Social media and YouTube, in particular, has drastically changed the dynamics of both relationships and friendships. From keeping in touch with family thousands of miles away too maintaining long-distance relationships, technology has made this a lot easier. And now it’s even changed how we make, and perceive friends. Consumers seek social media to build relationships and connect with others (Zhu and Chen, 2015), and social media brought the rise of ‘digital influencers’ or content creators, which are a form of microcelebrity (Senft, 2008). These microcelebrities are individuals who accumulate a following on blogs and social media through the textual and visual narration of their personal, everyday lives. The narration and sharing of one's life allow subscribers and fans to develop what one may perceive as a friendship with an influencer, also known as a parasocial relationship. Horton and Wohl (1956) define parasocial relationships as the perceived illusion of “a face-to-face” relationship, which is now reinforced by social networking sites (SNS).
Many YouTube influencers offer their viewer's insights into their lives and homes, creating a deep sense of connection. YouTubers create content such as house tours, morning routines, and ‘Get Ready With Me’ videos, that display very personal aspects of their daily lives, typically reserved for real-life friends and family. The internet has removed this limitation, allowing subscribers to come along for all the rides, even more than their friends and family would normally be a part of. Seen above is one YouTuber in particular, Raven Elyse, who has been documenting her life online for the past 6-years. Recently surpassing 1-million subscribers, Elyse shares daily vlogs and insights of the day-to-day life of she and her young daughter Ziya, Raven often refers to her followers as ‘honorary aunties’. In the video featured above, titled “Breakfast with #CRAVEN” the YouTuber gives subscribers an inside look at a Sunday morning breakfast with her daughter and boyfriend Craig, using the hashtag #CRAVEN that subscribers created when she first featured Craig on her channel. A scroll through her comment section includes comments like, “Awww seeing Craig play with Ziya is just too precious!” which almost insinuates a type of familiarity or connection to the family. At 4:56 we also hear Raven say, “People can relate to this, comment down below,” thus reinforcing the feelings of friendship and connectedness. One subscriber even replies, “I open things the same way it’s so much easier...I loveeee how Zita loves him and he loves her I’m so happy for you,” which reads like a message from a close and dear friend.
While there is ample research on parasocial relationships and social media, most are focused on celebrity figures rather than social media influencers. The uniqueness of parasocial relationships between influencers and users is that social media influencers are regular everyday people with very few barriers to contact, and a heightened sense of relatability. The future on research in social media and social media influencers should examine the impact these perceived friendships may have on individuals and society, as well as how these digital friendships may impact societal relations as a whole.
Horton, D., & Richard Wohl, R. (1956). Mass communication and para-social interaction: Observations on intimacy at a distance. Psychiatry, 19(3), 215-229.
Senft, TM (2008) Camgirls: Celebrity and community in the age of social networks. New York: Peter Lang. Google Scholar
Zhu, Y. Q., & Chen, H. G. (2015). Social media and human need satisfaction: Implications for social media marketing. Business Horizons, 58(3), 335-345.