Social Butterflies: How Social Media Influencers are the New Celebrity Endorsement

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Virginia Tech

The rapid growth of visual microblogging platforms, such as Instagram, has created new opportunities for brands to communicate with stakeholders. As these platforms evolve, brands have had to adapt in order to use the available social media platforms to gain visibility in the millennial audience. Recently brands have turned to online 'celebrities' known as a social media influencer (SMI) to distribute information and influence consumers' product perceptions. This specifically has become a common tactic in communication and marketing efforts with the fashion and beauty industry. Ample research is available on the effects of celebrity endorsements but currently there is a gap in research pertaining to the consumer's perspective towards SMIs and SMIs effects on consumers. The online experiment completed in this thesis addressed how promotion of a product by a SMI affects perceptions of consumers on Instagram by measuring social comparison and self-congruity. This is accomplished by comparing participant's product perception to promotional posts on Instagram by a SMI, brand, and unbranded retail source. A three-condition experiment (SMI, Brand, Control) compared effects of product perception, social comparison, and self-congruity. A questionnaire consisting of 48 questions pertaining to SMI, self-congruity, social comparison, and product perception was completed by 151 participants. Significant relationships were found between the source of the promotional post (SMI, Brand, Control) and product perception. There was also a correlation between self-congruity and social comparison towards the SMI as well as product perception. Results suggest that the post source influences product perception. Results also indicate consumers' perception of the SMI effects product perception. These results provide practical implications for communication practioners who utilize social media. The rapid growth of visual microblogging platforms such as Instagram, is creating new opportunities for organizations to communicate with stakeholders. Brands have used social media platforms in order to gain visibility in the college age audience. Currently there is a gap in research pertaining to SMI and their effects on consumers. This online experiment will address how promotion of a product by an SMI affects perceptions of consumers on Instagram through social comparison and self-congruity theory by comparing responses to a product promoted by an SMI to the same product promoted by the promoted by the brand and to an unbranded retail source. A questionnaire consisting 34 of questions pertaining to SMI, self-congruity, and social comparison will be asked to 180-240 participants. The participants will be randomly assigned one of nine Instagram posts to accomplish stimulus sampling across the three conditions: three from SMI, three from brands, and three from an unbranded retail source

Social media influencers, influencer marketing, Instagram