Influencers are people who achieve a high reach through their activities on social media. By uploading self-produced content, they provide insights into their lives, usually incorporating sponsored advertising content and product placements into their everyday narrative. Since influencers interact with their followers on social media and present themselves as approachable and authentic, their product recommendations are considered more credible compared to traditional formats such as television advertising.


As the translation of the English word “influence” into German already reveals, influencers are characterised by their reach and the associated possibility to influence purchasing decisions, attitudes or actions in social media. There are many definitions of influencers, especially in marketing literature, but also in academic articles, none of which has yet been able to establish itself. Abidin defines influencers as

“everyday, ordinary Internet users who accumulate a relatively large following on blogs and social media through the textual and visual narration of their personal lives and lifestyles, engage with their following in digital and physical spaces, and monetize their following by integrating ‘advertorials’ into their blog or social media posts.”

It goes on to say:

“It is a functional attribution that organizations apply to social media users such as bloggers, YouTubers, Instagrammers, etc., that are ascribed the ability to influence the organization’s stakeholders and thus become relevant to the organization.” [1]

On the one hand, it is clear from this definition that influencers present themselves as “ordinary people” and thus a distinction is made between them and celebrities, such as film stars or well-known athletes [2]. On the other hand, influencers are characterised by the fact that they incorporate product placements or advertisements into their everyday narrative and thus monetise their profile. As ordinary people, influencers report on their everyday lives and attract viewers to their profiles through the (supposedly) authentic portrayal of their lives. It is precisely this authenticity that influencers embody that is the core of their recipe for success. The impression of authenticity conveyed is presented in research as a decisive success factor [3]. However, many of the so-called “micro-influencers” (with a comparatively small number of followers) do not operate their profile full-time and see the income they generate from possible collaborations as a sideline or hobby [4].


The origins of influencers can be traced back to so-called lifestyle bloggers, who even before the success of social media regularly reported on their everyday lives on blog sites on the internet. As “voicy consumers”, they were already influencing the purchasing decisions of readers in the mid-2000s [5]. At the same time, the predominantly amateurish, user-generated videos on YouTube developed into professional, commercialised content [6]. The term influencer, as we use it today, came into being in 2007, when well-known YouTube stars generated media resonance for the first time at press conferences. Today, influencers on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok or Snapchat exert great influence, especially on young people. According to a recent study, more than half of young adults consider influencers to be more credible than advertising in traditional media [7]. According to the Reuters Digital News Report, around a third of respondents say they use social media platforms as their primary source of information [8]. There is no end in sight to this trend, but the growing number of influencers is increasing the pressure to generate attention. For this reason, micro-influencers in particular are facing increasing pressure to optimise and professionalise their work [10]. Nevertheless, young people are increasingly citing influencers as their dream job [9] and the marketing industry expects an annual growth rate of 20% for influencer marketing [11].


The commercialisation of “ordinary users” already alluded to is an important component of influencers. Many use their high reach to enter into collaborations or act as brand ambassadors, and more and more companies are becoming aware of this type of marketing. Influencers are seen as experts who succeed in reaching young target groups, generating long-term attention and communicating advertising content in a low-threshold and authentic way. The resulting high demand enables influencers to earn up to 250,000 euros for a single post on social media [4].

The general oversupply of content in social media leads to attention establishing itself as the new currency on the internet. This can be measured using various key figures such as the number of followers, likes or the engagement rate. Therefore, it is especially important for influencers to always be present and to get a lot of attention with their authentic posts. Consequently, image cultivation and optimisation of self-representation are very much in focus, whereby influencers are caught between the desire for authenticity and the uniformity of trends [12] [13] [14] .

Influencers in academic discourse

Many academic articles already deal with the commercialisation of influencers in social media. Studies deal with the use of influencers as a marketing strategy and explore, for example, the attractiveness and effectiveness that is typically inherent in recommendations from influencers. Other research contributions, on the other hand, attempt to quantify the extent of advertising and product placement by influencers [15] [16]. Some studies also look at the impact on public opinion and the influence on follower behaviour [17]. In addition to numerous studies on success strategies of influencer marketing, psychological and sociological contributions are particularly noteworthy. Here, too, it becomes apparent that the relatively new phenomenon is still described and defined differently in the literature. Some describe influencers as “microcelebrity”, while others speak of “the Instafamous” [18]while others speak of “the Instafamous” [12] while another approach tries to define influencers as digital opinion leaders [3] [19] and also to focus more on the role of influencers in political discourse.

A bidt-funded research project entitled “Political Influencers in Germany” deals explicitly with political influencers and the marketing of political content in social media. The aim of the pilot project is not only to provide a conceptualisation and theoretical foundation, but also to make one of the first empirical contributions to the phenomenon of political influencers.

Further links


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[1] Abidin, C. (2016). Visibility labour: Engaging with influencers’ fashion brands and #OOTD advertorial campaigns on Instagram. Media International Australia, 161(1), 86-100.

[2] There is no consensus in the current debate on the differentiation between celebrities and influencers. Some positions emphasise the similarities between the two groups and therefore refrain from drawing an analytical distinction. Campbell, on the other hand, speaks of “celebrity influencers” to refer to celebrities who also enjoy public attention outside of social networks (Campbell & Farrell, 2020). Here, however, deliberate reference is made to the relatively new possibility of gaining notoriety predominantly through social media use.

[3] Bause, H. (2021). Politische Social-Media-Influencer als Meinungsführer? Publizistik.

[4] Campbell, C., & Farrell, J. R. (2020). More than meets the eye: The functional components underlying influencer marketing. Business Horizons, 63(4), 469-479.

[5] Hopkins, J. (2016). The Lifestyle Blog Genre. In H. Friese, G. Rebane, M. Nolden, & M. Schreiter (Hrsg.), Handbuch Soziale Praktiken und Digitale Alltagswelten (S. 1–8). Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.

[6] Gerhards, C. (2019). Product placement on YouTube: An exploratory study on YouTube creators’ experiences with advertisers. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 25(3), 516-533.


[8] Hölig, S., & Hasebring, U. (2019). Reuters Institute digital news report … – Ergebnisse für Deutschland 2019.

[9] Skeldon, P. (2019). Young affilates: Nearly a fifth of British children aspire to be social media influencers.

[10] Riedl, M. (2021, April 28). Lifelogging on Instagram.

[11] Weidenbach, B. (2021). Prognose der Investitionen in Social-Media-Werbung weltweit bis 2022. Statista..

[12] Caldeira, S. P., Ridder, S., & van Bauwel, S. (2020). ‘Everybody needs to post a selfie every once in a while’: Exploring the politics of Instagram curation in young women’s self-presentational practices. Information, Communication & Society, 30(3), 1-18.

[13] Marwick, A. E. (2015). Instafame: Luxury Selfies in the Attention Economy. Public Culture, 27(1 75), 137-160.

[14] Sokolova, K., & Hajer, K. (2018). Instagram and YouTube bloggers promote it, why should I buy? How credibility and parasocial interaction influence purchase intentions. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Service.

[15] Schwemmer, C., & Ziewiecki, S. (2018). Social Media Sellout: The Increasing Role of Product Promotion on YouTube. Social Media + Society.

[16] Mathur, A., Narayanan, A., & Chetty, M. (2018). Endorsements on Social Media: An Empirical Study of Affiliate Marketing Disclosures on YouTube and Pinterest. Proc. ACM Hum. Comput. Interact. 2, CSCW, Article 119 (November 2018), 26 pages.

[17] Hudders, L., De Jans, S., & De Veirman, M. (2020). The commercialization of social media stars: A literature review and conceptual framework on the strategic use of social media influencers. International Journal of Advertising, 1-49.

[18] Senft, T. M. (2013). Microcelebrity and the Branded Self. In J. Hartley, J. Burgess, & A. Bruns (Eds.), A Companion to New Media Dynamics (pp. 346-354). Wiley-Blackwell.

[19] Duckwitz, A. (2019). Influencer als digitale Meinungsführer: Wie Influencer in sozialen Medien den politischen Diskurs beeinflussen – und welche Folgen das für die demokratische Öffentlichkeit hat. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Bonn.