If you want to know how Kylie Jenner became a billionaire through Instagram, look no further than the rise of country music in the 1920s. While they were many talented musicians out there in the new frontiers of America playing for their local communities, it took the business savvy of Nashville’s National Life and Accident Insurance Company to see they could use the appeal of these fiddlers, banjo players, and yodellers to help sell their insurance plans in Tennessee, and launched their own station, WSM, to reach new customers.
The initials stood for the company’s slogan ‘We Shield Millions’ and its show, the Grand Ole Opry, quickly became the most prestigious slot for country performers. This was further cemented when radio technology and commercial success spurred them on to becoming a national broadcaster by 1932.
Today, the Grand Ole Opry is America’s longest running radio show and is known as the programme which “made country music famous”, having hosted everyone from Johnny Cash to Taylor Swift. This cocktail of commercial forces, creative individuals, and technology became the template for many cultural phenomena since and it’s the same cocktail that has fuelled the rise of influencers: the Kardashian family through to Zoella.
Often ridiculed for being an “easy-route” when it comes to deciding on a career, there continue to be a number of misconceptions around influencer marketing. However, with the industry on track to be worth up to $15bn (£11.5bn) globally by 2022, according to Business Insider Intelligence estimates, and figures from the marketing research company Morning Consult reporting that 50% of millennials (and 52% of Gen-Zers) ‘trust’ social media influencers to give good advice, there is a collective need to wake up to the value of this career choice.
Our company Inzpire, has just released a review of influencer attitudes, titled #WhitePaper – based on data from 10,000 content creators and more detailed responses from 350 global influencers. It found that influencers are averaging a 30-hour working week – the equivalent to the minimum number of hours required for a job to be classed as full-time in the UK. Not to mention the 76% who stated they are balancing this alongside other jobs, which shows it is not a career for the work-shy.
When people imagine an influencer, the thing that often springs to mind is a stereotype of an individual creating content around fashion, lifestyle and travel. While we have found those categories – in that order – to be the most popular ways content creators define their brand, the power to drive decisions among audiences is far from limited to these areas.
In fact, the definition of an influencer allows for something far broader – someone whose social media profile has followers beyond their group of family and friends and is thereby creating content that’s of interest to people who don’t necessarily know them. And it’s very often those who fall into more unusual niches that are able to come into their own and have a serious impact.
I recently became aware of the concept of cybersecurity influencers (I know!), whose insights and delves into the nitty-gritty of the security world prove invaluable to time-stretched IT professionals. These people are no less ‘influencers’ than those sporting the latest designer trainers. These individuals may not have a comparable follower base but they tend to be more engaged with their audience. People follow influencers who reflect their interests and aspirations and it’s based on the same reasoning that brands call upon specific influencers for collaborations. The key lies in authenticity and trust.
Contrary to popular opinion, many influencers’ decisions on whether to accept a collaboration are strongly related to the stances of brands approaching them. Our research found that 67% are turning down work based on ‘ethical reasons’, suggesting a desire by influencers to actively take care of their credibility; a testament to their relationships with their followers and their commitment to responsible promotion.
This, in turn, has an impact on both the brands behind the products as well as the public’s perception of them and helps in providing the much needed push for transparency and ethical practices that are needed in the space.
The concept of influencing is nothing new – the only thing that has changed is the medium through which it is taking place. Today, Instagram is the new food critic, Pinterest the new showroom, and YouTube is the new soapbox.
From word-of-mouth to radio stations and now the smartphone, people have relied on the suggestions and opinions of those we admire and respect when making decisions. Our increasingly interconnected way of living just means this is more prevalent and diverse than ever before and that for many, our pool – who influences us, and who we influence in turn – has been widened.
Marie Mostad is co-founder and COO of the Norwegian influencer marketing platform Inzpire.me, which connects brands and content creators.