Credible Influencers

Johnathan Hinds

Authors:  Benjamin Johnson, Amanda Bradshaw, Julia Davis, Vanessa Diegue, Lily Frost, Jonathan Hinds, Tracy Lin, Cassidy Mizell, Deanna Quintana, Ruowen Wang

Faculty Mentor:  Benjamin Johnson

College: College of Journalism and Communications


Influencers are semi-professional microcelebrities on social media platforms such as YouTube or Instagram. These are individuals who produce user-generated content on social media and fall into a category between everyday peers and professional media celebrities. A key part of the influencer business model is sponsored partnerships with brands, in order to promote lifestyle products to the influencer’s followers. Influencers navigate several opposing tensions between their authenticity and relatability and their carefully crafted personas and commercial interests. It may prove difficult for these microcelebrities to juggle these characteristics when attempting to produce content that is both popular and product-centered. Viewers, followers, and subscribers must also make sense of these contradictions when assessing the messages produced by influencers. We draw from warranting theory to propose that trustworthiness and expertise would be differentially affected by several key message cues: production quality, self-disclosure, and sponsorship disclosure. A 2x2x2 between-subjects experiment with original influencer videos was designed to test effects on trustworthiness and expertise, as well as downstream effects on attitudes and intentions. Manipulating these variables will assist us in assessing message effectiveness. This is a Stage 1 Registered Report that is currently under review and anticipating data collection in the spring of 2020

Poster Pitch

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10 Responses
  1. Ashley Sepulveres

    You are using trustworthiness and expertise as two separate metrics: is there a possibility that these could influence each other from an audience perspective?

    1. Jonathan Hinds

      I believe that there is definitely a possibility that these can influence each other, however for this specific project we hoped to see how the variables of production quality and self-disclosure affect trustworthiness and expertise as viewers may feel that giving away too much of yourself to your audience shows that the creator has not had much time on the platform. Upon data collection it will be very interesting if the metrics show parallel results.

  2. Gabriela

    This is an interesting study and an approach that I had not yet thought about. When you say expertise, are you meaning expertise in their field of interest or expertise in film production? Also, is the sponsorship directly related to the video’s content? For example, many makeup artists that create online content are sponsored by beauty companies, or is it more along the lines of Coca-Cola sponsoring a music-based content creator?

  3. Jonathan

    Hey Gabriela, thanks for your interest! Expertise in this study refers to expertise as a content creator on YouTube. For example: how comfortable they feel in front of a camera as well as edits, lighting, camera quality, and other production elements. The types of sponsorships that we are looking at are very blatant. For example if the content creator was sponsored by the beauty company, their video would showcase the companies products while the YouTuber uses and speaks highly of the products.

  4. I think this is a really cool study to look at and I’m curious, what would the hope be for this paper after finding your results? What sort of application are you looking into for how content creators are able to balance their authenticity with their commercial gain? More broadly, is this hoping to be to the benefit of the audience to better understand how content creators approach these things or is it to help content creators understand how they can approach these tensions themselves in their commercial endeavors?

  5. Anays Hernandez

    Hi Jonathan! In the future, would you share these results with YouTubers or maybe even write an article/YouTube crash course on this for individuals who would like to pursue a YouTube career?

  6. Courtney Weis

    Such a cool project! Influencers are definitely on the rise; I see them on every social media platform I use. Do you think gender may have something to do with the perceived trustworthiness of the influencers?

  7. Todd Sanders

    Very interesting and relevant topic. Please share the report once complete. I know there are influencers on campus (instagram, tiktok, youtube) and it would be insightful to get their perspective on the findings of the research after the report is published.