Robot or Human? The Marketing Phenomenon of Virtual Influencers : A Case Study About Virtual Influencers’ Parasocial Interaction on Instagram

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Företagsekonomiska institutionen; Uppsala universitet/Företagsekonomiska institutionen

Abstract: Title: Robot or Human? The Marketing Phenomenon of Virtual Influencers: A Case Study About Virtual Influencers’ Parasocial Interaction on Instagram. Purpose: As it is already established that human influencers can create parasocial interaction with their followers, the purpose of this study is to explore parasocial interaction with virtual influencers through their perceived source credibility. Research Questions: How are consumers responding to interaction with virtual influencers on Instagram? What factors in source credibility facilitate parasocial interaction between the actors?  Method: This case study has conducted semi-structured interviews with Swedish consumers along with information collected on two virtual fashion influencers: LilMiquela and Noonoouri. Before the interviews, a pretest in interacting with the virtual influencers on Instagram was conducted. Afterwards, the transcripts have been analyzed in accordance to the presented operationalization and led to subcategories found to be relevant for the facilitation of PSI.  Conclusion: It was shown that consumers responded better to interaction with humanlike virtual influencers regarding their appearance and lifelike activities. Although, consumers also perceive their appearance and behavior as unpleasant and unrealistic when being too close to reality. Their perceived humanness affected the level of attractiveness, similarity and trustworthiness. As such, these are the factors that affect the degree of source credibility and thus facilitate PSI with them. Virtual influencers stand in front of a problem with both authenticity and transparency, as they are created and owned by companies. This has implications for their overall attractiveness, as authenticity is shown to be important for consumers on Instagram. However, lack of authenticity and transparency mostly implicates the trustworthiness of them, as the communicator is unknown. Virtual influencers are perceived to have a superior ability of being available online and personal in interaction. Therefore, it is shown to have a positive effect on the facilitation of PSI as it increases their attractiveness. However, it also indicates that they are controlled by a company which has a negative effect as it decreases the trustworthiness of them. To conclude, consumers’ virtual robot acceptance is proposed to be a precursor for developing PSI with virtual influencers in conjunction with the three factors in source credibility: trustworthiness, attractiveness and similarity.

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