The Rise of Social Media Influencers

By: Rachel Cribb

Photo by Firmbee at Unsplash

Social media influencers (SMIs) have increasingly become important to changing the reputation of a brand and their marketing mix. Through the use of video and pictures, SMIs have the influence to change the meaning of how a brand’s commercial is perceived by their target audience. One post on social media can spread quickly and create a positive or negative impact for a brand, which is why SMIs must be careful about which companies they collaborate with. Companies have tried multiple strategies to enhance viewer’s perception of a commercial, however, SMIs hold a power that public advertising cannot accomplish.

Why SMI’s Are Viewed as Trustworthy

SMIs enhance the persuasion of corporate commercials by being authentic with their targeted audience about the brand and their opinion of its message or products. The power of eWOM, electronic word of mouth, is a role SMIs play in order to share positive reviews about a brand and hope their followers spread their message. As an influencer gains more followers, their credibility and follower relationships are most likely increasing as well. According to Linqia, “In addition, 42% of marketers shifted from one-off, tactical campaign execution to an “always on” influencer strategy” (2019, p. 4). As a result, the SMIs audience is more likely to trust the influencer’s opinion on a brand or commercial.

For example, Emma Chamberlain, a popular influencer, has gone from a regular, teenage high schooler, to an influencer attending the Met Gala in 2021. Her vulnerability and relatable experiences have resulted in her millions of followers copying her fashion styles and routinely listening to her podcasts. This proves people are more likely to be persuaded to purchase a product or follow a trend when they do not feel manipulated by a brand or the influencer promoting the brand.

If a person feels persuaded by an advertisement, they are more likely to have negative feelings towards the advertisement and brand as a whole. This is known as persuasion knowledge (PK), which can be prevented when SMIs are responsible for sharing their opinion of a brand’s commercial (Kim et al., 2021). Followers monitor SMIs life consistently and either want to be them or be friends with them. Social media allows influencers to be perceived as someone who is always happy, organized, and educated. This may not always be the case because social media only displays moments of a person’s life through short videos or a few pictures. However, the target audience of SMIs continue to value their opinion and ask for reviews on products before they decide to purchase it for themselves. This represents how strongly followers trust SMIs and want to hear a truthful review of a brand rather than watching an advertisement that makes them feel manipulated.

Photo by Kendall Jenner

The Impact of Sponsorships

Although SMIs have the power to persuade their audience to have positive feelings towards a brand, sponsorship disclosures can negatively impact their strategy. When an SMI discloses they are being paid to review a brand, the PK increases in the audiences’ minds. The audience is less likely to trust someone who is being paid to say good things about a brand. Sponsorships allow SMIs to receive free products or compensation for saying positive comments about their brand. However, the audience can recognize from a hashtag or popup on the screen if the SMI is being paid to promote a brand. Youn Kim stated, “when a sponsorship message is disclosed, social media users are likely to infer that the sponsorship’s compensation may be the reason why the influencer promotes the product” (2021, p. 407). This makes the audience more suspicious and creates negative feelings towards the brand and SMI. Skepticism grows as the audience wonders whether the SMI truly likes the brand or is more focused on being paid and gaining followers.

When a SMI uses a narrative story to introduce a corporate commercial, they are more likely to generate positive reviews towards that brand. This occurs because a personal story is touching, believable, and can be relatable to the audience watching. For instance, if a SMI talks about how a product has helped them through the difficult time of the pandemic, it could make the audience empathize with the influencer. Narrative stories are more effective than non-narrative stories because they grab the audience’s attention and show authenticity. However, if a sponsorship disclosure is present within the narrative story, PK increases, and the audience begins to feel manipulated. The sponsorship can reduce the effect of the SMI’s words and will eventually create negative feelings towards the brand.

SMI’s Could be the Future of Marketing

Overall, SMIs have the followers and persuasion skills to change the meaning of a commercial and possibly benefit the reputation of a brand. The target audience is more likely to have positive feelings towards a brand when the SMI is authentic, open minded, and not participating in a sponsorship. When a sponsorship is involved, the audience feels manipulated which results in higher PK and negative feelings about the commercial. If an influencer is going to be paid to speak about a brand, they should be transparent about it rather than trying to hide it. The audience wants to have a trusting relationship with their favorite influencers which includes honest communication and authentic opinions.


Kendall Jenner [@kendalljenner]. (2021, July 27). [Photo of Kendall Jenner’s teeth whitening sponsorship]

Kim, Do Yuon (2021, June 1). “Influencer advertising on social media: The multiple inference model on influencer-product congruence and sponsorship disclosure”. Journal of business research (0148-2963), 130 , p. 405.

Kim, E. (Anna), Duffy, M., & Thorson, E. (2021). Under the Influence: Social Media Influencers’ Impact on Response to Corporate Reputation Advertising. Journal of Advertising, 50(2), 119–138.

Linqia. (2019). The state of influencer marketing 2019. Retrieved from: https://linqia. com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Linqia-State-of-Influencer-Marketing-2019-R eport.pdf. p. 1-13.