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Reboot & Women's Forum Study: To Like or Dislike? Women’s Complex Relationship with Social Media Influencers

Published on November 30, 2023 by Prisca Appadourai

For centuries celebrities have used their fame and notoriety to make money promoting products and services. There is even evidence that Roman gladiators allowed their likenesses to be used on murals that advertised wines and oils. So, there’s nothing new about well-known people encouraging their fans to buy certain products. But it took the rise of the smartphone and the invention of social media to take this idea of celebrity endorsements and flip it on its head.

Today, unfamous people with large social media followings are leveraging those audiences to land corporate sponsorships and endorsement deals. In some cases, these so-called “social media influencers” are able to earn six-figure incomes or higher. Influencers are immensely popular among teens. Young people spend hours each day watching, engaging with, sharing, and interacting with content produced by these social media personalities. Adolescents don’t just turn to influencers for amusement. They seek them out for information, guidance, advice, and a feeling of “being in the know.”

Research shows women and teen girls in particular are drawn to influencers. Females between the ages of 16 and 24 spend more time on social media than any other demographic, and 56 percent of them use social media to research brands and products, making them ripe for influencer marketing campaigns. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that young women and teen girls follow social media influencers at much higher rates than men and boys – with beauty, fashion, food, and lifestyle topics being the most popular among girls and young women who follow influencers.

The large number of hours women spend consuming influencer content raises some thorny questions about how such content impacts them psychologically, emotionally, and socially. These questions are particularly relevant for young girls and teens, as research has found that social media can be especially damaging to their development.

The Reboot Foundation and the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society wanted to learn more about the perceptions women and girls have of the influencers they follow. We also wanted to know more about their views on the relationship between social media content and their feelings of self-worth, and whether they see influencing as a viable “career path.” But the perspective of female social media users is just one side of the coin. We also wanted to better understand influencers: the perceptions they have of their female followers, their opinions on influencing as a career, and their thoughts on the psychological impact their content might be having on young women who follow them.