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13 January 2023

The influencer spell explained: 5 motives why people follow social media influencers

On platforms like Instagram, social media influencers (SMIs) hold enormous market power. This study in the International Journal of Advertising looks at consumers’ motivation to follow Instagram influencers and how that impacts consumption behavior. The motives involve materialism, consumerism, envy, authenticity, and creative inspiration. 

Take aways

  • The main motives of consumers to follow social media influencers are: 
    • the influencer’s authenticity and creative inspiration 
    • the consumer’s consumerism and envy.  
  • These four motives are all triggered by the consumer’s materialism.

Study information

  • Who?

    395 adults (mean age: 24, age range 18-29 years, 77% female)

  • Where?

    United States of America

  • How?

    During one week in March 2020, 395 respondents participated in an online survey. First, respondents read a clear definition of social media influencers. That way, respondents could confirm they followed at least one of them on social media. Then, respondents stated why they followed social media influencers and if they trusted the influencer’s brand recommendations. The survey also covered the respondent’s purchase frequency and their materialistic tendency. 

Facts and findings

  • If a social media influencer (SMI) showed authenticity, this increased trust in their brand-related posts among their followers. However, authenticity did not lead followers to buy the brands. 
  • Consumerism describes followers looking for new brands and information about them. This motive led followers to have more trust in brand-related posts and higher purchase frequency. 
  • Creative inspiration is one reason people sign up on social media platforms like Instagram. However, among the partipants of this study this motive did not result in trust in brand-related posts or in buying the brands. 
  • The motive envy was closely related to fantasizing about SMI’s luxurious life. It increased buying behavior but did not influence trust in brand-related posts.  
  • Materialism describes how much people care about material values. This study divided materialism into three subdimensions: success, centrality, and happiness. All impacting consumer behavior. The more materialistic a person was, the more that person purchased. High materialism also led to more trust in brand-related posts.