The dark side of social media influence

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Follow you influencers on social media? Do you always check their posts? Do you find that you spend too much time or become obsessed with verifying influencer accounts? And when you can’t check in, do you feel disconnected or lost? If you answered yes to all of these questions, you may have what is known as “problematic engagement” with social media influencers.

But don’t blame yourself too much. You are one of the many who have been swept away by the glare social media influence.

And that can be attributed to many features and tactics used by social media influencers that help them stay influential – like live streams and polls on Instagram.

As experts in social media and user behavior, we recently published an article that examines problematic follower engagement with influencers on social media.

Our article is among the first to investigate what aspects of social media influence can lead to problematic follower engagement.

It is important to consider this context given the large volume and revenue of social media influence – it is a $13.8 billion industry.

The issue of problematic engagement

In the age of social media, most people know or follow certain social media influencers. Social media influencers are users who have a significant number of followers with established credibility.

Whether you’re a fan of fashion or want health and fitness insights, there’s an influencer to follow. And followers often gravitate towards them for their authenticity and content creation.

But less attention is paid to the dark side of social media influence. Influencers are motivated and often incentivized (through product and brand endorsement) to increase their power on social media and many become more adept at attracting and engaging followers.

Followers, on the other hand, can easily become attached and obsessed with influencers and their engagement can often become excessive and unhealthy.

Problematic engagement with social media influencers is common among followers, but not well known or understood.

Our research

We recently looked at the factors and mechanisms that lead to problematic engagement.

We focused on three characteristics of influencers (physical attractiveness, social attractionand self-presence) and two follower participation attributes (participation completeness and follow-up duration) to explore their effects on the development of problematic commitment through the formation of attachments to followers.

Based on attachment theory, we studied two types of attachments – the parasocial relationship and the sense of belonging, both of which are central to the influence of social media.

The parasocial relationship is the perception that followers have of their one-sided relationship with an influencer and the sense of belonging refers to the feeling of being a full member of the influencer. community.

We conducted an online survey of 500 Instagram users.

The results showed that when followers develop attachments to both influencers (parasocial relationship) and their community (sense of belonging), this can lead to problematic engagement.

We found that the social attractiveness of influencers has a stronger effect than other factors in building followers’ attachments.
Following more influencers could reduce the impact of community attachment (sense of belonging) when it comes to problematic engagement, but not the effect of attachment to the influencer (parasocial relationship).

Implications for influencers and followers

Our study warns and explains the problematic engagement of social media users. We argue that social media users who are attracted to influencers can easily become overly attached and over-engaged.

Users should be aware, attentive and exercise self-regulation to manage their interactions with influencers.

For example, completeness of participation – which refers to the reasons for following and the extent of follower participation (such as watching, liking, commenting, sharing) – can lead to the development of attachment.

This, however, can be consciously managed by the followers themselves. One way to do this is to use phone features and tools like setting daily time limits on Instagram or disabling notifications for the app. Social media influencers should also be aware of problematic follower engagement.

While this may be in contrast to their goal of increasing follower engagement, they can focus on building a healthy relationship with their followers.

For example, influencers can speak openly about the issue of problematic engagement and care about the well-being of their followers.

This will help with the sustainability of the relationship, as studies have shown that social media users with problematic behavior are more likely to stop using the platforms after a certain period of time.

Further research into the dark side of social media influencers is needed and we call for future research to focus on additional negative consequences such as anxiety, depression and the impact of following influencers on well-being subscribers.

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