Have you ever heard of the Oracle of Bacon? Also called the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, it’s a game where someone chooses a random actor and then connects them to another actor via a movie both actors have appeared in together, and repeat the process to find the shortest path that leads to Kevin Bacon. This game rests on the assumption that anyone in Hollywood can be linked through their film roles to Kevin Bacon within six steps. For example, Marilyn Monroe was in Let’s Make It Legal (1951) with Robert Wagner, who was in Wild Things (1998) with Kevin Bacon. The game is a reference to the six degrees of separation, a concept that claims any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart.
I’m not sure if such a claim was possible before modern technology, but through social networks, it is absolutely possible. A social network is a set of socially relevant members connected by one or more relations (Tuten, 2021, p. 77). Members of a network aren’t just people, but organizations, articles, countries, departments, or any other groups. Relationships are based on various affiliations such as “kinship, friendship and affective ties, shared experiences, professional relationships, and shared hobbies and interests” (p. 77).
It’s due to social networks that ideas are able to flow. Tuten (2021) defined flows as exchanges of information, resources, or influence among members of the network (p. 79). A tweet is an example of a flow. These flows of communication go in many directions at any in point in time and often on multiple platforms, like when you see a tweet that was screenshotted and shared as an Instagram post. When this occurs, it’s known as media multiplexity. However, it’s not limited to just social networks. It can extend to emails, texts, direct messages, and even face-to-face (“oh my god, look at this TikTok”). When the exchange of information is in-person, marketers refer to it as word-of-mouth communication.
The flows created by influencers are valuable because of the large number of people they can reach with their social power. Influencers are especially pivotal when it comes to the viral-effect of memes. While it may seem like something that doesn’t even need to be described, Tuten (2021) clarified memes as “a snippet of cultural information that spreads person to person and it is adapted until eventually it enters the general consciousness” (p. 80). They usually include songs, phrases, ideas, slang words, fashion trends, or shared behaviors. The VSCO girl meme, for example, involved oversized t-shirts, scrunchies on the wrist, hydroflasks, and birkenstock sandals, inspired by the stereotype of the kind of girls that use the mobile photography app VSCO. Being rick rolled is a meme that means someone was tricked into clicking on the link of Rick Astley’s music video for “Never Gonna Give You Up”. If a person can’t decide if they like something or not, they can relate to the kombucha girl meme, where Brittany Tomlinson tries kombucha for the first time and goes through a hilarious series of facial expressions.
Memes provide a sense of belonging to people in online social communities. In the chapter, Tuten (2021) noted that all communities, whether they’re dedicated to sharing memes or they’re a neighborhood watch, share important characteristics: participants experience a feeling of membership, a sense of proximity to one another, and some interest in the community’s activities (p. 85).
Influencers play a leading role in the emergence of a new online community. Influencers, or opinion leaders, are people who others view as knowledgeable sources of information. They have a strong communication network that “gives them the ability to affect purchase decisions for a number of other consumers, directly and indirectly” (Tuten, 2021, p. 94). We’ve all seen the articles with headlines like “Kylie Jenner swears by this one product for clear skin”. Who knows if she even uses that specific product or if she’s just getting paid to advertise it, but if she posted a picture promoting it, people will buy it. Why? Others trust influencers and find them to be credible sources of information about one or more specific topics because their social networks are so large and well developed.
This concept is called social capital. The higher the social capital, the more popular the influencer. Social capital is achieved through accumulating power, of which there are several different types, noted by Tuten (2021) on page 95.
- Reward power is one’s ability to provide others what they desire.
- Coercive power is the ability to punish others.
- Legitimate power is the organizational authority based on rights associated with a person’s appointed position.
- Referent power is an authority through the motivation to identify with or please a person.
- Expert power is the recognition of one’s knowledge, skills, and ability.
- Information power is one’s control over the flow of and access to information.
Of course, marketers want an influencer on their team. Tuten (2021) explained, “Brands partner with influencers to seed campaigns, drive impressions, and increase the likelihood that campaign content will go viral” (p. 96). Once an influencer decides they love a brand’s product, others in that person’s social networks will hear about it and decide to try it for themselves. However, brands don’t try to convince every influencer out there to try their product. They shoot for someone that shares the same specific values and interests that the brand has. For example, a trusted beauty vlogger won’t be asked to promote a new power tool; they’ll instead be asked to promote a new beauty product, like lipstick or eyeshadow. Because the influencer’s followers trust the judgement of the beauty vlogger, they’ll want to try a beauty product that the influencer promotes.
In conclusion, due to the large network of social media influencers, their value to marketers is here to stay. Influencers add value by not only reaching more consumers, but also creating content that can be repurposed for use across a brand’s social media channels. Tuten (2021) estimated 84% post influencer content on the brand’s organic social media accounts and 72% drive attention to the content using paid social media.
Everyone else is doing it, so why not hire me to create content for you? Email me with the link below.
Tuten, T. L. (2021). Social Media Marketing (4th ed.). London, England: SAGE Publications Ltd.