Responsibility in influencer communication

Organizers: Heidi Hirsto (University of Vaasa) & Cecilia Hjerppe (University of Vaasa)

Social media influencers have a growing significance in today’s society. Influencers are social media actors, who have a large following and possibilities to monetize the attention. Organizations have recognized the potential of influencers in reaching certain stakeholders such as young people.

Organizations approach publics through influencers traditionally as consumers, but gradually also in other roles such as investors. In these collaborative relationships, influencers act as advocates and role models. Influencers have also been used in the public sector for example as mediators of COVID-19 information. Influencers can thus be seen as commercial but also societal actors, who have power over and responsibility for the meanings they create. Influencers can harness their visibility and networks consciously to support things that are in line with their values and/or personal brand. They promote products and services, but can also play a part in creating sustainable consumer cultures or influencing the public agenda.

Questions of responsibility and power are also related to the relationships between influencers and their followers. These relationships may come to resemble friendship but typically include a degree of structural asymmetry. Communities around influencers may offer safe spaces and enable conversations that have transformative potential. Possible downsides include disinformation that spreads through influencers as well as hate speech and harassment targeted at influencers.

Influencing now also appears as a possible work or career. The industry has become professionalized, but its gendered nature, the young age of influencers and the appreciation of the work connect with structural problems and risks of abuse. Furthermore, influencers are held responsible for mastering issues of legislation and transparency when balancing the boundary between commercial and other types of influencing. New responsibility questions emerge for example in the crossing of influencer and politician roles.

We call for presentations that discuss influencer communication for example from the following perspectives:

– Influencer communication in relation to responsible consumption, investing and business
– Influencers’ power and responsibility as role models, experts, advocates
– Questions of power and responsibility in the relations between companies and influencers and influencers and followers
– Influencing as work – risks, rights, duties
– Privacy and publicity; authenticity and astroturfing
– Vulnerable groups (e.g. children) in the field of influencer communication
– Influencers in public sector communication and politics
– Power and responsibility of platforms
– Motives and targets for influencing (social, political, commercial…)

The workshop will be held on-site in Vaasa. The workshop consists of short presentations, peer feedback and discussion. The working languages are Finnish and English.