The Psychology of Social Media

Social media offers opportunities for businesses to advertise and create a brand name for themselves. When it comes to individual influencers, however, interactions become more complicated. While businesses tend to sell a product or service, individual influencers must sell themselves, leading to complex, psychological interactions with the audience.

The label itself—influencer—implies that there is a duty to influence people. This is often done by portraying and documenting a certain lifestyle that the audience wants to achieve. Influencers hold a lot of power because they can affect the decisions people make by associating a certain product or practice with their success. The psychology behind social media reveals the significant impact it has on people. In this article we will discuss:

  • Self-disclosure
  • Parasocial interactions
  • How influencers can benefit the most from their audiences

Self-Disclosure

Self-disclosure is the act of revealing your personality and details of your life, particularly in cyber settings. Social media is fueled by self-disclosure, and it fosters feelings of closeness that make audience members feel more connected to the people they follow.

Often, influencers must let their followers into their lives. Although they have control over how much they reveal, influencers often will become aware of what the audience wants to know more about. Recently, platforms such as Instagram have installed poll features that allow influencers to ask the audience questions. People have taken this as an opportunity to ask their followers what kind of content they would like to see next. Influencers then create content accordingly, fostering a more intimate and curated relationship with their followers.

Self-disclosure is particularly important when blogging. While Instagram and YouTube offer platforms for visualizing an influencer’s life, blogging lets followers directly into an influencer blogger’s mind. Bloggers can maintain control over their content because of the ability to write and edit their way to a perceived lifestyle. Bloggers, regardless of their content, tend to let followers into very specific aspects of their life. Many blogs contain an “About Me” section that a blogger can use to describe their childhood, aspirations, and current situation. This creates a sense of intimacy that once again encourages a cyber-relationship between followers and influencers.

Parasocial Interaction

While self-disclosure is concerned with how influencers use social media to reveal their lives to followers, parasocial interaction (PSI) can be used to describe why audiences form relationships with media figures in the first place. Parasocial interaction explains which audience member would develop their one-sided relationship when information is consumed.

Influencers who self-disclose become significant parts of followers’ lives because audiences form personal opinions about what they see. This leads to parasocial interaction: a one-sided relationship. While influencers self-disclose as a form of expression, audience members consume their content as a form of solidarity or support.

PSI was initially used to describe celebrities and the fascination people have with them. With the onslaught of social media, however, the definition of a celebrity is skewed. While celebrities still exist in a traditional sense through their involvement in film, television, or music, smaller-scale celebrities are emerging solely on social media.

One particular example of this is the rise of YouTube stars. These are people who began “vlogging” or video blogging their daily lives or thoughts and gained a following because of it. YouTubers create videos that are often conversational and mimic a normal interaction. Followers are able to comment on videos in hopes of a response, and they regard this as a form of personal communication.

This is essentially a form of projection, especially for people who feel their daily interactions are not fulfilling. By seeking out people on social media platforms to follow, audiences can choose who they interact with based on shared values, interests, or background. Additionally, influencers and social media figures offer an opportunity for followers to escape their daily routines and be exposed to alternate lifestyles in comfortable and accessible ways.

How influencers can benefit the most from their audiences

When considering self-disclosure and the psychology of PSI, there are a few practices all influencers can follow in order to make the most of their social media interactions.

Self-disclosure is important because it offers an outlet for the influencer. Influencers can choose how much they reveal to their followers, however. Consider which parts of your life you would be okay with disclosing before you mention them in your posts. As followers become more invested in you, they often expect updates on aspects of your life that you have previously revealed to them. Many influencers choose not to mention their personal relationships in order to protect the privacy of their families and partners. The more an influencer initially reveals, the greater the expectations are to maintain that level of self-disclosure.

Audiences evidently enjoy feeling like they are interacting with the people they follow. Some ways you can create a sense of closeness with your followers is replying to comments or hosting “question and answer” sessions. This shows your followers that you are actively acknowledging their support and are willing to interact with them on a smaller level.

Other ways you can reciprocate followers’ support is:

  • Reposting any positive feedback you received on your content
  • Replying to tweets or comments in productive ways
  • Directly asking followers what they would like to see

Summary

The psychology behind social media reveals that relationships are evolving behind computer screens. Being aware of how and why your followers interact with you can help you increase the effectiveness of your social media presence.

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