Social media celebrities as influencers in brand communication: An empirical study on influencer content, its advertising relevance and audience expectations

Castulus Kolo, Dean and Vice President for Research and Teaching and Florian Haumer, Vice Dean and Head of the Media School, Macromedia University

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Abstract: The rise of social media has expanded the opportunities for brands to communicate with their target audiences. In addition to mass communication and direct advertising, brands today can cooperate with social media influencers to target potential consumers via third parties who are less institutionalised and thus highly credible. Although the two-step flow of communication is well established in communication research, social media technology has clearly fuelled the role of opinion leaders (‘influencers’) with respect to brand recommendations. In recent years, however, influencer communication has undergone a process of professionalisation, leading to differentiation in terms of roles, content and audience behaviour. This study combines observational data of influencers’ followers with data from a content analysis of influencers’ YouTube posts and a representative survey of their audience. The results show that influencers’ communication is no longer restricted to certain categories and that their followers seek gratification through the consumption of social media content in very much the same way as with traditional media content. The study also shows that advertising is omnipresent but also consciously anticipated and accepted by followers if certain conditions are fulfilled.


Keywords: social media celebrities, influencer marketing, brand communication, advertising, media content, audience preferences


Castulus Kolo is Dean and Vice President for Research and Teaching at Macromedia University. He studied physics at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich and earned a PhD at CERN, Geneva. He subsequently gained an additional PhD in social anthropology. He has extensive experience in consulting and applied research, and his research interests include media economics and management with an emphasis on social media, influencers as media entrepreneurs, gamification and emerging media technologies.


Florian Haumer is Vice Dean and Head of the Media School at Macromedia University. He studied communication science and economics in Munich and Dresden and gained a PhD in communication science from TU Dresden. Since 2011 he has worked as a consultant for performance marketing, strategic brand management and Big Data analytics. He has previously held leadership positions in marketing, communication and business development in the media and consulting industry. His research interests include media education, media effects, psychology and game studies.



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