Parents, teachers, role models, and peers were the great personal influences of my youth. Among the many I never met were authors, journalists, celebrities, and occasional politicians. When did influences become influencers, and what changed along with the word?
An influencer is someone with a large social media following who contracts to promote brands and products for profit. According to dictionary.com, this use of the word became widespread from about 2015. Far more than old-time television or billboards, social media make it possible to target large numbers in a precise niche. Influencers build a niche for the purpose of advertising other people’s products.
Whoever grew up thinking, “I want to be a basketball star so I can make big money selling shoes?” Whereas traditional celebrity endorsements were an option for athletes and actors at or past the peak of their careers, young people today hope to become influencers to build their careers. A study a few years back found the notion of being a social media influencer appealed to 86 percent of participants age 13 to 38.
The whole idea feels bizarre to me. I must be getting old.
Image: The old media. Evert F. Baumgardner, family watching television, c. 1958, National Archives and Records Administration.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.