The psychology of influencer

Dirk Ziems

The psychology of influencer

The new internet stars are the most visible sign of the upheaval in media usage. If companies react correctly to this, exciting possibilities will open up.

Nothing has changed the everyday life of modern humans as much as the introduction of the smartphone, where the launch of the iPhone is just eleven years ago. A culture of "always on" has developed in which everyday life and the media are inextricably interwoven. The smartphone is a constant companion, serves as an outsourced memory, as a universal tool, and as a never-tempo entertainer.

Staying in the company of a smartphone has led to the extraordinary flexibility of media usage and communication behavior - emails and messages are answered day and night, videos and other content are no longer consumed at fixed times, but when one feels like it. The nature of the bond to the content has changed, too: a "spontaneous excitement culture" has been formed, a "Visual Snacking" is in operation, the user jumps on more and more excitement.

The smartphone also initiated the development whose target point is likely to be the end of the linear mass communication.

The user of today is moving in filter bubbles, or - in other words - he is traveling in a self-made media tunnel in which he prefers played out content (and reinforced by algorithms). Of the general, cross-social themes of earlier days, only a longing remains. Social media has thus become a significant factor in consumer decisions. The appropriation of relevant style worlds and the identification with brands is today preferably via their presence in the social media channels, in particular, the hashtags are of great importance, the non-personal allow the coverage of larger fields of interest.

Also, mobile online shopping in its present orientation is more of a fluid transition from giddy, playful style inspirations to a casual buying decision that is still halfway made in relaxation mode.

In this world of the media revolution, a new being appeared some time ago, which was first ridiculed and then admired: the influencer. That the influencer can make a difference, is now clear in the face of industry stars with seven-digit follower numbers. But how exactly does the psychological mechanism of influence take place? Why do people trust external internet stars? And how can companies and brands benefit from this in the face of classic channel erosion?

The superpower of the influencers lies in the image transfer: If the personal favorite blogger a product is good, also the interest of the followers aroused.

For example, the hitherto little-known watch brand Daniel Wellington became a serious competitor of Fossil, Casio & Co. via social media. Such success should not distract from the fact that there are also critical voices against the Influencer Marketing. There is the talk of a hype and of prohibited surreptitious advertising, which is operated by not properly marked Product Placement. In particular, there is a lot of catching up to do, especially with regard to awarding entries, but the presumption that it is a fast-moving phenomenon goes nowhere when you look more closely at the psychological mechanisms of influencer marketing. Influencers have come to stay.

The media change has meant that users in the digital world organize their media budget very individually. In doing so, four media spheres are loosely networked:

  • General Interest (eg. SPIEGEL Online)
  • Actionable impulses (eg. Youtube tutorials)
  • Digital dispersion (eg. Cat videos)
  • Daydream inspirations (eg. Fashion blogs on Instagram)

The compilation of the offers used, is not carved in stone, but permanently fluctuating; the Relevant Set is constantly evolving. The media user combines his consciousness in the daily routine with the media stream, which is associative, unconsciously controlled, determined by external and internal impulses and excitations, aimed at the treatment of moods and transitions. It develops a medial all-greed, which is constantly looking for manifestations and finds the right expression for every arousal.

For example, those who try to develop their own identity may be accompanied by a YouTuber like Montana Black in his exemplary lifestyle.

Anyone who feels that they are willing to be excited or uneasy may find the manifestation of this constitution in a political blog. In this fluid congestion, the influencers come into the game, who appear to their followers in the Internet community like a Best Buddy, without the distance that one normally feels to journalists and other media figures. Accordingly, the influencers also like to cherish the myth of the small, individual followers - even if this goes into the millions.

Influencers replace the role models and opinion leaders of the pre-digital era - news presenters, supermodels, music stars - and seem to communicate on an equal footing with their followers.

They bring order into the confusion of the stream of digital consciousness by giving the latent drives a form through concrete individual stories.

For most followers, influencers are clearly in the area of tension between authenticity and commerce, yet they enjoy a high level of street credibility, as many of them at the beginning of success often have a start in modest or even precarious conditions. That creates connectedness.

The typical playing fields of the influencers coincide with the digital mood worlds of the users.

Two examples:

  1. There are fashion bloggers (et al.), Who have a turgid style inspiration and can serve as role models for fashion and lifestyle brands. They give themselves near and authentic and convey the feeling in a certain daydream logic: You could be that too!
  2. Another group of influencers is dedicated to employable coaching which means, that they act as a kind of big brother or big sister who takes the user by the hand and leads them through the jungle of the foreign or consumer world. Examples of this genre are cooking, blogs or experts for certain leisure activities (eg. photography).

Other fields of the influencers are missionary persuasion, self-expression/entertainment, complex easy to explain and special interest expertise. There are four main lines in motivational and career patterns of influencers: sometimes the blog is started as a "personal development thing", sometimes as a "running side project" that has suddenly gained cult status, sometimes as a "new digital media career" and finally there is still the model "From Nobody to Superstar".

The fraction of development bloggers is often surprised by their own success and then experienced a professionalization (extended staff, sponsorship), which at least calls into question the former authenticity. The sub-project bloggers often tend to a demanding specialization and usually do not strive to reach as many people as possible, but "the right". Digital media careerists usually have a background (web agency or similar) and are very tech-savvy. After all, representatives of the last-named genus live primarily by their (exalted) personality - and at least tend to have the credibility problem in the face of extensive commercialization.

To sum up, influencers as the new trendsetters take on the role of traditional media (TV, print, advertising) and, because of their tradition, in most cases appear more authentic and credible than superstar testimonials, which, on the one hand, only imperfectly fulfill their role model function and their financial motivation is immediately clear to every media user.

In addition, selecting the right influencers can target audience segmentation very accurately and increase the precision of targeting (but with the associated risk of fragmentation).

Here are three short examples:

  1. If the Brand Story/Brand Myth or Emotional Brand Core is to be communicated, it should be with the help of Branded Dream Worlds, where the brand is idealized as a Super Hero. The bloggers, who pursue the revelry style inspiration, offer a good response to these projections.
  2. When it comes to brand questions in terms of style, tonality and target group, influencing mechanics takes place via positive brand associations, which can be achieved with the help of placements and in terms of content via communication as a "best fit". In addition to the style rebel, bloggers from the genres of "missionary persuasion," "self-expression/entertainment," and "easily explain the complex" are also eligible.
  3. Functional brand values are best communicated through the rational presentation of the benefits - ideal for this are the bloggers from the groups "Implementable Coaching" and "Special Interest Expertise".

Conclusion: As a result of the media upheaval, influencers have an important bridging function in brand communication, as they occupy a void of the digital revolution for the Y and Z generations and have succeeded the once established role models and opinion leaders. Anyone who uses influencers as a company for their brand communication has great opportunities to reach a consumer-friendly audience precisely.

Published on 13.07.2018 at


For further information please contact:

Thomas Ebenfeld
Co-Founder and Shareholder

Dirk Ziems
Dirk Ziems ist Experte für tiefenpsychologisches Marketing und berät auf Basis von Markt-, Medien- und Kulturforschung weltweit Unternehmen und Konzerne in zahlreichen Branchen und Ländern. Als Mitbegründer der Global Research Boutique Concept M und der Marketingberatung Flying Elephant begleitet er Themen wie die Adaption von Erfolgsprodukten in neuen kulturellen Kontexten, das tiefe Verständnis neuer Konsumgenerationen in China und USA, die Transformation der Werbekommunikation in der neuen digitalen Medienwelt oder die Neuorientierung der Brands in Post-Corona-Zeiten. Dirk Ziems ist auch als Gastdozent an verschiedenen Universitäten tätig.

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