By: Zima Nguyen
Have you ever noticed a friend who idolizes an Instagram influencer a little too much? There is a line between enjoying the content and becoming obsessed, but that line can often become blurred when you don’t know where you stand. After reading Fernanda Leite and Paulo de Paula Baptista’s study on “The Effects of Social Media Influencers’ Self-disclosure on Behavioral Intentions: The Role of Source Credibility, Parasocial Relationships, and Brand Trust,” what I used to think is now confirmed. Influencers are paid to do exactly that, influence. Their professional job is to maintain their brand image, which ultimately is received by their fans. In the study, they talk about how an influencer’s intimate self-disclosure can affect their audience through source credibility, brand trust, and perception of their parasocial relationship with the influencer.
What Does This Mean?
Intimate self-disclosure (ISD) is a kind of communication where individuals share intimate personal information about themselves with others. Self-disclosure intimacy and influencer marketing can potentially enhance the feelings of a connection and perceived closeness. So, when an influencer communicates personal details that is not public information, fans can receive this information as a symbol of trust and friendship. A parasocial relationship is one experienced by an outside audience in mediated interactions with those in mass media, such as an influencer.
You might be thinking “That’s silly,” or “That’s not me,” and you’re absolutely right! But there are individuals who perceive this type of interaction as confirmation of a relationship that doesn’t exist. Not every influencer experiences obsessed fan behavior, especially micro-influencers. But for those that do, we have to consider where we draw the line before anyone’s safety becomes a serious concern. Unconditional support may not always be a good thing if with the wrong intention! According to the study, another downside is that high levels of ISD can also lead to a negative outcome like reduced attraction, which is bad for business.
Not every situation is identical. Many influencers have a healthy relationship with their followers and receive constructive criticism that leads to a supportive fanbase.
Internet personality and streamer TimTheTatMan has successfully curated a healthy relationship with his followers, so much so that he has created new YouTube channels specific to his followers’ wants. He began his journey with gaming and streaming on a YouTube channel that resulted in success, which encouraged him to give back to people who helped him get there: his fans. Tim asked his followers if they would like to see different forms of content from him, and if so, what kind. His relationship with a loyal fanbase has led him to create two new channels specific to his fans’ wants, which are food and lifestyle accounts.
If oversharing can lead to fewer fans, influencers should consider how much is enough before it’s too much. Sometimes we need to realize that influencers are still people and have a life outside of social media. Not everything needs to be documented or made public, especially when you grow old, look back, and maybe wish you had kept parts of your life private. I personally couldn’t even imagine the pressures of being in the public eye, so I know there is more that goes on behind the scenes than we know.
The Good News…
Although there are many risks to entertaining the relationship between an influencer and the normal social media user, you can also find benefits to it. Influencers always get brand deals, merch, and giveaways, so who else would it be best to share with? The FANS. Influencers know a large part of their success is from their fans, so in order to keep that momentum, they have to give something in return. The most common example we see today are brand deals between big-name companies and influencers, which then leads to discount codes for everyone!
So, what do you think? Is the relationship dynamic between a public figure and a normal social media user worth the or are we overcomplicating the concept? Let us know!
Leite, F. P., & Baptista, P. de. (2021). The effects of social media influencers’ self-disclosure on behavioral intentions: The role of source credibility, parasocial relationships, and brand trust. Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/10696679.2021.1935275
Intriguing application of theory/concepts to raise better questions! One of the big factors would not simply be amount of content or nature of content (shared or consumed) but the motives for both. Are you looking to inform and empower or for approval? Are you consuming for information or empowerment or to enable an insecurity or an addiction. How do we fold motive into the model?