One could not be faulted for thinking that being OJ Simpson’s lawyer is about the highest level of fame anyone could hope to achieve. Or is that the height of infamy? Regardless, no such distinction is really needed when it comes to the Kardashians. From the late Robert Kardashian’s time in the spotlight back in 1995 to the present-day fame, the Kardashians have come a long way in their decade-plus run, amassing a billion-dollar wealth and 600 million Instagram followers in the process. 

The family’s rise has been nothing short of phenomenal, but beyond the speed of their ascent, it was the drama of it all that demanded our attention. They had a captive audience of millions of followers who watched as the family’s journey unraveled before them, one episode at a time. And it didn’t stop at reality TV—not in the slightest. The family also gave life to influencer marketing, creating awareness around an emerging market and an increasingly popular career choice for many of us today. 

If someone wrote a book on the rise of influencer marketing, the Kardashians would be in every chapter. The OG influencers have been setting the tone and showing how it’s done from the very start. Influencers have since imitated, copied, and invented their own ways of standing out. But whether they know it or not, they have all been shaped directly or indirectly by the Kardashians in some way. 

As Keeping Up With The Kardashians, the flagship television program that introduced us to America’s favorite family, finally calls it quits in 2021, it is fitting to discuss the Kardashians and their influence on culture and social media. 

 

Reality TV Beginnings

Back when it premiered in 2007, no one could have predicted the level of fame and success that would come as a result of the reality TV show. On the surface, it merely followed the template of another show, The Osbournes, which followed a “famous” family and found moderate success on a competing network. But Keeping Up with the Kardashians did it better. They had a cast of colorful characters in Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Kris, Kendall, Kylie, and Rob. In many ways, the show was a means of cashing in on Kim’s past fame and the generally unorthodox ways of the Kardashians.

Keeping Up with the Kardashians was never meant for a wide audience; the show successfully created a niche for itself and dug deep into it. But season by season, its influence grew. The Kardashians made fashion statements, they made lifestyle statements, they sparked discussions, and they talked about important matters as well. They managed to build a connection with their audience, some 1 million people per episode. And they managed to keep this going for an astounding 16 seasons.

One of the key characteristics of the show is castmates’ affinity for being vulnerable and open. Beyond the glitz and glam, many viewers saw the Kardashians as regular people struggling their way through life, with the same problems as everyone else (aside from the financial struggles, that is). This is a template for many of today’s influencers too. You can’t be authentic by imitating someone else or being someone you are not. You need to interact with emotion, be authentic, and be comfortable with being vulnerable. Followers like to see real people living the lives they aspire to live, and having problems, and worries like anyone else only makes them more genuine, which is essential to building trust.

 

Extending Their Influence Beyond Television

One of the hallmarks of the Kardashians is that they have not been afraid to explore new avenues. With all the fame and fortune they built from their show, they also built influence outside the TV world because they had an independent following of people who literally watched them grow up in the spotlight.

The way in which the Kardashians took to social media platforms like Instagram is a case study for aspiring influencers. They have tried new things, and they have created controversy, but in the process, they have amassed an Instagram following of 600 million between them by being their unfiltered, authentic selves.

Instagram’s most-liked photos might as well be a photo album for the Kardashians, as the family has been featured on the list multiple times. They fuelled memes, had heated arguments and kept their name on the tip of everyone’s tongue in the course of their tenure. Kylie is perhaps of note here, as she has managed to outdo many of her siblings on Instagram. The Kardashians have a lot of sway on Twitter, too—not many people can take $1.3 billion of a company’s market cap with a single tweet. Kylie did exactly that back in 2018

Kim referred to Instagram and social media as her “free focus group,”  which has been a key factor in how they each have grown their influence. They showed how to build strong, engaged communities on Instagram, having such a strong influence on their followers that monetizing it was never an issue.

 

A Masterclass In Monetization

If we evaluate it academically, the Kardashians’ growth is indeed a masterclass on monetizing influence. The TV show and the millions of viewers it brought in did produce financial gains, but so much of what they made also comes from monetizing their influence on other platforms. 

The Kardashians rake in the dough from a variety of sources, most of which had never been done prior to them doing it. Sponsored posts by Kim Kardashian today cost brands upward of $1 million. Product endorsements also earn them the same figure. Kendall Jenner has been associated with brands like Adidas and Calvin Klein on social media. Spinoffs and TV series have been a major source of income, as well—they were able to command almost $100 million for the last series. 

The reason that the Kardashians can command this premium price is quite simple—they’re influential. They have the trust and loyalty of their followers, and many look to them for guidance in various areas, including lifestyle and fashion products. 

 

Expanding The Line—Leveraging Influence

The Kardashians have always looked at ways to expand their line and leverage their influence in their entrepreneurial pursuits. Today, many influencers rely on this same blueprint that they have created in order to sell their products or services. 

Kim’s Kimojis, a digital-first paid emoji set, earned her $1 million a minute at one point. Kim’s KKW Beauty and Fragrance lines, Kylie Cosmetic Lip Kits, Khloe’s Good America line of denim, and Kanye’s Yeezy all leveraged the Kardashian influence to propel them to further prosperity. Kylie has made a staggering $360 Million from Kylie Cosmetics, and KKW has earned Kim $72 million in the first 6 months alone.

The Kardashians have successfully built their business portfolios and wealth by effectively using their social media presence to sell products. It may be difficult to emulate in terms of the numbers, but their approach has given influencers several ideas to do things in a similar fashion. 

 

Passing The Baton

The Kardashians have inspired and guided a line of influencers who have created their own spheres of influence. The same template has been followed across multiple social media channels with various types of content. TikTok’s rising stars and influencer families – along with millions of Instagram creators – have all been influenced by the Kardashians. 

More and more users are willing to jump into the world of building influence on social media platforms and aspire to live the life of grandeur and luxury, all paid for by partnerships and brand deals. These are all business models that were arguably created by the Kardashians.

As e-commerce and other consumer brands realize the potential of omnichannel presence, influencers will have a larger role to play. Many more influencers will share the pie in the coming years by creating their niche and engaging meaningfully with their audience. And much of it is thanks to the Kardashians.

 

What’s Next

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks that the end of KUWTK is the end of the Kardashians era of influence. The family has firmly embedded themselves in popular culture, and it will be no surprise to see them sustain their entrepreneurial ventures for years to come. Social media channels are likely to continue to be the center of attention for what is to come next.

The Kardashians have also been more vocal about the larger and more pressing concerns that plague our society as of late. They are in some ways echoing what we see in the larger ecosystem, but they are also showing the way in terms of using their influence to greater ends.

The influence the Kardashians have had on the community of influencers today is compelling. As a new generation of influencers takes center stage, the Kardashians will certainly be continuing their journey, albeit a bit differently. It remains to be seen how they survive this change from giving people unrestricted access to their lives to probably leading a more conventional life. One that is no longer being played out in front of millions of people’s television screens every week.

We can be sure that the influence of the Kardashians will endure, as they have built a strong foundation outside of the TV series that made them household names in 2007. The name itself will continue to sell products and make waves, keeping the Kardashians in the news both as entertainment personalities and their contributions to influencer marketing.

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