Haley R. Hatfield (Ph.D. student) & Aarum Youn-Heil (Ph.D. student)(2023). On being human: An investigation of virtual influencers and activism [Paper Presentation]. 2023 AEJMC Midwinter Conference, Norman, OK. *Top Paper Abstract in Mass Communication & Society Division
Abstract: Social media influencers leverage their online fame to influence consumers’ decision-making. With the advancement of immersive and interactive media technologies, virtual influencers (VIs) are rapidly catching up. As technology advances, the lines between responsibility and accountability blur because companies create and control VIs to portray a persona. Anthropomorphism, or the perception of human-like traits in non-human agents, can help to explain the humanness of VIs. Although VIs can look and act human, they cannot have human experiences like traveling or be harmed by dangerous social issues like racism and sexism. However, those consuming the images of VIs can. The current paper critically examines a famous VI known for advocating various social issues to understand the consequences of VI activism and how that may impact everyday consumers.
Itai Himelboim & Golan, G. (2022). Social Network approach to Social Media Influencers on Instagram: The Strength of being a Nano Influencer. Journal of Interactive Advertising, 23(1), 1-13.
Abstract: Emerging literature on social media influencers (SMIs) identifies their potential to help brands gain attention and build credibility with consumers, in particular as brands respond to the growing consumer expectation of a commitment to social causes. We propose a social networks approach to the study of paid SMIs and implement it in veganism cause-related communities on Instagram. Findings identify clusters, echo chambers of influencers promoting similar products, associated with different facets of the cause community. Findings illustrate the value of a different type of SMI who bridges across influencers’ clusters and their following consumers. The study reveals the power of nano-influencers, who exhibited higher betweenness centrality levels, that is, their bridging position in the network. Conceptually, this study connects network scholarship to the study of paid influencers. We discuss methodological and practical implications of the potential role of influencers in brand attempts to engage with online cause communities.
Abstract: This research examines how visual representation of social media influencers affects perceptions and attitudes toward influencers and their persuasive messages. Using the theoretical frameworks of the Stereotype Content Model (SCM) and the Behaviors from Interpersonal Affect and Stereotypes (BIAS) Map, Study 1 demonstrated that influencers with broad smiles were perceived as warmer and more competent and evaluated more positively than those with closed smiles. Study 2 revealed that warmth and competence judgments led to admiration toward the smiling influencers, which in turn resulted in positive attitudinal and behavioral responses to their persuasive messages. By investigating the mediating effects of judgments and emotional responses toward influencers, this study reveals social cognitive mechanisms underlying psychological processing of influencer messaging.