Protecting Authenticity Under Threat: And Why it Matters More Than Ever

Signe Brynæs

Student thesis: Master thesis


Social media influencers are increasingly being approached by brands to promote products and services. This practice is commonly referred to as “influencer marketing”, where influencers can benefit from their influence by obtaining personal rewards by entering partnerships with brands. Influencers’ followers, however, often value them for their non-commercial orientation and intrinsic motivation when communicating. Influencer-brand partnerships may, therefore, lead to tensions that can jeopardize the influencer’s management of authenticity. This paper aims to explore the human experience of authenticity by employing the method of netnography, which allows for an unobtrusive exploration of online communities by discreetly utilizing anthropological techniques in an online setting. Thereby, it aims to explore authenticity strategies in the context of brand partnerships. This is done through the scope of the online community “Fries Before Guys”, which is a Danish podcast that has been referred to as “authentic” – also after becoming sponsored by Danish clothing brand Organic Basics in 2018. Three authenticity management strategies emerged from the analysis: The first strategy involved downplaying the basic needs of Maslow’s hierarchical model of needs, while emphasizing the higher levels, to be perceived as authentic. The second strategy aimed to craft authenticity for the influencer, and thus, by considering affect as an input to state authenticity, this strategy involved (a) choosing a brand partner whom the influencer share certain goals and values with, and (b) engaging within a community that give rise to feelings of authenticity for the influencer, e.g. by fulfilling their psychological needs and making them likely to perceive themselves as their “ideal self”, and their behaviour as “well-adjusted”. This strategy also linked to brand authenticity, as the influencer was likely to be perceived as intrinsically motivated when communicating passionately, e.g., by expressing a lot of high arousal positive emotion, and thus, to also be perceived as authentic. Lastly, by considering positive affect as an output of authenticity, the third authenticity strategy revealed that an influencer did not need to live up to all personality traits of the Trait Authenticity perspective in order to be perceived as authentic. Instead, this study shows that possessing e.g. a high level of (a) self-awareness and (b) relational orientation is sufficient enough to make the influencers of this case perceived as authentic. These results offer guidance for both influencers and marketers on how to build relationships while also protecting the influencers’ authenticity.

EducationsMSocSc in Organisational Innovation and Entrepreneurship , (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages84