Only a few short years ago the very term ‘influencer’ was considered strictly industry-speak, a way of identifying individuals who could leverage their platforms to promote a message for a brand or business. These days the term is common knowledge, on par with the word ‘celebrity’ as a byword for fame, success, and power.

So-called ‘influencer marketing’ is now a cornerstone of any serious company’s PR strategy, as people have woke up to the new reality that an Instagram post or YouTube video can have many times more impact than a TV advert.

Influencers are a reflection not just of changing technological habits, but also of a new culture, one where our role models and public figures are expected to be more accessible and available than ever. Let’s break down the rise of the influencer, what the current media landscape looks like, and what we can expect to change in the future. 

How it Happened

By most estimates, the value of the global influencer industry now stands between $5-10 billion, several times higher than a decade ago. Reality television shows, particularly hit series like Keeping up with the Kardashians, have been credited with spawning the first generation of influencers and cultivating a culture where entire generations eagerly follow the curated personal lives of wealthy style icons.

Platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube, which give fans a direct window to their favourite celebrities, further fuelled the displacement of TV, film, and radio as major advertising tools.

With half of the planet actively using social media and the coveted 16-35-year-old demographic spending hours every day on their smartphones, anyone who could master the rules of social media stands to make millions.

Influencers in Numbers

To be an influencer in 2019 is to make more money and have more influence than some of the most well-known celebrities in history. Take YouTube, for instance, the platform where some of the top online influencers got their careers started. The highest paid YouTubers, such as PewDiePie and Smosh, make £11.4 million and £7.4 million a year respectively. This is more than many chart-topping singers ever make. 

So how and why do they make so much money? The majority of it comes from brand promotion. Research has shown that influencers are 10 times more likely to influence an in-store purchase than a celebrity. 40% of Twitter users claim to have purchased a product as a direct result of an influencer promoting it.

Meanwhile, YouTubers have the most sway over the 13-24 demographic, convincing them to spend millions every year. These are the kinds of numbers that traditional advertisers could only dream of hitting, which explains why influencing has become such big business. 

Future Trends 

Like everything which happens online, the world of influencers is changing rapidly. One major trend to watch out for is the ongoing decline of the so-called “mega-influencers”. These are people with more than a million followers who are able to command seven or eight-figure salaries.

Content marketers have noticed a major drift towards smaller, micro-influencers among social media users. This is because they are more likely to be perceived as “authentic” and therefore more likely to be trusted.

The platforms where influencers are thriving are also changing. Twitter and Instagram are becoming less relevant, while live-streaming services such as Twitch are spawning a new generation of digital superstars.

Like it or not, influencers are here to stay. They will continue to shape culture, just as our own culture shapes modern influencers. Whatever your thoughts on the phenomenon, their power is undeniable.