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EMAC 2022 Annual

An exploration of social media audience interactions with virtual influencer content on Instagram. A Netnography study.

Published: May 24, 2022


Sara Kennedy, Trinity Business School; Laurent Muzellec, Trinity College Dublin


Audiences are presented with a growing number of fictional ‘robot’ influencers known as ’Virtual Influencers’ (VI). Audiences are proactively engaging with these fictional characters. Global brands such as BMW and Calvin Klein are partnering with VI and yet little is known about the effect on brand to consumer relationships. Given the possible lack of authenticity of VI, it seems important to revisit and analyze these interactions. This pilot study explored how social media audiences respond to content shared by the ‘Lil Miquela’ VI profile on Instagram. This research investigates audience responses using a qualitative netnographic research design which uncovered six emerging response themes. Themes including purchase intention, novelty seeking, physical attraction, negativity, fake and robot clarity emerged. Through narrative analysis, potential theoretical underpinnings such as hedonism, uncanny valley, cognitive dissonance, congruency, transparency and the curiosity gap were correlated. This exploratory study sets the scene for future research and forms the introduction to a longitudinal study.