The Influencer-Employee-Hybrid: A Study of Beauty Companies' Stretegic Use of Employees as Beauty Influencers in "The Online Beauty Community"

Marta Kusio & Anne-Sofie Enberg Kronborg

Student thesis: Master thesis


The commercial use of beauty-influencers has in recent years become especially prevalent in “the online beauty community”. Beauty-influencers’ success lies in their ability to offer transparent and trustworthy brand-recommendations, which accommodates consumers’ increasing need for authenticity. However, some beauty companies have begun strategically using employees as beauty-influencers in “the online beauty community” – called “influencer-employee-hybrids”. These seem to be able to combine the strategic advantages of both influencer marketing and employee branding. Herein lies a seeming paradox. Can an employee truly be an authentic beauty-influencer when their recommendations are biased?
The purpose of this thesis was thus to offer insight into what advantages and disadvantages lie in employing an influencer-employee-hybrid on the basis of communication, authenticity and brand-building behaviors as opposed to engaging in short-term paid partnerships with traditional beauty-influencers. To examine this we conducted two focus-group interviews and six netnographic studies, to observe how the influencer-employee hybrids and members of “the online beauty community” collectively negotiate the influencer-employee-hybrid’s role as both authentic beauty-influencer and company-representative. The empirical studies and analysis were based on a comparative approach, where three influencer-employee-hybrids were put up against three traditional beauty-influencers.
The analysis clearly showed that there were both advantages and disadvantages with the employment of an influencer-employee-hybrid as opposed to a traditional beauty-influencer. The first part of the analysis, which was based on Forbes’ (2016) theory of beauty-influencers’ five communicative characteristics, showed that the influencer-employee-hybrids’ social media content exhibited the five characteristics to a higher degree than the traditional beauty-influencers’ content. By excelling at all five characteristics they made their employment seem redundant to “the online beauty community”, who instead focused more on their functions as beauty-influencers. However, it requires more effort and resources for the influencer-employee-hybrids to be acknowledged as beauty-influencers. The second part of the analysis, which was based on Morhart’s, et. al. (2014) theory on brand authenticity, showed that the influencer-employee-hybrids were able to successfully negotiate their authenticity in “the online beauty community” to the same extent as traditional beauty-influencers. However, two of the influencer-employee-hybrids’ personal brands were perceived as having less continuity than the three traditional beauty-influencers’. All influencer-employee-hybrids were, however, perceived as more credible than the traditional beauty-influencers. The third part of the analysis, which was based on Löhndorf’s, et. al. (2014) theory on brand-building-behaviors, showed that the influencer-employee-hybrids to a certain extent practiced all four brand-building behaviors. Yet only two of the influencer-employee-hybrids could be considered truly ideal representatives for the beauty companies. These were the same two, whose personal brands were perceived as having less continuity and thus being less authentic. Based on these findings, it appears that it is currently not possible for an influencer-employee-hybrid to equally fulfill both the role of an authentic beauty-influencer and an ideal representative for a beauty company. One of these roles appears to always be more prominent than the other.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Organizational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages287