An exploratory study investigating the operations and relationship of social media influencers and brands on the social media platform, Instagram.
In today’s society, digital media is recognised as one of the most important forms of public communication, engagement and interaction for brands. Brand marketers are distinguishing new ways to advertise, promote and communicate to consumers through digital media platforms (Khang et al. 2012; Ashley and Tuten 2014). The main key driver throughout digital media has been argued to be social media, it is suggested that various platforms can be used to encourage two-way communication, build dialogue, and strengthen engagement between brands and their consumers (Achen 2017). One noticeable strategy for this is the use of social media influencers (SMIs). Also known as, digital opinion leaders, digital influencers, brand ambassadors and various other titles, these individuals are used as sources of information about products and services of organisations and brands (Woods 2016). Furthermore, as SMIs are being seen as more successful within the online market, it has been noted that marketers are veering away from direct brand involvement and focusing on SMI strategy (Chang 2014). This is becoming common practice throughout social media and is frequently being used on the social media platform, Instagram. On 26th September 2017, Instagram obtained 800 million users. Moreover, Instagram advertising reached revenues of $2.81 billion and a 4.21% follower engagement rate that is 58 times higher than Facebook (Smith 2016). These figures demonstrate how Instagram is becoming an important visual narration device for effective consumer engagement and interaction between brands, SMIs and consumers (Hainla 2018). By using Instagram, an SMI’s role is to broaden the brand’s online presence, create an active connection and engagement with brand consumers (Hayzlett 2015). In accordance with the information provided, there is an emphasis surrounding the importance of this topic for the marketing industry. Investigating the relationship and operations between social media influencers (SMIs) and brands will help to open up new knowledge surrounding their role and contribution to the marketing industry. Therefore, the research has been divided into various aims. Firstly, the research aims to gain a deeper understanding of the term ‘SMI’. The academic knowledge surrounding SMIs is limited, for this reason, it was seen as important to understand the factors which are helping to determine their position within this heavily saturated influencer market on Instagram. Additionally, this aim will also seek to identify where SMIs fit within the influencer industry against individuals such as celebrity endorsers and bloggers. Following on from this, this research also wanted to evaluate the operations of SMIs in the brand promotion of products on Instagram. This aim was to find to what extent brand promotion affected the success of SMIs and understand the values that SMIs have when promoting brands on Instagram. After studying theses effects of brand promotion on participants Instagram pages, it was then suitable to analyse the relationship between SMIs and the brands. The research then looks to highlight the characteristics and communicative values of SMIs. Authenticity and trust have been seen as communicative values between brands, SMIs and followers. These values will be looked at in more depth throughout SMIs and their Instagram profiles. Lastly, the study looks to highlight new emerging themes between SMI and the operations of their Instagram profiles. Moreover, how SMIs use Instagram as a creative outlet, and what their main methods of communication are on this platform. This research project will continually address these aims throughout and will aim to understand the significance of this project in relation to the marketing industry.