Micro-Celebrity Influencer Marketing: The Impact of Instagram Influencers on Consumer Culture of Young Millennial Women

Micro-Celebrity Influencer Marketing: The Impact of Instagram Influencers on Consumer Culture of Young Millennial Women
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  Micro-Celebrity Influencer Marketing: The Impact of Instagram Influencers on Consumer Culture of Young Millennial Women Donna Susan Mathew Theoretical and Practical Contexts for Research Focus A worthy topic is one that is relevant, timely, significant, and compelling (Tracy, 2010). Such a topic may develop importance over time within a specific discipline or be specifically contracted for further study by institutions or agencies. The focus of research can also occur suddenly through shifts in a researcher's personal or societal landscape. One path to worthiness is for a topic to challenge taken for granted theoretical, practical, and/or methodological assumptions on the part of the researcher or research community, therefore catalyzing new contributions and understandings of the social world. In this section I explain why this is a worthy topic. Instagram is an online, mobile  phone  photo-sharing, video-sharing, and social network service (SNS) that enables its users to take pictures and videos, and then share them on other platforms (Frommer, 2010). It is currently the fastest growing social network site globally (Wagner, 2015); however, there is not much academic research studying why people use it, and who the people are who use it. The platform allows users to seek a specific keyword on its search function using “hashtags”, where users will find themselves directed to a list of related posts and a pool of other like-minded users. With this advent of technology, social media users are no longer dependent on literal word-of-mouth recommendations but instantaneous display of information from social media through the use of hashtags. A hashtag is a type of label or metadata tag primarily used on social networking websites and microblogging services that allows multiple users to find content of the same topic. Hashtags are created by inserting the hash character ‘#’ in front of a keyword or phrase and can be used to complement postings on social networking sites (SNS). On Instagram, hashtags can be used to direct users to related accounts based on the topical search and also leads to gaining followers should the account display the needful information that the user can follow on a regular basis. This also works as an archiving function where users can use the hashtag as a reference keyword in the future.  While similar to Facebook in the way that users can post photos online, unlike Facebook, Instagram offers a number of special filters that allow users to change the colors and resolutions of the photographs before they post them. Instagram’s simple and interactive features that allow users to express “likes” with a red -colored heart symbol for selected content by double-tapping the photo or video had contributed to higher ratios of engagement from the users. This can be seen as an opportunity for the users to interact with their followers on a more intimate level compared to other SNS; as the layout and gallery interface of the app has made it more personal for them. Although some may see a limitation of Instagram in being a mobile-only service, statistics show that mobile handsets are now the most popular form of access to social network sites (Lunden, 2014). As of August 2015, 28% of online adults use Instagram, more women than men (Pew Research Center, 2015). Millennial women between the ages of 18 to 35 are one of the largest groups of people using Instagram. Marketers and brands continuously search for innovative methods to reach target segments in the most effective way. Social media is one of the fastest evolving communication tools nowadays, exercising a considerable impact on Marketing. Social Influencer Marketing or Influencer Marketing is one of the latest tools combining these elements. A company wanting to advertise its product on social media, does not only need to use its own professional profile or page anymore. It simply pays a social media influencer, to recommend the product on their profile by posting a picture. In that way, the company can reach larger networks, in very specific niches. And, more importantly, it does not “taste” like an advert in the mouth of the receiver. Some “followers” do no t even notice that this is pure marketing, they simply think the influencer is genuinely recommending a product in the picture he or she sees. Rationale In the beginning of my research, my research question was “What is the Impact of Social Media Influencers, in Particular Instagram Influencers and the Online Consumption Market on the Consumer Behavior, Purchasing Pattern and Attitude of Yo ung Millennial Women?” however, after further analysis, I realized I was asking the wrong question. For the purpose of this paper, I decided to go with the following research question  –    “To what extent does  Instagram Influencers promote Consumption Culture?” and “How do Millennial Women Experience Consumer Culture on Instagram?”   Literature Review/Important Concepts Social media influencers represent a new type of independent, third-party endorsers who shape an audience’s attitudes through blogs, tweets, and the use of other social media cha nnels (Fredberg, 2010). Through sites like Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, social media influencers create content promoting certain brands with the goal of obtaining a following and  brand recognition. According to Fredberg, the success of social media influencers is vitally important to brands; therefore, technology has  been developed to identify and track influencers’ relevance to a brand or organization. This technology tracks the number of hits on a blog, times a  blog is shared, likes and comments, and followers. All of these points are pivotal aspects of a social media i nfluencer’s success (Fredberg, 2010 ). Influencer marketing on social media opens up a new channel for brands to connect with consumers more directly, organically, and at scale to their everyday lives (Adweek). Social media influencers promote brands through their  personal lives, making them relatable to the average consumer. According to Ledbetter, “When a party attempts to influence another to take specific actions, a dynamic ensues that can change the course and content of t heir relationship” (Ledbetter, 2017). Influencers truly serve as the ultimate connection between a brand and a consumer. Through their candidness and openness with consumers, influencers have high social clout and credibility (Buyer, 2016), which is what makes the phenomenon so successful. Where traditional marketing targeted mostly mass audiences, influencers have the unique ability to target niche audiences that have until now been unreachable (Ledbetter, 2017). Instagram is a combination of electronic word of mouth (e-WOM) and product  placement. It is a very subtle way of advertising, and that is why it seems to work so well. According to a report by Business Insider more than 90% of Instagram users are under the age of 35. This makes it a very attractive social medium for brands focused on the 18- to 34-year-old target group. Instagram offers an image-based storytelling capability, more than any other  platform (Mancuso & Stuth, 2015). Influencer marketing is a form of “stealth” marketing operating on a market in a deceptive, covert, furtive, imperceptible and disguised manner to  purposefully influence audiences without the audiences being aware of these activities. These   posts appear to be spontaneously experienced by these influencers, but in fact, they are remunerated (Abidin, 2016). Moreover, these advertorials have been found more effective than classic advertisements, since they take the form of a personal narrative and incorporate influencers’ perspectives of having experienced the product or service themselves (Abidin, 2016). An Instagram influencer is an Instagram user who has established credibility in a specific niche, sector, or industry, because of her reach and authenticity. This user has access to a large audience, can persuade others, and creates trends on social media. Hence, for these people, taking  pictures of their daily life has become a commercial business. They do this on blogs, but these days, increasingly on Instagram. Commercial lifestyle bloggers are in general young women,  between 18 and 35 years old. Their followers are on average 70% female, between 15 and 35 years old (Abidin, 2015). A social media influencer can be a celebrity, but on Instagram we also see a lot of so- called “micro - celebrities.” Micro-celebrities are not necessarily known outside the world of Instagram. Micro- celebrities are considered as “more authentic” and more interactive than a traditional celebrity  because micro-celebrity involves direct and authentic interaction with fans using social media (Marwick, 2010). People like to follow “luxury profiles”, profiles that make posts about (their) expensive possessions and lifestyle. “Followers” look at “What many young people dream of having and the lifestyle they dream of living” (Marwick, 2015). Users often follow and like what they find “aspirational.” Influencers are inspired by other influencers, as 83% of these influencers say they purchased a product they saw on social media within the last month (Soltysinska, 2017). Influencer marketing is an important aspect for today’s marketers. Accor  ding to eMarketer, nearly half of marketers have increased their investment in influencer marketing in 2017. Brands and marketers understand that the voices of authentic, trusted profiles are much more likely to  break through the ad blockers (Gilbreath, 2017). Influencers can have a real impact on followers and can be effective in developing the digital presence of a brand (Gelb, 2017). A lot of companies use influencer marketing not to sell a product, but rather to get consumers exposed to the brand and its story. That is why we see a lot of lifestyle brands using this tool (Alderton, 2014). Influencer marketing is most effective for brands wanting to reach a “younger” audience. This is because millennial consumers are turning away from traditional media. They are moving online and “following” selected and trusted influencers who share their interests (Soltysinska, 2017).    In a study by Sheldon & Bryant (2016) surveyed college students to examine the reasons why they use Instagram, and how it relates to narcissism and contextual age (a sort of measure of where you are in life with respect to life satisfaction, interpersonal relationships, and social activity). The researchers found that Instagram is used mainly for four things: “Surveillance/Knowledge about others,” “Documentation,” “Coolness,” and “Creativity.” Surveillance was the reason most correlated with the amount of time these students used Instagram. Coolness and Creativity were the reasons most correlated with amount of time editing photos. The amount of time spent editing photos was also significantly related to narcissism. Pittman & Reich’ s research (2016) aimed to see whether image -based as opposed to text- based social media was more likely to relieve loneliness because of the greater intimacy and feeling of “realness” for pictures. Using surveys, the researchers found that image -based social media did seem to be associated with a decrease in self-reported loneliness. Loneliness was highest among those who used no image-based social media. The use of text-based social media alone did nothing to reduce loneliness: “If anything,” the researchers wrote, “increased use of text -based media may exacerbate loneliness. ”   Situating the Researcher Reflexivity in qualitative research is usually perceived as a way of ensuring rigor (Guillemin & Gillam, 2004). Reflexivity involves critical reflection of how the researcher constructs knowledge from the research process  —  what sorts of factors influence the researcher’s construction of knowledge and how these influences are revealed in the planning, conduct, and writing up of the research. A reflexive researcher is one who is aware of all these potential influences and is able to step back and take a critical look at his or her own role in the research  process. The goal of being reflexive in this sense has to do with improving the quality and validity of the research and recognizing the limitations of the knowledge that is produced, thus leading to more rigorous research. While conducting the research, I was aware of my privilege as an educated, English speaking immigrant in the US who had access to a smartphone and internet connection. I was alrea dy familiar with Instagram as I’ ve been using it since 2014. I had a good sense of what to expect and how the features worked. For example, I knew how hashtag search worked on Instagram. I knew where to look for the posts that were relevant to my research. I was also aware of the recent changes that Instagram has made with regard to their algorithm and
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