Study: Celebrities of Instagram – What Type of Content Influences Followers’ Purchase Intentions and Engagement Rate?

Celebrities have been traditionally used in marketing in tv-commercials and as company brand ambassadors for a long time. Celebrity influence on purchase intention has been studied extensively by academics. Along with the rise of social media, a new phenomenon of social media celebrities have emerged to the celebrity scene. Social media celebrities enable a completely new way for marketers to promote their products on the pages of social media celebrities on Instagram, for example. Social media celebrity Instagram accounts are an effective way to reach large audiences, and someone like Selena Gomez has more than 120 million followers on Instagram.

In this study we examined what factors influence the purchase intentions and engagement rate (photo likes divided by followers) of social media celebrities’ followers. The data consists of 414 photos on 46 social media celebrity accounts. The data was collected through Instagram from the Finnish followers of these 46 social media celebrities. From the responses, 541 were validated for the study. In addition, we gathered data from the social media celebrities whether the photos hold sponsored content or not.

Results were derived from the data with quantitative methods primarily by using hierarchical regression models.

Purchase intentions and engagement rates were explained by partially the same and partially different variables. Congruence between the picture and the social media celebrity was the most significant variable explaining purchase intentions. Congruence was also positively related to the engagement rate. However the engagement rate was mostly explained by the age difference between the social media celebrity and the follower. A bigger age difference corresponded to a stronger relation to the engagement rate. From Ohanian’s (1990) characteristic source model (expertise, trustworthiness and attractiveness), expertise was the only characteristic that had a positive relation to purchase intentions. However, trustworthiness and attractiveness were positively related to engagement rate, whereas social media celebrity expertise had a negative relation to engagement rate. Those social media celebrities who had acquired their fame solely on Instagram had strongest relation to engagement rate and purchase intentions, compared to the Instagram celebrities that had previous fame as bloggers or as general celebrities such as models and actresses.

The findings of our study offer several interesting managerial implications as well as future research topics for academics.

Sponsored pictures had a positive relation to purchase intentions, hence marketers should invest in marketing efforts on social media celebrity accounts. The most critical factor for success is finding and selecting the most suitable social media celebrities. In the selection process, the most important criteria should be congruence and fit between the social media celebrity and the sponsored content. Social media celebrity follower amount was not related to purchase intentions nor to engagement rate, so instead of favoring only ‘big stars’, also focus on social media celebrities with smaller follower amounts of so called micro influencers, should be utilized equally. Based on the study results, we recommend transparency on social media celebrity endorsement and disclosing sponsored contents with #collaboration, or some other indicator.

Link to the whole study:

Writers: Emma Naumanen & Matilde Pelkonen
Photo: Sara Sieppi