Keeping up with the Cool Kids
By: Joyce Liu
Social media as we know it today began in the early 2000s with the advent of MySpace, a site through which users were able to share photos, videos, music, and text around the Internet. In the 16 years since MySpace was founded, the popularity of social media has exploded, with Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram now each boasting over 1 billion users worldwide. The prominence of social media has changed almost every aspect of our lives, from the way we connect with friends and relatives to the way employers and college admissions officers evaluate applicants. In today’s society, it has become a new way of defining ourselves and projecting an image of our identity to the outside world.
In the 2010s we have seen a new trend in the growth of social media: the rise of social media influencers such as Kylie Jenner and Emma Chamberlain. These social media users typically have a large following and through their posts and connection with their audience, establish authority in a specific industry, ranging from beauty to style to food. Influencers have changed the world of marketing and advertising, which, in turn, has changed the way consumers make purchasing decisions and their evaluation of satisfaction with products.
Through sponsored posts and brand collaborations, influencers are able to mobilize large numbers of people to buy products. For example, simply through social media promotion, makeup artist and YouTuber James Charles sold out of his first eyeshadow palette in a matter of days. Brands have recognized the power of social media influencer marketing and dramatically improved their sales by partnering with social media influencers. In fact, the success of many brands like Fashion Nova and Flat Tummy Tea is largely the result of social media influencers’ promotional posts.
The interesting phenomenon is that oftentimes, products are considered more valuable solely because they are promoted by popular social media influencers. Social media breeds comparison and insecurity, stimulating consumers to purchase products that may not be most useful for them. Consumers often associate promoted products with the lifestyle that influencers project through their online platforms. They believe that purchasing said products will bring them the same lifestyle because the influencers are the perceived experts in their specific industry. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in the beauty and fashion industries due to beauty standards that are promoted and sustained through social media and the desire of consumers to conform to these standards.
It would seem that buying products that may not be the most effective or useful for a particular consumer would reduce their consumer satisfaction. However, consumers often perceive their satisfaction with products as higher if they are predisposed to have a positive attitude towards the product through advertisements and social media. For example, although certain Android phones or Windows laptops may have more capabilities and functions that a consumer could benefit from, the consumer instead chooses to buy an iPhone or Macbook and is more satisfied in that choice because of the brand name. Another example is consumers purchasing products they absolutely do not need, such as Daniel Wellington watches, which have been promoted by the likes of Kendall Jenner, because social media has convinced them that they need these products to be happy or live a certain lifestyle.
Social media marketing can make consumers less likely to purchase products based on actual knowledge of the product and more likely to purchase based on recognizability and association with the influencers that they follow and admire. This is understandable because there are so many products and brands that it can be overwhelming to thoroughly educate ourselves on each before making a decision, so we simply buy the products we recognize. In the future, as the number of social media influencers increase, they will hopefully be able to represent diverse consumer needs and better inform our decisions.
In the meantime, I will sip my Starbucks Pinkity Drinkity in peace.