The concept of “Influencer,” though old, has been redefined in the modern age.

The concept of "Influencer," though old, has been redefined in the modern age.

Language serves as a crucial tool for communication with those around us. Over time, its meanings have evolved gradually in various contexts, influencing many different fields. One such example is the term “influencer.” Since the mid-1600s, this phrase has often been used to denote individuals capable of shaping the beliefs of others. By the late 2015s, searches for this term on Google began to exponentially increase.

The concept of "Influencer," though old, has been redefined in the modern age.
The concept of “Influencer,” though old, has been redefined in the modern age.

In today’s context, we cannot separate this concept from its association with social media. In 2019, it was first seen in the Merriam Webster dictionary. Now, influencers are given a slightly new definition: “An influencer is someone who can generate interest in something (a product) by posting about it on social media.”

But what exactly is this as a profession?

The inception of the contemporary influencer concept stemmed from the social media platform Instagram. The principle behind influencer marketing is that consumers want to hear opinions from individuals rather than brands. A study by Baer and Lemin showed that 83% of Americans are significantly influenced by recommendations from friends when making purchases. Hence, influencers act as “trusted companions” providing reliable advice. Although such marketing tools may seem newly devised, they have existed for centuries.

In history, the media has been a primary factor in changing consumer behavior even before the advent of social media. This article will highlight some figures as historical landmarks of this definition.

In 1760, Josiah Wedgwood designed a tea set for Queen Charlotte of England, aiming to showcase his talent as the “Potter to Her Majesty.” The Queen’s influence helped Wedgwood’s products become luxurious items, a reputation the brand still enjoys today.

Less than two centuries later, in the 1920s, fashion designer Coco Chanel asserted herself as a fashion icon. Her creative works propelled her to be one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

In 1984, Nike sold Air Jordans in collaboration with Michael Jordan for $70 million, significantly boosting the athlete’s reputation and influence.

When “Sex and the City” first aired in 1988, the main character, Carrie Bradshaw, portrayed by Sarah Jessica Parker, quickly established herself as a fashion pioneer. She popularized iconic footwear brands like Manolo Blahnik and the Fendi Baguette, among others.

Entering the 21st century, Paris Hilton rose to fame as America’s ultimate “IT” girl. Social media became livelier with many trends led by the Hilton heiress, popularizing brands like Juicy Couture and securing their place in the decade’s iconic list.

However, the contemporary notion of influencers truly emerged with the development of the Internet. Specifically, fashion bloggers paved the way for the modern definition. They inspired people on how to dress and what to buy based on their own styles and purchases.

Nonetheless, when Instagram launched in 2010, individuals started gaining more followers, and brands noticed a new marketing method they could employ. Paying Instagram users to advertise products proved to be effective, eventually evolving into the billion-dollar business it is today. For example, Chiara Ferragni started “The Blonde Salad” blog in 2009. She now has over 24 million followers on Instagram and a clothing brand. In 2015, she made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.

Therefore, it’s clear that influencers didn’t appear out of the blue. However, the extent of their influence is still uncharted territory. Are they merely promoting products, or do they have meaningful influence on the fashion industry and society as a whole?

They’ve become such a phenomenon that they’re now categorized into different groups: Nano Influencers, Micro Influencers, Macro Influencers (typically focused on specific industries or fields), and Mega Influencers.

Businesses choose faces suitable for a specific fan base when considering a marketing strategy because different influencers target different demographics.

Fashion underwent a democratization phase before influencers. Previously, it was reserved for the elite, with only the affluent affording the latest fashion and working for magazines. Around 2006, fashion bloggers emerged, bringing fashion to the masses through images of runway attendees. Street style gained importance and continues to exist today.

The rise of influencers accelerated this phenomenon. Fashion influencers brought the fashion week experience to ordinary people. It’s not uncommon to see model images on social media in everyday life, completely changing how people interact with fashion. Influencers democratized fashion, bringing it down from its high pedestal in the old era.

Spending hours searching for a sweater on a retailer’s website is no longer appealing to modern consumers. People now prefer shopping directly from Instagram creators’ suggestions, gradually replacing traditional retailers. Fashion influencers are revolutionizing how we shop for clothes.

Recently, sustainability has been a hot topic in society. Particularly in the fashion industry, environmentally friendly activities are expanding. No one wants to be left behind, even though another term, greenwashing, emerged, reflecting brands borrowing sustainability labels merely for PR. Influencers are also part of the game, with many shifting focus to sustainable brands and clothing. They contribute to conveying the importance of sustainability. However, there are still some “gaps” in reality.

Influence can make someone’s opinion lose authenticity. However, in reality, our opinions are naturally shaped by the influences around us. But the prevalence of social media in life has taken everything to new heights. Anyone using social media is constantly “attacked” by others’ opinions. The massive number of followers serves as a basis of trust, making them more persuasive.

As a result, we find ourselves buying this or that product because of others’ reviews and suggestions. We unconsciously abandon our own opinions and replace them with those of the people we follow. This peculiar effect raises concerns when applied to the fashion industry. Although magazines have influenced our fashion choices for many years, they’ve never reached as many people as influencers have. The scope of magazines cannot influence mainstream culture. They might even be dishonest when receiving advertisements because the money they receive might make them unable to “reject.”

Cancel Culture has been criticized endlessly because it can drag influencers into negative situations. As mentioned earlier, influencers act as reliable friends. This means that when influencers inadvertently associate with a morally dubious brand, they often bear full responsibility for it. Collaborating with criticized brands also significantly affects influencers’ mental health.

However, the future of this concept remains uncertain.

Clearly, influencers have brought about a revolution not only for the fashion industry but also for society as a whole. Their existence has both negative and positive impacts. Therefore, it’s challenging to determine what potential lies in the future.

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