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01 September 2021
Influencer Marketing: Interdisciplinary and Socio-Cultural Perspectives
Influencer marketing is a growing area of interest both inside and outside of the academy. Brands are increasingly devoting their marketing budgets to influencer marketing, with the industry valued at $8 billion in 2019 and expected to grow up to $15 billion by 2022 (Business Insider, 2019). Social media provides a megaphone for influencers (McQuarrie et al., 2013). To date most influencer research has focused on Instagram (Abidin 2014, 2016a, 2016b; Campana et al., 2020; Drenten et al., 2020), however there are a varied and growing number of platforms that warrant examination, including TikTok and Cameo. Additionally, there is value in looking back at what could be considered the use of more ‘classic’ platforms, such as blogs, forums, tumblr, and YouTube, as well as regionally-specific platforms with different governance structures outside of the Silicon Valley bubble (Zhang & de Seta, 2018). How these platforms are used by influencers to create content that is uploaded to their social media accounts to attract attention and engagement from a large network of followers is of interest due to the idiosyncratic nature of each.
Influencers are considered to be a powerful marketing resource due to their perceived credibility, authenticity and relatability (Abidin, 2015a; Djafarova & Rushworth, 2017; Pöyry et al., 2019). Marketers have capitalised on the popularity of influencers, turning to them as trusted tastemakers to endorse products and brands to their followers (De Veirman et al., 2017), thereby monetising their following (Abidin, 2016a, 2016b). Consequently, much attention has been paid to how brands can profit from influencers, including enhanced brand awareness and purchase intentions (Hughes et al., 2019; Ki & Kim, 2019; Lou & Yuan 2019; Martínez-López et al., 2020; Reinikainen et al., 2020).
Less explored in this ‘demotic turn’ (Turner, 2010) of ordinary people becoming increasingly visible in marketing are more socio-cultural and interdisciplinary approaches to the phenomenon of influencer marketing. Influencer marketing has been heralded as a democratising force, giving power to ‘real’, authentic voices (Childers et al., 2018; Duffy, 2019) across an array of contextual lifestyle boundaries, such as food, fashion, family, technology, politics, activism, health, hobbies and even pets. Yet, the commodification and monetisation of private lives raises new questions for power, privilege, appropriation and resistance in a content-driven culture (Khamis et al., 2017; Raun, 2018; Tufekci, 2017). Influencers act as carriers of taste regimes (Viotto et al., 2020), engaging in work that is laborious yet often unpaid (Duffy, 2017; Mangan, 2020; Terranova, 2000) and marked by structural inequities including gender (Drenten et al.,), race (Abidin, 2019; Lawson, 2020), religion (Beta, 2019), sexuality (Aziz, 2018; Duguay, 2019; Lana, 2018), class (Abidin, 2016a; Iqani, 2019), and national norms (Limkangvanmongkol & Abidin 2018).
Inequalities and complexities within the influencer industry are further compounded by the underlying digital dynamics of platforms, algorithms, and affordances (Bishop, 2020; Bliss, 2020; Bucher & Helmond, 2018; Cotter, 2018; Noble, 2018; O’Meara, 2019). Emerging language forms and communication norms, such as emojis, memes, filters, hashtags, animated stickers and GIFs, are increasingly interwoven into influencer-consumer interactions and consequently are shifting marketing rhetoric (de Seta, 2018; Ge & Gretzel, 2018; Gurrieri & Drenten, 2018; Shifman, 2014). Influencer cultures and practices are also broadening across the age spectrum, including child influencers (Abidin 2015b, 2017; Pedersen & Aspevig 2018) and elderly influencers (Moon & Abidin, 2020), and negotiating post-human possibilities including pet influencers (Hutchinson 2014) and virtual influencers (Marwick, 2018). The global evolution of influencer marketing gives rise to new ethical and regulatory debates around consumer vulnerabilities and deception, such as the importance of disclosure (Abidin et al. 2020; Kay et al., 2020) as consumers are unable to easily decipher what constitutes sponsored and non-sponsored content (Campbell & Grimm, 2019).
Despite the growing role of influencer marketing in practice, much of the critical scholarship exploring influencer culture is situated outside of the marketing domain. With these kinds of ideas and challenges in mind, the objective of this special issue is to discuss, problematise and stimulate debate on how influencer marketing, its consumption and wider implications for the contemporary world can be examined and re-thought from socio-cultural and interdisciplinary perspectives. Submissions are encouraged to harness methodologies that seek deep understanding and rich insights on the production, consumption, and lived experiences of influencer marketing. Transdisciplinary empirical, conceptual and theoretical contributions are invited on (but not limited to) the following topics:
● Defining ‘influencer marketing’ and its theoretical distinctions relative to existing concepts (e.g., celebrity sponsorship, content creation)
● Intersections of race, gender, class, age, sexuality, religion, and ability in influencer marketing and critical social justice issues
● Amplifying the voices of Global South scholars and perspectives
● Consideration of a more diverse scale of influencers, including nano, micro, meso, macro and mega
● The consumption of influencer marketing and related implications for identity construction and navigation
● The commercialisation and monetisation of private lives (e.g., family, childhood, sexuality) and related ethical considerations, including the rise of the child influencer
● The emerging category of post-human influencers, including pet influencers, virtual influencers, and inanimate objects as influencers
● Socio-technical assemblages, artifacts and digital materiality within influencer marketing
● Influencer-consumer interactions, communication norms, and parasocial relationships
● Influencer-influencer interactions, collectives and communities (e.g., collabs)
● Advances in innovative digital research methods to examine the contours of influencer marketing
● Dynamics and tensions of labour structures in the field of influencer marketing
● Professionalisation and legitimisation of the influencer industry
● Cross-cultural perspectives of influencer marketing in a global economy with porous borders
● Cultural production of ‘drama’ and crisis management in influencer marketing.
For more details including the reference list for this CFP, please visit the JMM blog:
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