The PR BlogMedia & PsychologyBehavioural PsychologyOnline Wannabeism: Why We Mimic Social Media Influencers

Online Wannabeism: Why We Mimic Social Media Influencers

Online audiences are thirsting for audiences of their own.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

Are we starting to mimic social media influencers?

In this post, I’ll discuss a form of online wannabeism; how regular people in your feeds are suddenly starting to talk and act like influencers — despite having no real audiences to address.

I’m a digital PR expert, but I’m also a regular social media user. I follow friends, family, and acquaintances on my social media accounts. And something seems to be … off.

The widespread behaviour where non-influencers mimic influencer mannerisms is fascinating — and somewhat sad. 1“Our results confirm that the five aspects of influencing posts affect consumers’ attitudes positively and significantly, which in turn leads to positive behavioural outcomes through their desire … Continue reading

Let’s dive right into online wannabeism:

Dunbar’s Number

Most of us are familiar with Dunbar’s number, the idea that we tend to organise ourselves in stable group sizes based on our cognitive limits. These limits give subtle clues about how online communities establish themselves in the digital space.

Robin Dunbar - Social Group Sizes - The PR Blog - Doctor Spin
Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar is a British anthropologist, evolutionary psychologist, and specialist in primate behaviour.

150—Dunbar’s Number

Most of you know Dunbar’s Number. It’s based on the idea that every one of us has limited social bandwidth.

“Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. […] No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 230, with a commonly used value of 150. Dunbar’s number states the number of people one knows and keeps social contact with, and it does not include the number of people known personally with a ceased social relationship, nor people just generally known with a lack of persistent social relationship, a number which might be much higher and likely depends on long-term memory size.”
Source: Wikipedia

Read also: Group Sizes (From Support Cliques to Tribes)

The Social Brain Hypothesis

In Dunbar’s case, the “magic number” is approximately 150 relationships, but there are other group sizes to consider:

Typical Social Group Sizes

Have you ever heard of the social brain hypothesis? 2Zhou WX, Sornette D, Hill RA, Dunbar RI. Discrete hierarchical organization of social group sizes. Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Feb 22;272(1561):439-44. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2970. PMID: 15734699; PMCID: … Continue reading

“The ‘social brain hypothesis’ for the evolution of large brains in primates has led to evidence for the coevolution of neocortical size and social group sizes, suggesting that there is a cognitive constraint on group size that depends, in some way, on the volume of neural material available for processing and synthesizing information on social relationships.”
Source: Discrete Hierarchical Organization of Social Group Sizes

Scientific evidence suggests that people tend to organise themselves not in an even distribution of group sizes but in discrete hierarchical social groups of more particular sizes:

Alas, there seems to be a discrete statistical order in the complex chaos of human relationships:

  • Support clique (3–5 people)
  • Sympathy group (12–20 people)
  • Band (30–50 people)
  • Clan (150 people)
  • Megaband (500 people)
  • Tribe (1,000–2,000 people)

“Such discrete scale invariance could be related to that identified in signatures of herding behaviour in financial markets and might reflect a hierarchical processing of social nearness by human brains.”
Source: Discrete Hierarchical Organization of Social Group Sizes

Read also: Group Sizes (From Support Cliques to Tribes)

I can’t help but wonder:

Are we, perhaps, becoming less interested in populating our social groups with two-way relationships?

Non-Reciprocal Relationships

Online influencers are typically successful by being consistently authentic, unique, evolving, and entertaining.

While massive online fame is taxing on most mega influencers, they have become integral to many people’s daily lives.

Read also: How To Categorise Influencers — Nano, Micro, Macro, Mega

A mega influencer cannot sustain thousands or even millions of simultaneous two-way relationships. So, all of these relationships are one-sided relationships.

Put in other words:

Influencers become part of your social clan, megaband, and tribe, but you never become part of theirs.

Detailed visual art of a oman feeling lonely in a crowd of people - Online Wannabeism
AI art. Prompt: “Detailed visual art of a woman feeling lonely in a crowd of people.”

Spiralling Self-Isolation

As a result of our limited mental bandwidth, we, the audience, are putting ourselves in a spiral of self-induced social isolation—while influencers are ever so eager to fill that growing void in our chests.

Still, it’s been this way for a long time; celebrities have been a natural part of human culture for millennia.

Due to shifts like the industrial revolution, our natural tribes have shrunk and, courtesy of the mass media, been replaced with a broader palette of celebrities. We’re allowed to get in more close and more personal in the digital space, but the general idea is still the same:

Read also: Social Media Fakers — Oh, They Seem So Perfect Online

Media “helps” you have fewer genuine relationships by serving an illusion of a personal village. You “know” the influencers—but they don’t know you.

Mimicking Influencers

Ordinary social media users seem to be adopting a tonality in which they address an audience of thousands and thousands of people. Without actually having an audience, that is. 3“The main-test results, using the Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) analysis via AMOS 23, confirmed that the conceptual model and all the hypothesised relationships were statistically significant. … Continue reading

We replace two-way relationships with one-sided ones, susceptible to influencer behaviours and mannerisms. And since we typically have access to the same publishing platforms, we imitate.

Where does this online wannabeism stem from?

The Social Mirror Theory (SMT) states that “[…] people are incapable of self-reflection without considering a peer’s interpretation of the experience. In other words, people define and resolve their internal musings through other’s viewpoint.”

The social mirror theory is a psychological concept that suggests that people learn to see themselves and their own identities through the way others react to them. The theory suggests that people use the reactions of others as a “mirror” to understand and form their sense of self. This can happen consciously and subconsciously and can be influenced by many factors, such as family, friends, and the broader culture and society.

Regular social media users without audiences are starting to mimic influencer mannerisms. So what?

Attention Starvation

Should we blame ourselves for influencer inflation?

“People want to be loved; failing that admired; failing that feared; failing that hated and despised. They want to evoke some sort of sentiment. The soul shudders before oblivion and seeks connection at any price.”
— Hjalmar Söderberg (1869-1941), Swedish author

We all prefer to be seen, acknowledged, loved—even hated and loathed!—instead of suffering what many fear the most—oblivion.

And it seems like the genuine problem of having “no PR” has shifted over to emerge as a real existential crisis for everyone.

In a society otherwise starved of attention, having thousands and thousands engage in your choice of breakfast cereal becomes the ultimate flex.

I feel for us. Having advised hundreds of brands, I know that the most common PR problem isn’t bad PR… it’s no PR.

Online Wannebeism

Online wannabeism = When a social media user mimics influencer mannerisms—without a comparable audience to address.

So, we’re exchanging fewer traditional celebrities for many online influencers. Maybe we’ll develop fewer two-way relationships, but at least we’re getting more choices of who to follow.

Read also: How Social Media Divides Us

Given the general state of the world, maybe this is a kind of progress. In the future, perhaps we shouldn’t be living in the physical proximity of large groups anyway?

I don’t know.

But amid this online wannabeism, I would be amiss if I didn’t also highlight influencer inflation as an attractive PR opportunity:

Attention-starved audiences offer exciting PR opportunities if we allow customers to experience “the influencer experience” themselves—if only for a little while.

Online audiences aren’t thirsty for more content or more two-way connections. They’re thirsting for attention.

Thank you for reading this article. Please consider supporting my work by sharing it with other PR- and communication professionals. For questions or PR support, contact me via [email protected].

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 “Our results confirm that the five aspects of influencing posts affect consumers’ attitudes positively and significantly, which in turn leads to positive behavioural outcomes through their desire to mimic SMIs [Social Media Influencers].” Source: The mechanism by which social media influencers persuade consumers: The role of consumers’ desire to mimic.
2 Zhou WX, Sornette D, Hill RA, Dunbar RI. Discrete hierarchical organization of social group sizes. Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Feb 22;272(1561):439-44. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2970. PMID: 15734699; PMCID: PMC1634986.
3 “The main-test results, using the Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) analysis via AMOS 23, confirmed that the conceptual model and all the hypothesised relationships were statistically significant. Further, the bootstrap results demonstrated that a target’s mimicry desire indeed served as a significant mediator linking the target’s attitudinal beliefs to behavioural decisions.” Source: The Drivers and Impacts of Social Media Influencers: The Role of Mimicry.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://www.doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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