Social Media and Spending Habits:

How Influencers Are Changing the Way We Shop Online

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Do you listen to the reviews of influencers or celebrities you follow on social media? Have you ever made a purchase because of what they’ve shared or said? Without a doubt, social media is having an impact on the way we shop. A lot of consumers pay attention to what the people they follow are choosing to share.

But there are certain rules influencers have to follow to make it obvious if they’ve been paid to promote a product or service or been gifted any items. In this guide, we look at how influencers can indeed influence our shopping behavior and share what to be wary of.

Chapter 1

A Brief History of Social Media

Mobile phone with apps
Image Credit: Maddi Bazzocco via Unsplash

It’s difficult to remember a time without social media because it’s become an ordinary part of most people’s everyday lives. You can keep up with family and friends wherever they are in the world; you can view updates from public figures, from politicians to celebrities; you can even make creating social media content your full-time job.

But it wasn’t always this way. While some phenomena we know today started a lot longer ago than you might think (the first known selfie was taken in 1839 by amateur photographer Robert Cornelius), the first social media network, Six Degrees, wasn’t launched until 1997. Let’s take a look at some of the other developments in the industry.

Robert Cornelius selfie
Image Credit: Wikipedia

First known selfie by
Robert Cornelius, 1839

Arrow pointing to Robert Cornelius

Social Media

a timeline

Timeline point


Six Degrees launched

The first social networking site, Six Degrees, is launched. Users could upload a profile picture and connect with others on the site.

Six degrees logo
Timeline point


Six Degrees shuts down

Timeline point

March 2002

Friendster is launched

It combined social networking and dating and allowed users to discover events, bands, and hobbies.

Friendster logo
Timeline point

December 2002

LinkedIn is launched

It was the first social media site to have a niche (the workplace, in this instance).

LinkedIn logo
Timeline point

August 2003

MySpace is launched

Users could customize their profiles and embed music and video, leading to some artists, such as Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen, Calvin Harris, and Adele, being discovered.

Myspace logo
Timeline point

June 2005

Reddit is launched

Users can join forums on specific topics, known as subreddits, and share and discuss ideas.

Reddit logo
Timeline point

December 2005

YouTube is launched

Users can watch, create, and share videos.

YouTube logo
Timeline point

March 2006

Twitter is launched

Users can post brief 140-character updates about what they were doing, known as tweets, and speak to (or tweet) others directly.

Twitter logo
Timeline point

September 2006

Facebook newsfeed introduced

Facebook introduces the newsfeed, where users could see everything their friends had posted or changed about their pages. Shortly after, it gave users options to control which of their content was displayed in the newsfeed.

Timeline point

October 2006

Google acquires YouTube

Timeline point

August 2007

Twitter introduces the hashtag

— a word or phrase preceded by the # symbol. Users can click on the hashtag to see other tweets that use it and explore the topic.

Timeline point

March 2010

Pinterest is launched

Users can create online pinboards and add other people’s pictures (or “pins”) to their boards.

Pinterest logo
Timeline point

October 2010

Instagram is launched

Users can share photos and videos and organize them using hashtags and locations. The name stems from the idea that all photos would be taken and then added to the platform instantly.

Instagram logo
Timeline point

July 2011

Snapchat is launched

Users can post photos and videos that disappear after a few seconds.

Snapchat logo
Timeline point

April 2012

Facebook acquires Instagram

Timeline point

June 2015

Friendster shuts down amid a lack of engagement

Timeline point


TikTok is launched

Users can watch, share, and upload short videos.

Tiktok logo
Timeline point


Twitter increases its character limit to 280

The previous 140-character limit was introduced back when Twitter was an SMS service, but was considered outdated in the smartphone age.

Timeline point


Video content

Both long and short-form video content receives high levels of engagement across all social media platforms.

What Makes Social Media So Popular?

Humans are, by nature, social animals. In fact, we need social interaction, with research showing that social relationships directly affect our health.

Individuals with less social involvement are more likely to die than those with greater social involvement.

Multiple studies have found that individuals with less social involvement are more likely to die than those with greater social involvement, even when factors like socioeconomic status, physical health, and lifestyle were taken into account.

Group of people socializing
Image Credit: Kindel Media via Pexels

With this in mind, it’s easy to see why social media has such a broad appeal:

Friends and family

You can stay in touch with family and friends.

Friends and family

You can follow accounts that are about your interests and talk to like-minded people.

Friends and family

You can make new friends, regardless of geographical distance.

Friends and family

You can keep up to date with the news and react to it in real time.

Chapter 2

The Rise of Influencers

Influencer taking a selfie
Image Credit: Mateus Campos Felipe via Unsplash

Before we dive into the rise of influencers, let’s look at the definition of “influencer.” Lexico has 2 definitions:

  • A person or thing that influences another
  • A person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media

Influencers came about because of user-generated content. It’s true that social media was and is a great way to keep up with public figures, but ordinary people started to gain attention by sharing their everyday lives on social media platforms and blogs. There are 3 main reasons for this:

Influencer using a phone
Image Credit: Liza Summer via Pexels

Their content was engaging and had an “unfiltered” quality, so their followers kept returning and sharing it with others.

They weren’t famous, so they felt comfortable interacting directly with their followers and forming a community.

Their lives (at least initially) were more similar to those of their followers, making them more relatable and authentic, creating feelings of trust.

These factors gave online content creators the ability to influence their followers when they recommended products, hence the term “influencers.”

Marketers began to realize the potential influencers had and started sending them free products in exchange for a blog post or review. Savvy influencers charged for this service, known as a sponsored post.

Posts like these were better received than ads directly from brands, which were often ignored by users who could spot advertisements instantly.

Many influencers chose to work with brands they already used and loved in an effort to maintain their authenticity for their audiences.

At this relatively early stage, follower count was still seen as the most important metric. Marketers looked for influencers with the biggest audiences to get their ads in front of as many people as possible.

Person looking at their laptop and phone
Image Credit: Plann via Pexels

It wasn’t until later that this began to change and marketers started looking at what we would now call engagement rate —the responsiveness of an influencer’s following. New software helped to provide data about influencers’ accounts and their audiences, allowing marketers to target their campaigns with more precision. Afterward, they could measure how engaged an influencer’s audience was.

Many marketers found that engagement was higher (and their campaign more cost-effective) when they worked with multiple influencers with 5-figure followings than 1 influencer who had a 6-figure following. It’s this approach that really marked the start of influencer marketing as we know it today.

Generally, influencers can be split into the following groups:

Mega Influencers

Over a million followers, but not always connected with their audience.

Macro Influencers

Between 100,000 and a million followers, with a strong connection to their audience.

Micro Influencers

Between 10,000 and 100,000 followers, with a strong connection to their audience. May have a niche.

Nano Influencers

10,000 followers or less, with a strong connection to their audience, which may have more of a community feel. May have a niche.

Some of the top influencer niches include:


With cosmetics, skincare, bodycare and hair care all being so visual, it’s no surprise beauty is one of the biggest influencer niches out there, reportedly worth $534.00 billion in 2022 and predicted to grow by 5.86% by 2026.

Beauty influencers review products, share tutorials, and may even delve into more personal subjects like self esteem and acne. There are even niches within the niche, from sustainability and animal-friendly products to super-glam looks and high-end products. The most popular beauty influencers give their honest opinions and are trusted by followers for their authenticity.

Beauty influencer using make-up
Image Credit: Olesia Bilkei via Adobe Stock


The fashion industry is worth $990 billion in 2022. And there’s no doubt fashion influencers have caused change within it, to the point where those at the top might be asked to create a collection with a brand or sit in the front row at a show.

It’s easy to generalize fashion, but influencers within this industry will have their own niches – perhaps they focus exclusively on high-end pieces, or their audience is plus-size women.

The fashion industry is worth $0.99 trillion (yes, trillion) in 2022.


A lifestyle influencer shares elements of their life in a considered way. The broadness of this category means there are all sorts of niches within it; after all, there are many ways to live. The lifestyle industry is expected to be worth $10.62 billion by the end of 2022.


Not all influencers could be considered celebrities, even if they are very well known in their respective fields, although some do grow their platforms enough. And while all celebrities could perhaps be considered influencers to an extent, some lean into this more than others. Household names such as Kim Kardashian, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and Reese Witherspoon, for example, use their social media platforms to promote products (like Kardashian’s promotion of various wellness and beauty products), share information about their lives (like Johnson’s cheat meals), and promote their businesses (like Witherspoon’s book club and clothing line).


Travelling is hugely popular, predicted to contribute $8.6 trillion to the global economy in 2022 alone, so it makes sense that people would want to hear about real-life experiences rather than only being able to read marketing spiel. And that’s where travel influencers come in. They give us insight into destinations all over the world, offering recommendations, advice, and reviews of accommodation and attractions, along with beautifully shot photos and videos. As with lifestyle, there are many niches within the niche, from luxury travel to backpacking.

On a less positive note, travel influencers have led to a rise in people choosing their holiday destinations based on how "Instagrammable" they are. Some of the most Instagrammed places in the world include the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France; the Bund in Shanghai, China; the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia; and Pyramid de Teotihuacan in Mexico City, Mexico.

Woman taking a selfie in Paris with the Eiffel Tower behind her
Image Credit: Zigres via Adobe Stock

Health and fitness

As most social media platforms are so visual, health and fitness influencers can easily demonstrate the results of their training, nutrition, and other wellness habits, thus marketing their services. The health and fitness industry was worth $54.2 billion in 2021, so there’s clearly a demand from audiences. Influencers might focus on a specific element of health and fitness, such as cardio, strength training, nutrition, or yoga, or take a more rounded approach.


With numerous sports events taking place around the globe, it makes sense that fans would come together to discuss them, and some have set themselves apart as they become influencers within their field of interest or expertise. The players and athletes may also become influencers themselves, promoting their sponsorship and connecting with fans. The industry’s worth is expected to grow to $501.43 billion in 2022.

The sports industry’s worth is expected to grow to $501.43 billion in 2022.


The gaming industry is one that endures and changes to reflect the times, with its current worth estimated to be around $300 billion. With the invention of social media, gamers are able to review new games and consoles, and even stream themselves playing the games live, or commentating on other players’ efforts.

Man gaming on his computer
Image Credit: Arsenii via Adobe Stock


Often found on LinkedIn, business influencers speak about all aspects of the working world, from making money to creating a good culture in the workplace. And the growing popularity in this niche shows in its worth, with its value set to be around $16.4 billion by the end of 2022.

Family and parenting

Lots of people become parents and this is reflected in the worth of the baby products industry, which is valued at around $214.3 billion. But most people worry about whether they’re doing it right when their children are born, and even during pregnancy. Family and parenting influencers alleviate some of that stress by sharing practical advice, recommendations, and their own stories.


Appealing to pet owners and just about anyone who loves animals, these influencers dedicate their accounts to their pets, sharing sweet and entertaining photos and videos, as well as advice for owners and recommendations for products like food, toys, and bedding. Niches often fall within animal breeds, from more common pets like dogs and cats to more unusual pets like chickens and rats. Globally, the pet care industry is worth around $261 billion and is predicted to grow to $350 billion by 2027.

Globally, the pet care industry is worth around $261 billion and is predicted to grow to $350 billion by 2027.

How Much Do Influencers Earn?

It’s not just brands who are looking to market themselves. Influencers have become their own brands, and many now seek to bring in other revenue streams by creating their own products or services.

The amount influencers earn can vary wildly. At the lower end of the spectrum, newer personalities may earn the odd $100 here and there, while at the higher end, someone with a more established online presence could earn millions. Some celebrities may even earn more than this, depending on their popularity. But it’s not transparent, so it’s hard to know exact figures.

There’s not a single, set way for influencers to calculate how much they charge per post - another reason why there’s such a variation in earnings. Some use algorithms, for example:

$100 per 10,000 followers + extras for type of post (x # of posts) + extra factors = total rate

Engagement rate per post + extras for type of post (x # of posts) + extra factors = total rate

Recent average engagement x $0.14 = average price per Instagram post

Recent average engagement x $0.16 = average price per Instagram reel

Recent average view x $0.06 = average price per Instagram story

For example, if you were a beauty influencer who had 30,000 followers, based on the first formula you might charge $300 minimum for 1 post, plus more for any extras.

As well as engagement rate and number of followers, factors that affect rates include exclusivity, usage rights, timing, access to a niche audience, celebrity, and expenses (like hiring a studio).

How Long Does It Take To Become an Influencer?

There’s no set time to become an influencer. Lots of factors will impact success, from controllable things like the amount of work put in and the quality of the content produced, to less controllable things like luck – for example, if someone’s post is shared by an influencer with a large following, more people will see it, and they may follow them, too, boosting their reach significantly.

Building and retaining a community of devoted followers isn’t as easy as it appears to be. It requires consistent effort on an influencer’s part,” says digital marketing consultant Shane Barker. “Behind all of the glitz and glamour of an influencer’s social media profile, there lies a truckload of hard work and patience … It takes persistent effort on your part to make your content authentic and grab the attention of your audience."

Chapter 3

How Influencers and Social Media Marketing Are Changing the Way We Shop

Users looking at their phone together
Image Credit: Cottonbro via Pexels

As we’ve seen, influencers are so named because they can influence their audiences’ decisions —and that includes purchasing decisions. Sponsored or not, the items an influencer shares on their channels may well end up being bought by their followers.

We are much more likely to learn about products on social media, partly because it’s where we already spend our time online, and partly because:


of internet users worldwide have installed an ad blocker, which means they don’t see the ads brands pay for.


of people use social media to discover products and make purchasing decisions.


of teenagers trust influencers more than they trust traditional celebrities.

And we’re more critical of the impact brands are having on the world, too.

Only 23% of consumers gain trust in a brand based on advertising alone and say they find user-generated posts 76% more trustworthy than branded ads.

Switched-on marketers know this and work with influencers to create what is known as influencer-generated content that features their product or service. This content may appear more grounded in real life than an ad shot in a studio, as the influencer will often explain how the product or service features in their everyday life — something audiences see as more relatable and are more likely to share and make purchasing decisions from. Marketers can also use the influencer-generated content on their own platforms.

And it’s quite literally paying off. Recent statistics from IZEA’s Trust in Influencer Marketing report show:


of respondents say influencer posts are the number one way to get them to try new products. This was split by 30.6% of men and 41.8% of women.


are more likely to trust a post from an influencer over a post from a celebrity.


have purchased a product after seeing it used by an influencer.

Those aged 18 to 29 and 30 to 44 were more likely to try a new product from an influencer post, at 38.9% and 45.3% respectively.

These age groups span Gen Z, millennials, and young Gen X, and so are the demographics marketers are mostly likely to target with influencer marketing.

Shopping on Social Media

Social media platforms have taken note of the significant impact influencers have on our purchasing decisions and added features to help make this process smoother. Shopping on social media is now part of the experience thanks to shoppable content.

Shoppable Content

In the context of social media, shoppable content is a post that you can click through to buy something. You can go on an app and not have to leave it to shop, increasing the chance of the purchase being completed.

86% of marketers use shoppable links, allowing you to make purchases from brands and influencers as soon as you see something you like.


of millennials have bought a product or service directly from a social media platform


of Gen Z have bought a product or service directly from a social media platform

Shoppable social media posts can be found on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Pinterest, YouTube, and Snapchat.

Shoppable Features on Social Media

Each social media platform has different ways you can shop through a brand or influencer’s content.

Product Tag Icon

Product Tags

Tagged products are linked to a product catalog. You can click on a product you’re interested in and be given all the information you need about it.

Swipe Up Feature Icon

Swipe Up Feature

Influencers with 10,000 or more followers can use the Swipe Up feature, which enables users viewing their stories to swipe up to get to a link — which may well take you to a product page to complete a purchase. An influencer may combine this with an affiliate link, which gives them a commission if you click through and complete your purchase.

Instagram Shops Icon

Instagram Shops

You can shop content on a brand’s profile, in the Feed, or in Stories, using the in-app browser or Instagram Checkout to pay.

Facebook Logo
Product Tag Icon

Product Tags

Tagged products are linked to a product catalog. Users can click on a product they’re interested in and be given all the information they need about it..

Facebook Shops Icon

Facebook Shops

Brands can create and customize a showcase of products, which you can find by clicking on their “Shop” tab.

Tiktok Logo
Tiktok Shopping Icon

TikTok Shopping

This feature allows influencers and other content creators to promote and sell products on TikTok, with a shop tab on their profile.

Pinterest Logo
Product Pins Icon

Product Pins

Businesses can create pins that include information like pricing, availability, and any other useful product information. If an influencer you follow pins one of these, you can use it to make a purchase.

Shopping List Icon

Shopping List

This feature creates a board of all the pins you’ve saved, allowing you easy access to products you might buy.

Shop With Lens Icon

Shop With Lens

You can take a photo of a product in real life, then find similar items on Pinterest.

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Shoppable Ads Icon

Shoppable Ads

Influencers on YouTube may have ads shown before their video begins. These are normally clickable, taking you to specific product pages.

Affiliate Links Icon

Affiliate Links

Influencers often work with brands by featuring their product or service in a video. They then include an affiliate link in the video description so that you can buy what they’ve recommended, and they’ll receive a commission if you click through and complete your purchase.

Shoppable Ads Icon

Shoppable Ads

Business accounts, including those set up by influencers, can create product catalogs that can then be used to create shoppable Product Catalog Ads.

Screenshop Icon


You can scan an outfit in real time and use Snapchat to shop for similar products.

What To Be Wary Of

There’s been a shift as influencer marketing has grown. Two of the factors which made influencers so appealing to begin with — trust and relatability — have been tested:

Influencer using their phone


There's a lack of transparency around paid promotion, with some influencers not disclosing it, recommending brands they’ve never tried before, or not following advertising laws or guidelines.

Influencer taking a selfie photo wearing expensive clothes


As influencers’ audiences and, subsequently, fees, grow, they may begin to lead a lifestyle their followers can no longer relate to, showcasing items that aren’t affordable to the average consumer. Because of this, some influencers are now seen as aspirational instead of relatable.

Image Credits: Alan Garzón and Ron Lach via Pexels

These changes have created a disconnect between influencers and their audiences. People are more skeptical and less trusting than they used to be, but that doesn’t mean the power of influencers has been diminished ...

The influencer marketing industry was worth $13.8 billion in 2021 and this is predicted to reach $15 billion in 2022.

It simply means perceived authenticity is more important than ever before. Consumer expectations are higher; no one likes feeling that they’ve been misled.

Advertising Rules

With the influencer marketing industry growing so quickly, advertising regulators have found it difficult to keep up, although that seems to have changed over the last few years.

In the U.S., influencer marketing is governed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Any claims made in advertisements “must be truthful, cannot be deceptive or unfair, and must be evidence-based.” Influencers and the brands they work with must clearly disclose their partnerships, including monetary exchanges, gifted products, discounted products, or any other benefits that may encourage the influencer to promote the brand. The FTC has a guide called “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers” which gives examples of when and how an influencer should disclose a brand endorsement.

An influencer is endorsing a product, service, or brand any time they:

  • Post a photo of it
  • Tag the brand
  • Mention the product in a photo caption, even if the photo doesn’t feature the product or tag the brand
  • Like, pin, or otherwise show it to their followers

However, they only need to disclose an endorsement when there’s a material connection between them and the brand. Truth in Advertising explains that material connections can include monetary payment, gift cards, employee or business relationships, friendships, or family relationships, amongst others.

Mobile phone with designer perfume and earrings
Image Credit: Laura Chouette via Unsplash

What To Look For in an Influencer’s Shoppable Posts

  • Have they clearly identified the post as an ad? Or have they hidden the disclosure amongst hashtags or links?
  • Have they used the social media platform’s tools for disclosing endorsements and added other information, too?
  • Is the brand they’re working with one they’ve used before and posted about of their own volition?
  • Does the brand fit with the influencer’s values?
  • Have they thoroughly tested the product or service they’re promoting?

Debt and Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

The internet in general has led to what’s been coined as the fear of missing out, known colloquially as FOMO. It’s understandable – if you can see what friends, acquaintances and even strangers do, own, and wear simply by looking at your device, you’re more likely to wonder whether you measure up. It’s easier to compare yourself, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy if you’re not in a good frame of mind. Alternatively, you may become excited about what someone has shared. Either of these feelings can lead to you buying a product or experience an influencer has posted about, especially if they’re someone you admire.

Unfortunately, the desire to keep up with influencers and boost their own social media profiles can drive people into debt. A poll by BBC Radio 5 Live and the Huffington Post found that 39% of 20 to 29-year-olds agreed targeted advertisements on social media caused them to part with money they might not have spent otherwise.

Social media can become a financial problem when it turns into a spending competition,” says personal finance expert Salman Haqqi . “You must remember that lots of social media influencers are paid by brands or receive things like holidays or products for free, so they don’t actually pay for their lifestyle themselves."

What’s Next?

With consumers becoming savvier about influencers, some brands are changing their marketing strategies slightly. While influencers don’t appear to be going anywhere, the way their content fits in with brands’ overall plans is changing. Aspire notes a shift towards the creation of brand communities. Brand communities consist of:

  • Influencers who promote the brand and its products online
  • Customers who talk about the brand and its products online
  • Creatives who create content about the brand and its products
  • Ambassadors who are long-term brand partners
  • Experts who work with brands to improve products, creating trust and transparency
  • Affiliates who earn a commission for promoting the brand and its products
  • Employees who focus on the growth and profitability of the brand

These groups advocate for a brand in a different way, expanding its reach and contributing towards its success.

Infuencer recording a video to promote products
Image Credit: rh2010 via Unsplash

Final Thoughts

It's clear that influencers are here to stay, even with the increase in regulations and audiences’ appetite for authenticity. Brush up on your knowledge of influencer marketing and you’ll be able to shop on social media with confidence.

Chapter 4

Useful Links and Resources