The Evolution of Influencer–Follower Relationships: A Life-Cycle Approach: An Abstract
- 4 Downloads
Companies’ spending on influencer marketing campaigns is growing exponentially. In 2016, firms invested more than $80 billion on influential social media users (ANA 2018). These users are considered “influential” as they contribute to the formation of attitudes toward products and services of a large number of other social media users. The basic idea underlying this novel marketing communication technique is that influencers build a relationship over time with those who follow their social media pages and thereby gain their trust and confidence. However, despite its massive growth and promising advantages, influencer marketing is still a considerably underexplored technique. Prior research has focused on influencer authenticity (Audrezet et al. 2018), likeability (De Veirman et al. 2017), the credibility of influencer posts (Boerman et al. 2017), and success metrics of influencer campaigns (Gräfe and Greff 2018), while the dynamics of influencer-follower relationships remain unexplored. In this paper, we develop and empirically test a life-cycle model of such influencer–follower relationships.
Our results indicate that several properties of the influencer–follower relationship reflecting relevance-related aspects (e.g., interest in the influencer) and follower engagement (e.g., liking and sharing influencer posts), as well as relationship (e.g., commitment and trust) and consumption-related (e.g., purchase intentions) variables display an inverted U-shaped pattern over four consecutive relationship stages, namely, the phases of analysis, affection, attenuation, and alienation. By establishing a model that describes the dynamic evolution of influencer–follower relationships and by testing it through a variety of relational variables, we contribute to a better understanding of the development of the relationship between influencers and their followers. From a practical perspective, our findings suggest that not the number of followers per se but the number of followers in the peak stage of the influencer–follower relationship (referred to as affection phase) should be considered a key figure when planning campaigns. In addition, organizations can monitor the relationship development over time and offer insights to influencers in order to keep them relevant to their followers. Furthermore, our stage classification scheme may help influencers to analyze their follower base and manage their follower portfolio. In order to remain attractive to marketers in the long run, our results suggest that influencers should aim at having an ample number of followers situated in earlier relationship stages, indicating that popular influencers should not rest on a large number of followers and stop acquiring new followers.