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No, Influencers Aren’t New But Their Reach Is

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Influencers are everywhere but this isn’t a new thing


Influencers.  You have them. I have them. They are everywhere.

The rise of social media and YouTube means that anybody with an internet connection can attempt to be an influencer. 

The times have changed from when I was growing up.

According to a recent study, kids want to be social media influencers more than they want to be president, a star athlete, a pop star, or even a movie star. 

What is an influencer and what should you know before you even reach out to partner with them in your marketing and public relations (PR) efforts?

I’m going to cover that today and more. 

What is an Influencer?

Let’s starts with the basics. What the heck is an influencer? 

To help me answer this question, I consulted the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It gives the following definition: one who exerts influence a person who inspires or guides the actions of others. 

In keeping up with modern-day life, it also gives this second definition: often, specifically a person who is able to generate interest in something (such as a consumer product) by posting about it on social media.

It’s this second definition that you likely think about first. It’s definitely what kids are thinking about when they hear the term. 

However, I’m not crazy about this second definition. Why? 

It’s just too narrow. It’s like a horse with blinders on.

If you subscribe to the second definition, you’re not wrong but you’re missing the bigger picture and in doing so, you will miss many opportunities to partner with people. 

I like the first definition more but I still don’t think it’s quite right so let’s create a definition of our own. 

To do this I want to first consult with the Merriam-Webster dictionary once again. 

I’m interested in the definition of the word influence which is: to affect or alter by indirect or intangible means.

Armed with this information I can create a definition we can run with for the rest of this article. 

An influencer is a person or brand who affects the actions of others.

If you’re thinking this definition means anybody could be an influencer, you’re right because they can. 

Anybody Can Be An Influencer

When I said that influencers are everywhere, I wasn’t joking. 

You have influencers all around you everyday and it’s been this way your whole life. 

Your parents. Siblings. Grandparents. Aunts. Uncles. Friends. Teachers. Coaches. 

As you got older you could add even more to this list. Girlfriends. Boyfriends. Husbands. Wives. Co-workers. Managers.

These people have all influenced you at one time or another and they are all within the sphere of your daily life.

When I was growing up, my sister’s friends listened to artists like Amy Grant while my sister listened to Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Dokken, and Ratt. Why? Because every day on the way to school, I listened to these bands (plus others) in the car, and eventually she got hooked. 

Her friends were going to see Amy Grant while she was going to see Metallica and this was mainly due to the influence of her brother.

My niece spent years doing cheerleading. Why? Her Aunt Robyn was a cheerleader at Boise State. 

When my drum teachers suggested I check out a particular drummer, I did.

I would be remiss to not acknowledge that celebrities also have an influence on our lives.

It could an actor, musician, athlete, or even a politician.

When I was playing drums, I subscribed to a magazine called Modern Drummer. As part of their interviews, they would have a section that included what albums inspired them. 

When it was a drummer that I loved, it was a no-brainer to buy those albums. I would credit these drummers, which I’ve never met in my life, more than anybody close to me (with the exception of my drum teachers) for helping me expand my musical horizons.

You have experiences like this too. You might be affiliated with a particular political party or religion because of your parents.

You might buy a certain brand of flour when you bake because it’s what grandma used.

You might be a fan of a certain music group or sports team because of a sibling or a friend. You might have started following a certain actor or actress because your favorite movie star spoke highly of them.

This what influence looks like and you don’t need a large social media following or a blog that gets 250,000 visitors a week.

You are also an influencer and it’s highly likely that you influenced somebody in some way in the last week and you will again next week.

The only difference between you and Kylie Jenner is that she has a bigger platform which means she has the chance to influence millions of people versus a few.

A Quick History of Influencers

One of my pet peeves is that we treat this idea of influencers as something that is new. It’s not though social media has given it a new dimension.

However, because influencers are potentially all around us, the idea of using influencers has a longer history than has been recognized.

Using celebrities, whether they are known for acting, music, or athletics to influence us to buy something is an old tactic that goes back decades.

When I was a kid we all wanted Air Jordan’s because we really wanted to be just like Mike. Michael Jordan’s appeal wasn’t lost on company’s like McDonald’s, Gatorade, and Hanes who all had him in their commercials.

Now, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes are selling State Farm Insurance. Jennifer Aniston is selling Vital Proteins. Post Malone is selling Doritos.

George Clooney, LeBron James, Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, Muhammad Ali, Kobe Bryant, Taylor Swift, Kevin Hart, Justin Timberlake, Cindy Crawford, Shaquille O’Neal, Betty White, Kristen Bell, and even Alfred Hitchcock have all appeared in commercials to influence people to buy something. And you know well as I do this is an extremely short list.

It’s not just products. Politicians get endorsements from people to influence you to vote for them. It could be anybody from your local legislature to a big political name or even a celebrity.

Joe Biden’s campaign looked like it was going to go down in flames in the Democratic Primary until Jim Clyburn endorsed him influencing millions of votes.

PR people have been working with influencers in communities for years to help bring support for policy on the national, state, and local levels.

In my last blog post I talked about being a thought leader. A thought leader is another type of influencer. 

I can’t tell you how many tools I’ve tried, books I’ve read, or people I’ve started following because a thought leader I followed gave an endorsement.

When you buy something, you want to feel like your making the right choice and a kind word from somebody you see as an influencer can go a long way to help you. This is why influencers can be important to your marketing.

The Golden Age of Influence

In the past your influence was limited. You can only influence who you come in contact with so at most, it was people who knew you.

If you are a celebrity, the sphere of influence you have can grow to a regional, national, or worldwide level but there are still limitations.

It’s hard to influence, even if you’re famous if you can’t reach people. Pre-internet, it was media coverage, events, fan clubs, and rallies.

If you really wanted to speak directly to the people it was a book but you were still at the mercy of somebody else, the publisher. Then of course, you still needed the media to help get the message out about the book.

If you’re not a celebrity or somebody of consequence such as a politician, it was nearly impossible to reach a large of people.

Then came the internet. It was a door that opened that allowed everyday people to connect. You could now go into a forum online and talk to people all over the country.

Then there was the possibility to have a website. In the late 90s, blogging popped up as an option. It started to snowball from there. You could podcast or create a video to post on YouTube.

You no longer had to be a celebrity to potentially connect and influence a large of number of people.

After the turn of the millennia, social media started to gain traction. It took some time but it created an age of influencers on steroids.

Anybody with a social media account can potentially influence on a large scale.

If you build a large number of followers, it is now possible that a company could show up to make a deal for you to promote their product or service.

Now, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a social media influencer. Being an influencer has become a job title and its own industry but as you might guess this creates some potential problems.

Do Your Research

With the many influencers that are now out there, it is imperative that you do your research.

Influencers come in all shapes and sizes. Some influencers may have a small audience. Others may have a huge audience. Many will fall in between these two.

As with most things, the instinct is bigger is better. This is understandable. We’ve been programmed to believe this idea.

We often confuse quality with the size of the audience consuming it. This TV show is better than that one because more people watch it. This movie is superior to other movies because of the amount of money it makes at the box office.

This is a fallacy. Don’t fall for it. Bigger isn’t necessarily better and chasing bigger may lead to a poor return on investment.

You don’t need the biggest audience. You need the right audience.

You may find that a micro-influencer speaks to the audience that you are trying to reach while other companies might find that Kim Kardashian is exactly the right influencer to work with.

Tools like SparkToro will help you identify the people who will reach your audience through podcasts, on social, and in the media.

Another reason to do your research is to make sure that an influencer is legitimate. The fact that so much money has been paid out to influencers has attracted some unsavory characters. Anybody can declare themselves an influencer these days and some play the part really well.

There are self-declared social media influencers that exist solely to steal your money so do your due diligence.

And That’s a Wrap

I hope you now realize that influencers are everywhere. You’re an influencer. I’m an influencer. Even your 80-year-old grandfather is an influencer.

The only difference between these examples and Kylie Jenner is reach.

The next time you’re looking for an influencer to help promote your marketing message, don’t just look for people who have the most reach. The best influencer might just be who you least expect.

*Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

Shane Carpenter
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