The concept of influence marketing is not a new concept, with mascots and brand spokespeople existing for hundreds of years from the royal approval of Josiah Wedgwood’s pottery, through to the early brand ambassadors, mascots and celebrity endorsers.
All of these different marketing techniques work using the two-step flow idea that people are drawn to opinion leaders, who contextualise the media and give these opinions to others because we tend to trust people we know more than companies and leaders.
These opinion leaders do not just have to be people we know personally but they can also be mascots we engage with, brand ambassadors that put a human face on business and products, or celebrities that endorse a certain brand may attract those fans to it as a show of support.
Modern influencer marketing is an evolution of this idea, except with far less of a distance between the influencer and their audience, creating a more personal connection, with the help of social media platforms that allow for a lot more direct communication.
Before the modern world of social media influencers, as found on platforms such as TikTok, there was Instagram. Before that, there were Youtube celebrities, before that were popular bloggers with sponsorship deals, and before all of this, there was JenniCam.
There had technically been nanoinfluencers before this on Usenet, the first ever online community, but due to the community’s general suspicion of commercialisation in the pre-Web 1.0 days, the marketing potential was limited, although there were attempts even back then.
JenniCam was a very prototypical streaming service where Jennifer Ringley hooked up a webcam and programmed it to send pictures of her life every three minutes to people that would watch.
Part of the appeal, as with other later live-casters such as Justin Kan and Ice Poseiden, was that it was an unfiltered look at a person’s real life, and at its peak JenniCam would attract up to four million viewers a day.
What made her the first modern influencer is that she found a way to monetise this site and made enough money to make it her full-time job before the idea of online content creation was at the forefront of many people’s minds, led to TV appearances and inspired other creators to follow her lead
It lasted from 1996 until 2003 when changes to PayPal’s policy changes made running her site unviable.