Influencer Marketing: An Empirical Study of Consumers' Relationsship with Influencers and their Influence on Digital Consumer Behaviour

Julie Christine Ballin

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis adopts a digital consumer culture perspective to explore the transformational power of influencers on consumers’ views of the world, identity development and consumption behavior. The study seeks to explore how consumers take in influencers in their digital and everyday life and the way individuals create meaning from the affordances of Instagram and influencer-generated content. Qualitative data through 8 in-depth interviews reveal the changing self-concepts of consumers who engage with influencers, and how influencer-generated content creates a world of hyper-reality, where consumers find themselves striving after looking like the ideal version of influencers that are represented to them through Instagram. Furthermore, the findings show how consumers can develop a digital extended self through influencers, where the boundaries between the offline and online world are so blurred, that influencers become a part of the consumers everyday life and social identity. This influence is highly facilitated through Instagram, where the technical functions the media affords consumers, allows them to develop a new online identity and present themselves more favorably to other users. Furthermore, the research reveals that the affordances of Instagram are based on an interrelationship between the medium, influencers and consumers, where the consumer decodes certain demands for quality and aesthetics that might interfere with the consumer’s sense of self. This decoding leaves the consumer with a relatively negative understanding of influencers, which affects the consumers motivation to interact with influencers online, in turn, prompting the consumer to perform as a passive observer of social interaction. Furthermore, it affects the consumer’s way of decoding value in influencer-generated content and whether the consumer obtains a positive brand perception of sponsored brands. However, the affordances of Instagram are not only seen as negative, as functions such as inspiration are highly valued among consumers, where influencers can operate as taste makers for consumers to develop their own taste to reflect in their online self-presentation as well as offline identity through consumption.
Academic research dedicated to Instagram and influencers is limited in terms of understanding the consumers point of view and how consumers are influenced by their interactions with these digital actors. Through this thesis I have developed several theories and models to explain how consumers are influenced by their digital surroundings and how this influence further affects the digital consumers understanding, identity development and consumption behavior. The findings of this study will thereby contribute to a deeper academic and practical understanding of influencer’s effect on digital consumer culture. The conducted analysis is however not comprehensive in terms of including every aspect of the complex inter-relationship between Instagram, influencers and consumers, where I suggest further academic research within the field of digital consumer culture.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Organizational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages227
SupervisorsFabian Csaba