Authentic, but make it personal: an examination of social media influencer personal authenticity

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Copyright: Andonopoulos, Vasiliki
Social Media Influencers (SMIs) occupy an increasingly focal position in the digital marketing landscape. Although authenticity has drawn researchers’ attention to understanding how digital influencers command influence over online consumers, the notion of personal authenticity, the human variant of authenticity has yet to be applied and tested in the marketing literature to understand online spokespersons and consumer responses. Accordingly, the present research aimed to investigate the role of SMI personal authenticity in influencing online customer behaviour. The first chapter in this thesis broadly explored the notion of authenticity across disciplines and defines SMI personal authenticity in reference to self-identification theory. Employing a bibliometric analysis, it further highlighted relatively limited empirical work on online influencers and their authentic self-representation in the marketing literature. The following chapter empirically investigated whether the online representations of SMIs’ self-identity exert consumer behaviour. The pilot study examined whether an SMI Instagram profile adequately reflected their personal authenticity after ruling out the possible confounding effects of gender and familiarity. Study 1 examined online consumer behaviour in response to SMI authentic representation. In Study 2, the preceding study was built upon, and investigated a mediating effect of SMI trustworthiness on the relationship between SMI personal authenticity and consumer responses. The final study (Study 3) tested the serial mediation of SMI trustworthiness and Inspirational capacity of the SMI as a means of explaining the relationship between SMI personal authenticity and consumer outcomes. The findings reveal consumers perceived SMIs who were high in personal authenticity to be more trustworthy and hence more inspirational, resulting in an increased tendency to purchase products advertised by them. Further analyses show that high levels of SMI personal authenticity had a negative effect on inspiration and then resulted in a decrease in consumer purchase intent. These findings challenge the existing marketing literature on authenticity by showing that highly authentic self-representations of SMIs are not always indicative of encouraging consumer purchase intent. The findings from this thesis make a significant and pertinent contribution by filling the current research gap in the extant literature on online influencers and authenticity, in addition to carrying a high degree of digital marketing practitioner value.
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Andonopoulos, Vasiliki
Lee, Jenny Jiyeon
Mathies, Christine
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty