If you answered yes to all of these questions, you might have what’s known as “problematic engagement” with social media influencers.
But don’t blame yourself too much. You are among the many swept away by dazzling social media influence.
And this can be attributed to many features and tactics social media influencers employ that help keep them influential — like live streams and polls on Instagram.
As experts in social media and user behaviour, we recently published a paper that looks at followers’ problematic engagement with influencers on social media.
Our paper is the first to study which aspects of social media influence may lead to problematic engagement in followers.
It is essential to examine this context considering the significant volume and revenues of social media influencing — it’s a $13.8 billion (roughly Rs. 1,07,380 crore) industry.
The issue of complex engagement In the age of social media, most people know of or follow some social media influencers. Social media influencers are users who have a significant number of followers with established credibility.
Whether you are a fashion fan or want information on health and fitness — there’s an influencer to follow. And followers often gravitate towards them for their authenticity and content creation.
But less focus is put on the dark side of social media influence. Influencers are motivated and often incentivised (through product and brand endorsement) to increase their power on social media, and many are becoming more proficient in attracting and engaging followers.
On the other hand, followers can quickly become attached and obsessed with influencers, and their engagement can often become excessive and unhealthy.
Complex engagement with social media influencers is common among followers but not well known or understood.
Our research recently examined the factors and mechanisms that lead to complex engagement.
We focused on three influencer characteristics (physical attractiveness, social attractiveness and self-presence) and two follower participation attributes (participation comprehensiveness and following length) to explore their effects on the development of complex engagement through the formation of follower attachments.
Based on attachment theory, we studied two types of attachments — parasocial relationship and a sense of belonging, which is key to social media influence.
The parasocial relationship is the followers’ perception of their one-sided relationship with an influencer. A sense of belonging refers to being an integral member of the influencer’s community.
We conducted an online survey of 500 Instagram users.
The results showed that when followers develop attachments to influencers (parasocial relationship) and their community (sense of belonging), this can lead to complex engagement.
We found that influencers’ social attractiveness has a more substantial effect than other factors in building followers’ attachments.
Following more influencers could reduce the impact of attachment to the community (sense of belonging) regarding complex engagement, but not the effect of attachment to the influencer (parasocial relationship).
Implications for influencers and followers Our study warns of and explains complex engagement to social media users. We argue that social media users attracted to influencers can become quickly attached and engage excessively.
Users need to be aware of, watch out for and exert self-regulation to manage their interactions with influencers.
For example, participation comprehensiveness — which refers to the reasons for following and the extent of followers’ participation (like watching, liking, commenting, sharing) — can lead to attachment development.
This, however, can be consciously managed by followers themselves. One way of doing this is by using the phone’s functions and tools like setting daily time limits on Instagram or turning off notifications for the app. Social media influencers should also be aware of followers’ complex engagement.
Although it may contrast with their goal of increasing follower engagement, they can focus on creating a healthy relationship with their followers.
For instance, influencers can openly talk about the issue of problematic engagement and show care for their followers’ well-being.
This will help with the sustainability of the relationship because studies have shown that social media users with problematic behaviour are more likely to stop using platforms after a while.
More research on the dark side of social media influencers is needed. We call for future research to focus on additional negative consequences such as followers’ anxiety, depression, and following influencers’ impact on followers’ well-being.