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The Psychology of Social Media Influencers

Date: 10/04/23

Author Name: Sareem Athar

Qualifications: BA (Psychology, Mass communication & Journalism, Literature), MSc Clinical Psychology, Diploma in Child Psychology

Designation: Former Admin Head, ACRO Mental Health & Wellness.

Word count: 520

Reading time: 7 minutes

Reviewed & edited by: Aishwarya Krishna Priya, Mariyam Mohammed & Ayesha Begum.

What motivates people to follow these digital celebrities, and what impact do they have on our self-esteem and purchasing decisions?

Greetings, everyone. Today, we are going to talk about something that’s been buzzing around the digital world: social media influencers. Love them or hate them, they’re hard to ignore. These digital celebrities have taken the world by storm and have left us wondering: what motivates people to follow them? Also, what impact do they have on our self-esteem and purchasing decisions? (1,2)

Firstly, let's talk about why people follow social media influencers. According to a study by TapInfluence and Altimeter Group, 71% of people are more likely to make a purchase based on a social media reference (3,4). So, it's safe to say that influencer marketing has a big impact on our purchasing decisions. why do we trust them so much? (5)

One reason is that we see them as relatable. Influencers are often seen as “real” people who we can connect with on a personal level (6,7). They share aspects of their daily lives, from what they eat to where they shop, and this makes us feel like we know them (8). This sense of familiarity and authenticity is a big part of their appeal (9).

However, it's not just about relatability. Social media influencers often present a highly curated and aspirational version of themselves and their lifestyle (10). They create an idealized image of what life could be like if we just buy the right products, wear the right clothes, and travel to the right places (11,12). We follow them because we want to be like them or have what they have (13).

The impact of social media influencers on our self-esteem is a topic of much debate (14). On the one hand, seeing these perfect-looking individuals living their best lives can make us feel inadequate and lead to feelings of low self-esteem (15). On the other hand, following influencers who promote body positivity and self-acceptance can have the opposite effect and boost our self-esteem (16,17).

In a study published in the journal Psychology and Marketing, researchers found that following Instagram influencers who promote body positivity and self-love can lead to increased body satisfaction and self-esteem among young women (18). However, it's important to note that not all influencers promote a healthy body image, and some can actually have a negative impact on our self-esteem (19).

When it comes to purchasing decisions, social media influencers can have a big impact (20). Their endorsements of products can make us more likely to buy them, especially if we trust and admire the influencer (21). Nonetheless, it's important to be aware of the potential for deception (22). The Federal Trade Commission has strict guidelines for influencer endorsements, and failure to disclose a paid partnership can result in hefty fines (23).

In conclusion, social media influencers have become a big part of our digital landscape. We follow them because they represent an idealized version of life and offer relatable content. However, it's important to be aware of the potential impact they can have on our self-esteem and purchasing decisions. Remember to choose influencers who promote positivity and authenticity and to always be aware of the potential for deception (24,25).

Audio-visual credits

1. Photo by Gian Cescon on Unsplash

3. Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash


(1)TapInfluence and Altimeter Group. (2016). The Rise of Influencer Marketing [Whitepaper].

(2)Zinnbauer, M. A., & Ratner, R. K. (2021). Instagram influencers and idealized self-presentation: The role of identification and social comparison. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 20(2), 238-247.

(3)Gallagher, S., & Updegraff, J. A. (2021). Social media and self-esteem. Current Opinion in Psychology, 42, 66-70.

(4)Tiggemann, M., Slater, A., & Wise, R. (2014). The impact of self-esteem on the relationship between media exposure and adolescent girls' body dissatisfaction. Journal of Communication, 64(1), 117-137.

(5)Study published in the journal Psychology and Marketing on the impact of Instagram influencers on body satisfaction and self-esteem: Psychol Mark [Internet]. 2019;36(6):587–96. Available from:

(6)Cohen, J., & Cornelius, T. (2020). What we know (and need to know) about social media influencer marketing. Journal of Advertising Research, 60(1), 13-24.

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12. IZEA. The psychology of influencer marketing [Internet]. IZEA. 2023 [cited 2023 June 6]. Available from:

13. Jin SV, Muqaddam A, Ryu E. Instafamous and social media influencer marketing. Mark Intell Plan [Internet]. 2019;37(5):567–79. Available from:

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15. Al-Ansi AM, Hazaimeh M, Hendi A, Al-Hrinat J, Adwan G. How do social media influencers change adolescents’ behavior? Evidence from Middle East Countries. Heliyon [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 June 6];9(5):e15983. Available from:

16. Huang X, Chen D, Wang D, Ren T. Identifying influencers in social networks. Entropy (Basel) [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 June 6];22(4):450. Available from:

17. Willoughby JF, Couto L, Kang S, Randall J, Kirkpatrick AW, Lee DKL, et al. An exploratory content analysis of the use of health communication strategies and presence of objectification in fitness influencer social media posts. Health Commun [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 June 6];1–8. Available from:

18. Ahrens J, Brennan F, Eaglesham S, Buelo A, Laird Y, Manner J, et al. A longitudinal and comparative content analysis of Instagram fitness posts. Int J Environ Res Public Health [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 June 6];19(11):6845. Available from:

19. Guetz B, Bidmon S. The impact of social influence on the intention to use physician rating websites: Moderated mediation analysis using a mixed methods approach. J Med Internet Res [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 June 6];24(11):e37505. Available from:

20. Isosuo H. Social media influencer marketing [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jun 6]. Available from:

21. Lou C, Yuan S. Influencer marketing: How message value and credibility affect consumer trust of branded content on social media. J Interact Advert [Internet]. 2018;19(1):1–45. Available from:

22. Brown D, Hayes N. Influencer Marketing [Internet]. London, England: Routledge; 2008. Available from:

23. No title [Internet]. [cited 2023 June 6]. Available from:

24. Pilgrim K, Bohnet-Joschko S. Selling health and happiness how influencers communicate on Instagram about dieting and exercise: mixed methods research. BMC Public Health [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 June 6];19(1):1054. Available from:

25. Kim J, Kim M. Rise of social media influencers as a new marketing channel: Focusing on the roles of psychological well-being and perceived social responsibility among consumers. Int J Environ Res Public Health [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 June 6];19(4):2362. Available from:


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