Doctor SpinDigital FirstInfluencers & AudiencesOnline Wannabeism: Why We Mimic Social Media Influencers

Online Wannabeism: Why We Mimic Social Media Influencers

Online audiences are thirsting for audiences of their own.

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 behavioral outcomes through their … Continue reading

Let’s dive right into online wannabeism:

Table of Contents

    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.

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

    Online Wannabeism — Social Group Sizes
    Typical social group sizes.

    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.

    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:

    Media helps you have fewer meaningful relationships by serving an illusion of a personal village.

    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. 2”The main-test results, using the Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) analysis via AMOS 23, confirmed that the conceptual model and all the hypothesized relationships were statistically … Continue reading

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

    Where does this social mimicry come 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.”

    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 of us fear socially 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 having no PR.

    Online Wannebeism

    Online wannabeism is when a regular social media user starts to mimic influencer mannerisms — without an actual 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.

    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 in the midst of this, I would be amiss if I didn’t also highlight influencer inflation as an attractive PR opportunity:

    Influencer inflation offers exciting PR opportunities in marketing-that-doesn’t-scale if we allow customers to experience the influencer themselves — if only for a little while.

    Online audiences aren’t thirsty for more content or more two-way connections. They’re thirsting for love from their own online audiences.

    Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Prints/Instagram)

    1 ”Our results confirm that the five aspects of influencing posts affect consumers’ attitudes positively and significantly, which in turn leads to positive behavioral 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 ”The main-test results, using the Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) analysis via AMOS 23, confirmed that the conceptual model and all the hypothesized 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 behavioral decisions.” Source: The Drivers and Impacts of Social Media Influencers: The Role of Mimicry.


    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwer, aka 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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