Raised by the Internet Episode 2: The Deep, Dark Web…of Influencers

Raised by the Internet Episode 1: Are We Addicted to Our Phones?

In Episode 2 of Raised by the Internet, Ella and Jessica discuss all things influencers.

Growing up in a small town in the Midwest, there wasn’t a lot for some of us to do….except go online. Join us as we explore what it was like to grow up on the internet as the digital world developed. 

To many, it’s still taboo that a post on Instagram could be worth thousands of dollars. But growing up online, we’ve watched influencers do much more than post #Ads. In this episode, we discuss our personal experiences being, well, influenced.

Produced by Ella Field, Matt Blake, & Jessica Comstock

Edited by Matt Blake

Directed by Matthew Meisinger

Crew: Gable Thompson, Zacary Gideon, Harrison Futrell, Kayla Hartman, Ben Mowitz


Ella Field, host: Welcome back to raised by the Internet, a podcast about growing up online. I’m Ella

Jessica Comstock, host: and I’m Jessica. Today we’re going to be diving into the deep and sometimes dark world of influencers.

Ella: So let’s start off with when we were kids and influencers. So, do you have a memory of a first influencer?

Jessica: I do. Andrea Russett on YouTube. I don’t really remember the type of content she makes or made. I think it was like lip-synching videos? Or like I remember there’s one with a Justin Bieber song and her hands like there’ Sharpie on her hands. But I do remember when she started working at a radio station. It seems like a big deal because she like broke out of the YouTube space into like more traditional media. Which is like a whole conversation you can have about influencers and YouTubers and stuff. But I do remember her being kind of the first true influencer who then I think later on like, became like a real influencer that people like consider it like, oh, that’s her job as an influencer.

Ella: Yeah. And I feel like that’s a lot like kind of a microcosm, If that’s the correct word use, of influencers today where they start off online but then eventually the might break out into media, larger media things. 

Jessica: What about you? 

Ella: So my first that, it’s not that exciting my first influencer I watched.  Her name was Kalel. She did beauty videos. I remember the first video i watched from her was a what’s in my bag? 

Jessica: Oh, those were good. 

Ella: So good. Yeah. And now she still makes videos but she is like a crazy vegan. And so different side of the internet. Yeah, and so I don’t watch her anymore. But another one of my first influencers I watched were all the British YouTubers like Zoella she was like my favorite. And I still watch her occasionally. 

Jessica: Yeah, the British YouTubers were like a thing. 

Ella: Yeah, yeah. The way I wanted to be British now for most of my life, still to this day. I would love to be British. Imagine if I had a British accent right now.

Jessica: And what I think is interesting about a lot of those influencers is they weren’t really trying to be influencers at least they said they weren’t. Yeah. Is they always just said, oh, like I’m on YouTube, just because I like filming my life or I like video production or all those things. And then people just start following them and being influenced by them. Yeah, I think that’s just kind of how it started, at least in our lifetime. 

Ella: Yeah like hauls were big where they’d show products they bought and then we felt the need to go buy those products because we wanted to be cool and be like the influencers.

Jessica: Yeah, because we looked up to them. Like we wanted to be like them. 

Ella: Um, I also think that I was definitely more influenced back then by influencers. I definitely bought those products they were just very casually mentioning not because they were being paid to mention them just because that’s what they use, like, Baby Lips, EOS, BB cream, the one blush that’s like the cushion blush. But were you ever influenced by anything back then?

Jessica: Um, probably when I was like in high school, like the 2016 era of YouTube and influencers and makeup and all those things. I definitely bought quite a bit of like tarte Shape Tape, which is terrible product in my opinion. Sorry. But also like the Anastasia dipbrow, like they didn’t look great on me. But it was because that’s what the influencers were doing. It was also like then they consider the trends and all those things. Yeah, yeah.

Ella: Yeah, I was influenced by a lot of those beauty products when I was younger. I think part of it was because I was younger, but and like I was looking up to them, but it was definitely a lot different than it is now because the things that influencers are promoting I normally like, try not to buy. Because I’m like, this is stupid. Yeah. Like, nice try, but I’m not falling for it. Have you ever tried buying anything though? Like, as you’ve gotten older?

Jessica: More recently? I don’t think so. Not that I can think of. I think usually now the influencer like the products they talk about it is like sponsored content typically. And so they have to say it’s sponsored content. And then so I just kind of skip through that. And like if they’re like, Oh, here’s the ad I have to talk about. I’m just like, okay, whatever. But back then it was integrated in the content more. So I think I was more influenced, because I was like, Oh, they actually use that rather than them being paid to talk about it.

Ella: Yeah, I think, too, I, if I am going to buy something, it’s not from the sponsored content. It’s still because they’re just mentioning something because when they’re just mentioning something and not saying it’s sponsored content, I know it’s a product that they actually like and if I like that influencer, I’ll trust them. So yeah, I think like from TikTok too. I if I see something very often, I’ll just 

Jessica: On TikTok the thing is they’re usually not even influencers. They’re just

Ella: people that are like, 

Jessica: Influencers aren’t people. 

Ella: But like they’re usually not with an influencer background. They don’t have 1000s of followers. And they’re just like, walk, don’t run to this product.

Jessica: Did you ever try to be an influencer? You’re a normal person, not an influencer?

Ella: You bet I did. When I was younger, I had a YouTube channel I made duct tape videos, including a duct tape video where a creepy guy requested I duct tape my mouth closed. And tried to take the tape off without using my hands. I was very naive. I was like 10 or 11. 

Jessica: That’s something to unpack. 

Ella: Yeah, well, that’s something for a therapist. And I also had a One Direction like fan YouTube where each day of the week we’d switch off which day we’d post. I think I was like Tuesdays or Thursdays. And then recently, last no, not last year, It’s 2022. In 2020, I was hired by the Iowa Democratic Party to do three sponsored posts. I got paid $300, just to tell people to vote not even trying to swing their beliefs but it was fun. I got $300.

Jessica: Yeah, I wish they asked me. I don’t have enough followers on Instagram, I guess. But yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever necessarily tried to be an influencer. I think I’m inspired by influencers. Like I don’t know, Emma Chamberlain invented the photo dump. And now that’s like, the only way I post on Instagram. But I don’t think, I mean, I did make like YouTube videos when I was a kid. But I don’t think it was me being like, Oh, here’s this cool thing. I was just taking pictures of American Girl dolls and putting them in a little slideshow.

Ella: As you should be. 

Jessica: Yeah, that’s fair. So yeah.

Ella: Matt, did you ever try to be an influencer or were you ever influenced to buy anything?

Matt: I definitely made the goofy videos as a kid and I really hope they’re not on YouTube still, although I never took them off. So they could be, but no, I wasn’t super into like the vlogs and stuff like that. And because I wasn’t really consuming that content, I didn’t see a whole lot of the directed like product promotion. I was definitely a sucker for like a cheesy cart, cartoon commercial type thing going on when I was a kid. So yeah, I begged my parents to buy stuff like that all the time. But it was never because an influencer had told me to buy it. But yeah no, I’ve never really tried to be an influencer.

Ella: Well, I might have to go look for those YouTube videos later. Do not take them down. 

Matt: Please don’t

Ella: But I guess we can move on to taking a deeper dive on influencers themselves and how they became what they are today. Um, I have a book for us, oh, history of influencers. That I’ve gathered some information to just talk a little, very brief history and it can also be debated, but we’re not going to get into that because, um. So let’s take ourselves back to 500 to 1500 AD.

Jessica: Woah, so this is pre most media.

Ella: Pre anything. The Pope and royalty were considered influencers because whatever they said, that’s, that’s what went. People like, would do what they said. Yeah. And willingly, like it wasn’t like forced on them. And I think I read some things like the pope even convinced people to get vaccinated and follow modern medicine. Then in 1760, Josiah Westwood, he created a tea set for Queen Charlotte and publicized himself as quote, the potter of Her Majesty.

Jessica: Woah, that was a brand.

Ella: And yeah, he started branding. And then in 1905, we’re gonna take a quick break. I’m sure, or a quick jump. I’m sure there’s something I haven’t been there but we gotta get through this history. Murad cigarettes featured Rosco, quote Fatty Arbuckle in their ad, which was the first celebrity endorsement of a product. And then in the 1920s, this is big, Coco Chanel created the little black dress, transforming life because you could wear the same dress day or night. And started the woman’s pantsuit, which also changed women’s fashion. Then, in the 19, in 1950, the Marlboro Man, he emerged to make smoking Marlboro cigarettes look manly, okay, so people like yeah, and their sales increased because people are like, Oh, if I smoke this brand, I’ll look manly. Or sorry, macho, not manly. And then in the 1980s, Michael Jordan iconic, wore Nike Air Jordans on the court. And then people wanted them because he was wearing them. Yeah. And then they made them public. And then there was a whole thing where he was getting fined because he wasn’t supposed to wear them. I didn’t I didn’t really understand that. 

Jessica: I don’t really know sports.

Ella: But Nike been paid $5,000 which was the fine, I think it was $5,000 to let him keep wearing those shoes every every game on the court. Then in the early 2000s, we have Reality TV, that really like blurred the lines between celebrities and social media. So like think the Kardashians, they really shaped that sphere. And then in the 2010s, social media ramps up and we start getting new phones that are like better, like the technology has improved and better cameras. So things online to switch to be more professional and video, and photo and video focused. Same with like the rise of Instagram and other social media like Facebook, obviously

And then people began creating brands for themselves. And people got attached to those people when, as like they were characters, which they kind of are in a sense. And now almost anyone, you could consider them an influencer. And we’re influenced by a lot of people on social media just when we don’t even know it like we talked about earlier. And people are paid 1000s Just for mentioning a product. And according to Google, 70% of teenagers trust influencers more than celebrities. So that’s a very brief history of influencers. 

Jessica: What a great book.

Ella: I’ll let you borrow it some time if you want. There was a stat I saw that like the social media industry is now like, is expected to be I think 16 billion…

Jessica: Oh my god.

Ella: …dollar industry. Compared to in 2010. It was something like 1 billion and that’s a lot of money.

Jessica: Yeah. Something I think we could honestly have its own episode is just like influencers and like PR packaging, because brands are sending like these PR packages to influencers to have them show the products and people like on YouTube, I know do hauls, of just like things brands sent me and like my opening my PR packages, which is like, like, do these people who already make so much money need free products, but people do that with celebrities all the time. They’re not paying for the things on the red carpet, right?

Ella: But that’s the same argument like yeah, should we be making them pay? They can afford it. But it’s crazy to think that people get those huge hauls of stuff just sent to their house for free and I think that’s now one of the reasons so many people want to be influencers is for all the free stuff.

Jessica: I would take the free stuff. 

Ella: I would too, don’t get me wrong. But also part of the reason I want the free stuff is because i don’t have the money to afford it. But maybe if I was an influencer I would. 

Jessica: If people keep sending like, or brands keep sending influencers free stuff all the time. It does kind of at a point it’s like, well, what about the people who actually want to use those products and like how you can actually like people who want to see those products maybe aren’t able to get those products because a lot of them are like special products that they only have a little bit of, and there’s something like half of them going to people just for advertising. But I guess it’s all part of it. 

Ella: Matt, were you able to by any chance fact check those facts I was spitting off about… Okay, okay. Okay.

Matt: Reference to like back in 2013. And this is the influencer industry specifically not social media as a whole. So back in 2013, the influencer industry was worth about 1.7 billion, which raised to about 6.5 billion in 2019. And now, as of 2021, we were at 13 Point 8 billion. They think that it’s going to keep that upward trajectory which is actually like an alarming rate, an increase to 16 point 4 billion by this year, which is, you notice that that number goes up a little bit more every time and I think that’s just the exponential growth of this. The incentive for brands to use all of these different influence, influencers of which there are now like millions. It’s just too good to pass up for them.

Ella: Yeah, and the fact that brands can almost guarantee they’ll make money on any one of those posts is just, I think is what’s fueling that fire making an incline. 

Matt: Absolutely. Yeah. 

Ella: So there are a lot of different types of influencers out there. 

Jessica: Yeah. 

Ella: And we have a few favorites. 

Jessica: We do have a few favorites

Ella: and we can’t touch on all of them. But should we start with one of the best?

Jessica: Mommy influencers? 

Ella: Yeah. So, mommy influences as a concept.

Jessica: If you aren’t aware of mommy influencers, it’s basically because of people who are moms or parents. There are also dads, but it’s mostly women who kind of just talk about things like being a mom, but also just like a lot of times it turns into family content. So it’s also about their kids. So there’s sort of like this weird meshing that there’s. I don’t know. It’s not always the best. 

Ella: Yeah, it can feel and be very exploitative, if not done carefully. And there’s been a lot of controversy with a lot of family YouTubers. That are using their children when it’s inappropriate to do so. 

Jessica: Because there’s child labor laws for like child actors. But when that’s happening at home, when your parents just have a camera out, it’s like, well, if my mom was just taking a picture of me posting it on Facebook, when I was a kid, it’s not a big deal, but when her following gets to 1000, or 2000, it’s a little different.

Ella: Yeah. And those children can’t like they can say they don’t want to be filmed, but oftentimes, they’re so young that the parents are just filming them and they can’t really…

Jessica: They can’t consent to it. 

Ella Field: They don’t know, they don’t know conceptually what’s happening. Like they don’t know that their parents could have like 2 million people viewing videos of them.

Jessica: Yeah. And there’s I’ve seen people like post on Reddit like they’re now 16, but they used to be a child that was in blogs and vlogs and they want that stuff taken down but like their parent won’t because it was profitable and it still is. 

Ella: But a lot of people turn to these mommy influencers because they think of them as like experts. They will give advice or they’ll, like, show their perfect family and show how your family could be. Almost like that nuclear family, family stereotype oftentimes.

Matt: Which is a lot of times unrealistic. Because I mean, if all they do is film at home and like, not that like being a full time, like being a caretaker is obviously a full time job but like, it is unrealistic for someone to just like be perfect and on all the time. But then when they bring a camera into it, they have to be because that is their brand.

Ella: Um, I have a shout out, not a shout out but there’s, I even follow this one on TikTok that make me uncomfortable. And a lot of people feel uncomfortable by them. So I know I’m not alone. This Montessori family where like they’re trying to do gentle parenting so hard to an extent where it feels so forced, and like very inauthentic and like scripted almost like they’re making their kids read a script. And then the other thing on TikTok that I think is insane is there now a whole facet of predicting baby names that is a thing for mommy influencers that are pregnant and having a kid. There’s one that I always get on my For You Page that like really digs in deep and I do like, I like that content. I like watching it, it’s fun. 

Jessica: But it’s crazy that the moms and parents are sharing so much about their life that like just anyone watching can sort of predict and figure it out. That’s like, it’s crazy because like in my life I couldn’t even tell you who like my closest friends or like family members what they want to name their kids. But like I could probably figure out like mommy influencesr. 

Ella: Well, it’s also just crazy that people care about much about someone else’s baby. And I’m, I’m guilty of it. There are a lot of babies out there that, like I mentioned before Zoella. She recently had a baby, obsessed with it and I watched her pregnancy content. I watched her now, new mom content, you know, a little nursery overview. 

Jessica: It’s just interesting. I’m not a mom. Nor will I be for quite a while. But it is interesting content. And for some reason, it appeals to everyone. Not maybe not everyone, but a lot of people. And we have some facts. The author of the Social Media Bible told Forbes that mommy, or mommy bloggers are some of the most influential people on the platform and so much that the Federal Trade Commission, or the FTC, had to create like a mommy blogger law in 2012. That sort of like caused like, like shared promotion to clearly state that they are paid promotion and sponsorships.

Ella: Speaking of bloggers, this is a very short rant. And then I have another type of influencer, I think, we should get into. I think there are too many. And I hate the way that they type, or they write. It’s obnoxious and especially when I’m reading recipes, I don’t need all that.

Jessica: But they have to do that for copyright. 

Ella: I understand. But It doesn’t need be that long. I don’t need to hear the whole backstory.

Jessica: Fair, fair.

Ella: But I really, I really want to talk about pet influencers, because I think it’s really big. Okay. Matt, maybe while we’re talking about this, do you mind looking up how much or how many pet influencer accounts are out there? Because there are a lot of very famous ones.

Jessica: Yeah, um, I think like pet influencers. It’s fascinating because they sort of take on like a human interaction. And like people act like their pet is a human. I mean, we have, we have an Instagram for our cat so I can’t really say much. But yeah, there’s like Jiffpom and like noodle, which is the one that was predicting. I just think like we all like pets. It’s something like happy on our feeds.

Ella: Also, nevermind, because I just remembered the stat it’s one in six pet owners in the United States. Have an Instagram for their pet. 

Jessica: Well, I’m one of the six.

Ella: Yeah, I am too. I have one for, we have a shared one for our cat. And I have one for my dog at home. And then also like, Okay, you mentioned Jiffpom, which we’ll briefly get into. Makes millions of dollars a year. Which is crazy. Has millions of followers like 1000s of dollars for each post. Fun fact is that my hometown, next to Jiffpom’s hometown.

Jessica: Whoa, have you ever seen him?

Ella: I haven’t but it was a big thing in middle school. He would be at a Starbucks and everyone would be like taking pictures with him and be like Jiffpom is at Starbucks.

Jessica: Yeah. If you don’t know who Jiffpom is. He’s like this little tiny, Is he a Pomeranian?

Ella: Yeah.

Jessica: I think Pomeranian and he was like the cutest little like head. It’s like they groom it in a perfect circle. He’s so cute. And they just make videos of him just dancing to music. And it’s good. Content that I like. 

Ella: The other kind of influencer that again, this could be a whole nother episode. And a whole other topic for debate is like celebrities and influencers. Yeah, so people that started as influencers and are now celebrities.

Jessica: And there’s also the other way that celebrities kind of have to act like influencers because their brands are sort of, you know, like their company or their other brands or managers and stuff or their teams are like, Oh, well, that’s what does well.

Ella: And that line is so blurred that we can spend like a whole nother 30 minutes just talking about that and debating that. We’re out of time. So we’ll have to hold that off. Next week. We’ll be talking about fandoms, stan accounts on social media. Which I have a lot of good stories for that. 

Yeah, we do.

You’ll have to come back. urban-plains.com

Jessica: Thanks for watching.

Ella and Jessica: See you next time!

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