Influence This.

October 10, 2019

How Influencer Marketing Has Changed Over the Years

UPDATE: This was written in 2019 and the influencer/creator world has gotten even bigger! At this point, I’ve been writing and talking about this topic in all its many manifestations for the last decade! I’ll give this blog a proper update soon but for now, take a look at where we were just 3 years ago!

Did you know that over the past year there have been roughly 8,100 search queries for “influencer marketing” each month?! That’s a good amount of people who are wondering what this latest marketing jargon means. In fact, a company called Mediakix cites research that shows advertisers spent over $1 billion in Instagram influencer marketing alone over the course of one year. So what is influencer marketing?

What is Influencer Marketing?

The concept of people influencing overall consumer behavior is not new. Nor is the concept of marketing based on an influential person. As a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Michael Jordan Wheaties campaign comes to mind. 

Remember when Oprah used to mention a product she loved, and that product would sell out within days?! That was influencer marketing at its finest. If that concept hasn’t changed, why the new buzz about influencer marketing? 

What has changed is the way we consume information. Our little hand-held computers that we can’t live without—our phones—are changing how the world and, therefore, the free market behaves. 

We are no longer limited to the entertainment that a TV network deems worthy. We can search for and watch pointless DIY YouTube videos and follow funny social media accounts by some undiscovered comedian with access to the Internet until our eyes go blurry. Every decision you make can be cross-referenced instantaneously via your mobile device. What should I wear to work? Where should we eat tonight? Is this subscription worth it? Is that hotel in a good location? Can I buy those shoes somewhere else for cheaper? Reviews and referrals have never been more important than they are right now, and in a nutshell, that’s what influencer marketing is trying to capitalize on.  

When brands and marketers talk about influencer marketing, they are talking about someone with influence online who has the potential to sway consumer behavior (good or bad).

That might be someone with a widely-read blog or popular YouTube channel, a celebrity/public figure or someone with a decent online social media following. 

These influencers somehow engage with or plug your brand in an authentic way to their audience (more on authenticity later). This organic way of talking about a brand has proven to increase engagement, which allows us marketers to tangibly show results. Engagement allows us to go beyond anecdotal claims that “people really liked that campaign, product, service, etc.” and actually show how many people liked, shared, tagged or commented. Nowadays, we can actually show how engagement impacts sales using online metrics—for example, using a specific promo code unique to an influencer and their audience. 

History on the Current Influencer Marketing Model

When I first started working with influencers back in 2006, they were called “featured bloggers.” Five years later, I worked on my first brand ambassador program that built on lessons learned from managing featured bloggers. Today, I’ve tweaked our influencer marketing plans based off the foundation of the brand ambassador programs I built. There is a really cool infographic that NoGRE put together called “Evolution of Influencers” that I recommend you check out. 

Today it’s getting more and more crowded in the social media advertising space. And people are bypassing ads, TV commercials, websites and blogs altogether as their attention spans diminish. These marketing challenges are combated by influencer marketing. If you can garner a referral or recommendation from an influencer, it can help you with lowering your cost of acquisition (depending, of course, on how much it will cost to work with the influencer). 

What Kind of Influencers Should You Recruit?

Brands and marketing agencies used to go after A-list celebrities for “endorsements.” The expense to execute on those endorsements was staggering, and most brands couldn’t afford it. As self-made online content creators began to demonstrate that they could influence engagement and consumer behavior, marketers began to pay attention (although it took them a while). 

Bigger Doesn’t Always Mean Better

Contrary to what most people think, you don’t necessarily have to work with someone with a huge number of followers to make an impact. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are increasingly becoming more crowded. These platforms have to stay relevant to their users and advertisers; therefore, they can’t show everything to everyone. That means if you have thousands of people who follow you on Instagram, only a third of those people (that’s a guess, not a fact) will see what you posted. 

I propose that it’s more beneficial to collaborate with several influencers with smaller audiences, instead of spending your entire budget on one or two major influencers with many followers. Some marketers have dubbed influencers with smaller audiences the “micro-influencers” (because marketers love their jargon). I wrote about this in 2012 after my own experience of working with everyday athletes as influencers. The influencers I chose were dedicated runners, cyclists, triathletes, etc., who had online networks of like-minded individuals who knew and trusted these people. The influencers I used had anywhere from 500–10K followers online. Some of them had blogs and others didn’t. The net impact of these smaller networks equals the engagement of one big one, with the added bonus that the smaller–audience influencer does more for the brand because they’re excited to be a part of something big and they have fewer opportunities presented to them than the influencers with huge followings. 


Look for an influencer who is actively trying to do right by their audience by finding the right fit for products or services to give away, promote and review. It also helps if the influencer has taken the time to continuously try out any products or services they intend to promote. That helps them write or speak about them more authentically and recommend things that they think their audience would actually use or be interested in. 

The Relationship Between Marketer and Influencer

One of the most important things to remember when engaging with an influencer as a marketer is that it takes a lot of time and energy to build an authentic audience. In the past, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen marketers or brands make when working with influencers was assuming that the influencer would be overjoyed at any chance to work with them. That kind of thinking undervalues what the influencer does and starts the relationship off on the wrong foot. 

As with any relationship, influencer marketing is more successful when both parties have mutual respect for each other. That means they both see value in working with each other and are continuously working on their relationship. As you may suspect, this takes time and dedication, which is why I usually recommend that brands hire a community or influencer manager to properly address day-to-day interactions with their influencers. Having been in this role several times, I can confidently say that it’s a full-time job. 

Building Your Influencer Network

There are two different avenues you can take when building your own influencer network: Recruit and onboard your own influencers or hire someone else to do it. When you outsource this project, you can go through companies like Fitfluential or Expertcity who already have influencers within their network. You just tell the company you’re working with the type of influencers you’re looking for, and they find them for you. I’ve never done this because I’ve always built my own influencer program; however, I can see the appeal from a time management perspective. Just remember that you’ll end up paying more and won’t have as much direct communication with the influencers, so you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons before you enter into a relationship like that. 

Build Your Own

If you build your own network, you can use the following hashtags on Twitter or Instagram to help with recruiting:




To narrow it down even further, you can add the hashtag of your industry. Don’t be afraid to get specific.

Outsourcing Your Influencer Network

There are a number of companies that have sprung up around this latest marketing darling, and I suspect there will be more to come. If you outsource this job, make sure you’re clear on who owns the content you end up using, so there are no gray areas if and when you decide to part ways.

Influencer marketing can be really effective, especially if you have a strong product or service. A good indicator of that is when you already have super fans after launching, and those super fans aren’t related to you! In other words, if what you’re marketing is doing well via word of mouth, an influencer marketing program can help amplify your reach exponentially. 

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