout the years, this phenomenon has evolved and changed in so many ways, and that’s precisely what we will explore in this article.

With the help of the team at Agility, we did thorough research, and here’s everything you need to know about influencer marketing, from its beginnings through current trends to what the future of PR looks like in the age of influencers.

Word "influencer" spelled with white plastic blocks.

The history of influencer marketing: From royal family to AI

Before we get to the fascinating history of influencer marketing, let’s first understand what an influencer is and what influencer marketing entails. An influencer is a person who can sway the opinions and purchasing decisions of potential buyers. This could be a well-known celebrity, an athlete, a public figure, a fictional character, or even a trusted friend. However, the growth of social media has slightly changed the definition of an influencer. Today, anyone with a considerable following on social media platforms can be considered an influencer.

Influencer marketing involves partnering with influencers to promote products, services, or brands. This marketing type has proven effective because consumers tend to trust recommendations from people they know or have confidence in, such as friends, family, and influencers. In fact, the experts at Convert More advise that, according to recent studies, 92 percent of consumers prefer recommendations from people they know over traditional advertisements. Having this in mind, it’s no wonder that influencer marketing has become a popular way to attract customers and increase conversion rates. Now let’s learn more about its fascinating history.

Influencer wearing a purple setting up her camera to record herself

Nowadays, influencer marketing is one of the most popular and effective ways of advertising goods and services.

Early stages of influencer marketing: from cigarette ads to celebrity endorsements

Did you know that we can trade the earliest form of influencer marketing back to the 18th century? It was in 1760 when Josiah Wedgwood, a British potter, used endorsements from the royal family to promote his pottery business. In the 19th century, businesses started using celebrities to endorse their products, a tactic we still see everywhere even today.

This trend continued in the early 20th century when tobacco companies used endorsements from doctors to promote their products. This strategy was effective, and it soon became clear that consumers wanted to hear from people they trusted and respected. That’s why celebrity endorsements became the norm in the 1950s and 60s. Brands began partnering with famous actors, musicians, and athletes to promote their products. However, it wasn’t until the advent of social media that influencer marketing as we know it today began to take shape.

The emergence of social media influencers: The power of bloggers

In the early 2000s, blogging emerged as a popular online content creation. These early bloggers had loyal followers who trusted their opinions and recommendations. Brands began to notice and collaborate with bloggers to promote their products. However, this type of influencer marketing was limited to the blogging world. That’s why it wasn’t until the rise of social media platforms that influencers began to truly take off.

Person using the Facebook app on their phone and on their laptop

The rise of social media was a breaking point in the history of influencer marketing.

In the mid-2000s, platforms like Facebook and Twitter began to gain popularity, and influencers started to build their followings on these platforms. This inspired brands to begin partnering with social media influencers to promote their products, and influencer marketing was born in the form we know today.

The rise of Instagram and YouTube influencers

In the last decade, Instagram and YouTube have emerged as the most popular platforms for influencer marketing. Instagram, in particular, has become the go-to platform for brands looking to partner with influencers. This is because Instagram is a highly visual platform, making it the perfect place for influencers to showcase products and services.

On the other hand, YouTube is ideal for long-form content and has given rise to a new breed of influencers known as vloggers. These content creators share their lives with their followers, making them highly relatable and trustworthy. Brands have taken notice of this trend and have begun partnering with vloggers to promote their products. It’s a great way to step up your influencer marketing efforts.

The rise of micro-influencers: Niche audiences and high engagement

In recent years, micro-influencers have emerged as a new trend in influencer marketing. These are individuals with a smaller following, typically between 1,000 to 10,000 followers. People perceive them as more authentic and trustworthy than traditional influencers, who often have millions of followers. Micro-influencers have a more niche following, making them ideal for brands targeting a specific audience.

Micro-influencers also tend to have higher engagement rates than larger influencers. This means that their followers are more likely to interact with their content. This high engagement makes micro-influencers a valuable partner for brands looking to increase brand awareness and drive sales.

The future of influencer marketing: AI and authenticity

As we look to the future of influencer marketing, two trends are emerging that will shape the industry. The first is the use of artificial intelligence to identify the best influencers for a brand’s target audience. AI algorithms can analyze an influencer’s audience and engagement data to determine if they are a good fit for a brand’s campaign. This will make it easier for brands to find the right influencers and ensure their campaigns succeed. On top of that, there is plenty more that AI developers have in store for us in the following years.

Tablet, camera, and other photography tools and equipment

Authenticity is one of the most critical aspects of influencer marketing nowadays.

The second trend is the focus on authenticity. As influencer marketing has grown in popularity, some influencers have become less authentic. People can see when influencers promote products they don’t genuinely believe in. This has led to a rise in demand for influencers genuinely passionate about the products they promote. So hiring the wrong influencer is one of the biggest influencer marketing mistakes to avoid. Instead, partner with influencers who align with your company’s values and who have built their following based on their authenticity and relatability.

The bottom line

Influencer marketing has come a long way since the early days of celebrity endorsements. The rise of social media and the emergence of platforms like Instagram and YouTube have turned influencers into some of the most powerful marketing tools for brands. They’ve completely changed the history of influencer marketing. And the future of influencer marketing looks bright, too. So stay tuned because partnering with influencers is a marketing trend that will never go out of style. In fact, it can only become more popular!

Elizabeth Wilkens


5 effective PR strategies for small businesses in 2024

5 effective PR strategies for small businesses in 2024

Small businesses might have the impression that there’s no need to worry about having a PR strategy—if you build it they will come, and all that. But the reality is that this is just as much a part of being profitable whether you’re operating on a local scale or...