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Transforming celebrities through social media: the role of authenticity and emotional attachment

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Purpose Social media platforms are changing the way consumers and celebrities engage. This research aims to better understand how and why consumers use social media to engage with celebrities, and identify the potential antecedents and outcomes, which may result from these online connections. Design/methodology/approach Both qualitative (two focus groups) and quantitative (survey) methods were used to explore consumer engagement with celebrities on social media. A structural model from the survey data was developed and analyzed. Findings Textual analysis of the focus groups revealed that consumers follow celebrities on social media to obtain career and personal information about the celebrity. Further, authenticity and emotional attachment were identified as favorable aspects of following celebrities on social media. An empirical study confirmed that the constructs of authenticity and emotional attachment positively influence the outcomes of word-of-mouth and purchase likelihood. Research limitations/implications The study was limited by the self-identification of a favorite celebrity and social media site. Future research should include empirical testing of specific celebrities featured on a specific social media site and the development of the constructs identified in the focus groups. Practical implications This research sheds light on the antecedents and outcomes associated with consumer–celebrity engagement on social media. The implications for marketers and advertisers include a better understanding of how celebrities transform themselves and engage with consumers on social media. Originality/value This paper fulfills an identified need to study authenticity and emotional attachment as they relate to celebrities and consumers’ engagements on social media.
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Transforming celebrities through social
media: the role of authenticity
and emotional attachment
Christine M. Kowalczyk
Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA, and
Kathrynn R. Pounders
Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA
Abstract
Purpose – Social media platforms are changing the way consumers and celebrities engage. This research aims to better understand how and why
consumers use social media to engage with celebrities, and identify the potential antecedents and outcomes, which may result from these online
connections.
Design/methodology/approach Both qualitative (two focus groups) and qualitative (survey) methods were used to explore consumer
engagement with celebrities on social media. A structural model from the survey data was developed and analyzed.
Findings Textual analysis of the focus groups revealed that consumers follow celebrities on social media to obtain career and personal information
about the celebrity. Further, authenticity and emotional attachment were identified as favorable aspects of following celebrities on social media. An
empirical study confirmed that the constructs of authenticity and emotional attachment positively influence the outcomes of word-of-mouth and
purchase likelihood.
Research limitations/implications – The study was limited by the self-identification of a favorite celebrity and social media site. Future research
should include empirical testing of specific celebrities featured on a specific social media site and the development of the constructs identified in
the focus groups.
Practical implications – This research sheds light on the antecedents and outcomes associated with consumer–celebrity engagement on social
media. The implications for marketers and advertisers include a better understanding of how celebrities transform themselves and engage with
consumers on social media.
Originality/value This paper fulfills an identified need to study authenticity and emotional attachment as they relate to celebrities and consumers’
engagements on social media.
Keywords Emotional attachment, Social media authenticity, Celebrities
Paper type Research paper
Introduction
Consumers have long been fascinated with celebrities.
However, technology has changed the connectivity between
consumers and celebrities; it is now more immediate and
instantaneous. Transitioning from celebrity-focused television
programs and magazines to celebrity websites and social
media profiles allows consumers to more intimately explore
“engagement” with celebrities. With the growth in social
media sites (e.g. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook),
information about celebrities is abundant and readily
available. Social media has transformed the celebrities’ ability
to manage their images online and to connect directly with
their consumers. Celebrities are now conceptualized as human
brands, “one of the many operationalizations of the broader
brand concept” (Thomson, 2006, p. 104). Similar to the other
brands, celebrities carefully manage their online associations
projected to consumers. Celebrities now use technology to
take more control of their personae and human brands, by
posting “status updates”, “likes” and photos, and even
responding to consumer comments.
Traditionally, celebrities have been featured in traditional
media – newspapers, magazines, radio and television. In prior
decades, consumers’ engagement with celebrities was based
on information in traditional media, and consumers were
passive audience members. The communication between
consumers and celebrities was indirect; however, social media
has made it possible for celebrities to provide information
about themselves directly to consumers at any time (Stever
and Lawson, 2013). Consumers are now able to “connect”
with celebrities at any time, and feel like the celebrity is talking
directly to them (Yan, 2011). Social media is part of the
continuum of social communication and technology: a
convergence between old and new media, which has altered
the nature of the engagement between consumers and
celebrities (Thomas, 2014).
The internet allows anyone to keep up-to-date on
celebrities. Research suggests that although consumers pay
less attention to traditional advertising, they do follow
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on
Emerald Insight at: www.emeraldinsight.com/1061-0421.htm
Journal of Product & Brand Management
25/4 (2016) 000
© Emerald Group Publishing Limited [ISSN 1061-0421]
[DOI 10.1108/JPBM-09-2015-0969]
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celebrities on social media (Friel, 2011). Synchronously, the
engagement that celebrities have with their fans has shifted
from one-way communication to conversations via social
media (Clayton, 2013). Whether it is the celebrities’ publicists
or brand managers or the celebrity himself/herself, celebrities
are making an effort to connect and engage with their fan
bases. As proposed by Berthon et al. (2005), celebrities have
identified a new media market (social media sites) for them to
present their images, human brands and branded products. In
sum, social media has transformed consumers’ engagement
with celebrities.
As to date, little research has explored how consumers use
social media to engage with celebrities and their human
brands. Consumer engagement with celebrities is defined here
as following a celebrity via social media (i.e. Facebook,
Instagram and Twitter) and includes behaviors such as liking
and/or commenting on status updates and/or photos. More
specifically, this work seeks to understand how and why
consumers use social media to engage with celebrities, and to
identify the antecedents and their influence on the commonly
examined brand outcomes of word-of-mouth (WOM) and
purchase likelihood. To achieve these objectives, both a pilot
study and empirical study were conducted. The pilot study
consisted of two focus groups. The empirical study was
survey-based, and the data were analyzed using structural
equation modeling (SEM). This paper is organized as follows:
first, the pilot study and corresponding results are discussed.
This is followed by the development of the conceptual model
and hypotheses, an overview of the empirical study and
corresponding results. Finally, a general discussion including
the managerial implications is presented.
Pilot study
To gain better insight into how consumers use technology, in
particular social media, to engage with celebrities, a pilot study
consisting of two focus groups was conducted. The
overarching purpose of the exploratory study was to shed light
on how and why consumers use social media to engage with
celebrities. More specifically, the pilot study sought to address
the following research questions:
RQ1. How do consumers use social media to engage with
celebrities?
RQ2. Why do consumers use social media to engage with
celebrities?
RQ3. What do consumers like about following celebrities on
social media?
The use of two focus groups has been identified to be an
appropriate number to derive meaningful insights (Glaser and
Strauss, 2012). A qualitative and exploratory approach, like a
focus group, is appropriate with topics where the researcher is
trying to understand as opposed to predict and can help to
generate hypotheses (Powell and Single, 1996). In addition,
focus groups allow for interactions between participants, who
share their values and beliefs based on the topics discussed
among the group members (Kitzinger, 1994).
The sample of each focus group consisted of ten female
college students enrolled in a college of communication in the
southern USA. Female participants in this age range are
considered appropriate for the pilot study because 76 per cent
of women use social media and 89 per cent are between the
ages of 18 –29 years (www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-
networking-fact-sheet/). In addition, prior research has
demonstrated that women (compared to men) tend to use
social media as a way to connect and engage with others
(Vermeren, 2015). Thus, women were deemed an appropriate
convenience sample for the exploratory study. The women
ranged in age from 19 to 22 years and received a $10 gift card
for their participation. The focus group participants sat in a
circle in the center of a classroom. One of the co-authors
moderated both focus groups and asked probing questions to
seek clarification, when needed. The participants were asked
to provide examples to elucidate their responses. The focus
groups were video-recorded. A professional transcription
company transcribed the results, which included more than 75
pages of textual data.
Pilot study results
The transcripts from both focus groups were analyzed using
the content analysis guidelines outlines by Miles and
Huberman (1994). The intent was to produce internally
consistent findings, develop a conceptual model and derive
hypotheses to be empirically tested. The results of the pilot
study are discussed below:
RQ1. The first goal of the pilot study was to determine how
consumers use technology and social media to engage
with celebrities. All 20 informants indicated they use at
least one form of social media to “follow” and/or “like”
one or more celebrities. Additionally, informants were
asked to provide a written list of which social media
platforms they utilize when connecting with celebrities.
The findings for this sample show the most popular
social media platform used to connect with celebrities
was Instagram (18 informants), followed by Facebook
(15 informants) and then Twitter (12 informants).
RQ2. The second goal of the pilot study was to determine
why consumers engage on social media to connect with
celebrities. Textual analysis reveals that consumers use
social media to connect/follow with celebrities to obtain
information about the celebrity. Specifically, participants
discussed engaging in social media to identify information
about the celebrity’s career and personal life. As such,
career information and personal information serve as the
two themes that represent why consumers follow
celebrities on social media. Each is discussed below.
Career information
Career information refers to consumers using social media to
gain knowledge relevant to the celebrity’s careers fields, which
may include entertainment, politics or sports, and was evident
among 14 informants. They expressed that they engage with
celebrities by “following” or “liking” celebrities on various
social media platforms, to obtain information related to the
celebrity’s career. Examples discussed included following
movie stars to keep up-to-date on movie releases, musicians
for album releases and tour schedules, television stars for
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information related to their shows, politicians and community
figures for political commentary and athletes for team
schedules and scores. For example, Stephanie described
following the reality television star Kim Kardashian for
updates regarding the reality television show Keeping Up with
the Kardashians, and television star Kerry Washington to keep
abreast of the television show Scandal. She stated:
I mean [. . .] Kim Kardashian is a bit silly and she posts a lot of selfies, but
I follow her to keep up with information on the show too. I want to make
sure I’m updated. I do the same with Kerri Washington for Scandal. She
always posts updates about the episodes and actually interacts while the
show on television.
Similarly, Pattie stated that she follows various politicians
through social media to ensure she is updated on their
viewpoints on current events. She stated:
I follow various politicians and such [. . .] just to make sure that I know how
they feel about different issues [. . .] I think Twitter is the best platform to
get this kind of information.
These quotes indicate that consumers follow celebrities on
social media to keep abreast of information related to their
profession. More specifically, consumers want to ensure they
keep updated on important events related to the celebrities’
professional lives – in terms of television shows, concert
schedules, movie release dates, sporting event scores/events
and political views on current events. This theme is consistent
with the notion that social media is a popular platform for
brands to convey pertinent information to consumers (Jin and
Phua, 2014). In summary, consumers engage with celebrities
on various social media platforms to keep abreast of updates
and current events related to the celebrities’ careers.
Personal information
Personal information was the second theme that emerged and
refers to consumers using social media to learn about
information pertaining to the celebrity’s personal life.
Interestingly, this theme was evident among all 20 informants.
The informants seemed genuinely curious and intrigued by a
number of issues pertaining to celebrities’ personal lives,
including fashion, travel, romantic relationship status and
details related to family life. For example, Susan explained:
I remember checking Justin Timberlake’s Instagram constantly until he
posted a picture of his baby. I was so excited to finally see him. He is
adorable. I bet I checked it multiple times a day for over a month. I was so
excited when I saw it. I mean, I just smiled so big.
In addition, Stacy explained why she follows supermodel and
wife of NFL quarterback Tom Brady, Gisele Bundchen, on
Instagram:
I really like her because sometimes it will be about her kids and then others
will be her hugging a tree. She’s such a nature person. And, I can follow
what is new with her family and her kids. It’s cool to learn about her family
and her interests.
These quotes suggest that consumers are genuinely interested
in learning about the personal lives of celebrities, in terms of
their relationships, family, style and hobbies. Consumers are
seeing a shift in what is considered celebrity news and/or
gossip. Instead of relying on the traditional media outlets that
focus on celebrities (i.e. People and Us magazines), celebrities
are now the reporters of their personal lives and can share daily
information about their personal lives with their fan bases.
The findings of this pilot study indicate that consumers are
sincerely interested in learning about keeping updated with
information about celebrities’ personal lives. In sum, learning
about a celebrity’s personal life served as a major motivation
for these informants:
RQ3. The third research question centered on what
informants liked about following celebrities on social
media. Two themes emerged that relate to this topic:
authenticity and emotional attachment, which are
discussed below.
Authenticity
Several focus group participants revealed the importance of
authenticity exhibited in social media postings by celebrities.
Authenticity is defined as a post or photo that demonstrates
some aspect of the celebrity’s true self. This theme was evident
among 17 informants. The participants spoke positively about
authentic posts by celebrities and described how they
genuinely enjoy seeing and reading them. Further, some
informants suggested that authenticity via social media posts
can foster emotional attachments. For example, Stacy
described her thoughts on following celebrity Chrissy Teigen:
I feel really connected to Chrissy Teigen. John Legend’s wife. I love her.
Amazing and she’s so funny and it just makes me feel like, “you are a real
person too”. She posted a picture of her sitting down and she has stretch
marks like a real person and it just started a whole movement like love your
lines or something and nobody has to be perfect. I like when celebrities are
real. Everything she posts is just down to earth. She’s just sweet so I connect
with her on a level because she’s not promoting herself, it’s just more her
and her way of life.
This quote suggests that consumers enjoy hearing and seeing
celebrities as “real” people, and not just the aspects of their life
as a celebrity. Indeed, this theme suggests that consumers
want to learn more about the celebrity as a person, and not just
aspects of their fame or their career. Consumers want insights
into celebrities’ authentic lives, as opposed to the imagery that
is often conveyed through the traditional media – red carpet
events, celebrity award shows and promotional events for
movies and television shows. Similarly, informants disclosed
they enjoy when celebrities exhibit authenticity in social media
posts in terms of their daily routines and lives. Sharon
described how she prefers authentic posts compared to
promotional posts, and how authentic posts are more relevant:
It’s even more relevant now because they share what they do during the day,
which could match what you’re doing. They’re sharing their workout
routine which is relevant to your life, whereas before, the only information
you got was that they were wearing Lorraine Schwartz earrings for $3
million. It’s really not relevant to what you’re going through.
Again, this quote exudes that the consumer really likes, and
prefers, receiving authentic information about celebrities
because she can relate more to the celebrities. Prior to social
media, information about celebrities was only reported by
third parties (television reports, magazine editors, etc.) and
was, therefore, controlled. Now consumers can not only
engage with celebrities on social media to learn about
information related to their career, but can also learn more
about their personal lives. In summary, informants conveyed
they seek and enjoy authenticity in social media posts from
celebrities, which can foster feelings of engagement, or
emotional attachment, between the consumer and celebrity.
Transforming celebrities through social media
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Emotional attachment
Related to authenticity via celebrity social media posts is the
theme of an emotional attachment, which refers to when a
consumer feels a potential bond with or engages in strong
feelings toward the celebrity. This theme was present among
16 informants and oftentimes seemed to be the result of
authentic posts. For example, Annie explained:
I do think you can be connected with celebrities now with social media
because it makes them more personal. You can see their real life and get to
know them. It makes them more real and if they joke and stuff, especially
about something you’ve dealt with, it’s like, “okay they are human too”.
In addition, Sarah described how she feels she has a
connection with singer Katy Perry through social media:
I remember Katy Perry dyed her hair purple and at the same time I dyed my
hair purple and I’m like “Oh, my God.” It’s a one-way connection I have
with her because she’s so relatable.
In summary, informants liked using social media to feel
emotionally attached and connected to celebrities. The
findings from this study suggest that consistent access to
information posted by celebrities makes consumers feel closer
to the celebrity, and at times, relate to them more. Seeing the
celebrity exposed as a “real” person instead of solely being
exposed to the celebrity, in terms of their fame, makes
consumers feel an emotional attachment with the celebrity.
Overall, the pilot study findings suggest that consumers use
social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and
Twitter, to learn more information pertaining to the celebrity’s
career and personal lives. Some informants explained that they
use social media platforms to keep abreast of career
information posted by celebrities. Interestingly, all informants
revealed they use social media to learn about personal
information related to celebrities. Further, informants
disclosed they enjoy when celebrities use authenticity in their
social media posts to communicate with fans. This makes the
celebrities more relatable. Another positive aspect of following
celebrities on social media is emotional attachment with the
celebrity. The findings from this study suggest that consistent
exposure to the celebrity via social media, and particularly
authentic posts and photos, results in a perceived emotional
attachment. The findings from the pilot study are used to
build and empirically test a conceptual model, which is
described next.
Theoretical background and hypotheses
development
In the past, celebrity activities were developed and created by
press agents and public relations specialists and were
communicated through traditional media like radio,
television, magazines and newspapers (Kerrigan et al., 2011).
Consumers now engage directly with celebrities through
branded websites, blogs and social media and gain access to
social resources that are not available offline (Stever and
Lawson, 2013). The Web has transformed consumers’
engagement with celebrities and allowed the hands of many
(general population), instead of a few, to decide who becomes
a celebrity (Krotoski, 2011). Through WOM, the passing of
information from one individual to another, information
about celebrities is mediated through electronic means via the
internet (websites, social media, text messages, etc.)
(Kietzmann and Canhoto, 2013). It has been found that the
commitment to a brand, or even celebrities, can have a
positive effect on consumer WOM (Hutter et al., 2013).
Kozinets et al. (2010) explain that social networks have
changed traditional WOM because consumers can now have
an active role in the communication process. Consumers who
engage with a brand on social media are more likely to extend
WOM about those brands (Wallace et al., 2014). Individuals
who follow or like celebrities on social media sites can be
considered a commitment to the celebrity and their brand.
Thus, it can be expected that consumers will spread positive
WOM for celebrities who they follow on social media, and
particularly those they deem to be authentic.
Further, social media has contributed to the potential
purchase intentions for consumers based on referrals, who
may be celebrities. Many celebrities have relationships with
products as endorsers, or they may even market products with
their own brand names. For example, musician and actress
Jennifer Lopez has endorsement deals with L’Oréal, Fiat and
Gillette, but she also has a clothing line at Kohl’s and a
fragrance. Many consumers follow celebrities on social media
to learn not only about their daily lives, but also to follow their
endorsement deals and product lines, which may result in the
purchases of these endorsed/branded products. The
effectiveness of a celebrity’s social media activities should
result in potential purchases by his/her followers.
The pilot study revealed authenticity and emotional
attachment to be positive aspects of engaging with celebrities
on social media. Thus, the conceptual model (Figure 1)
examines how authenticity and emotional attachment relate to
WOM and purchase likelihood, two commonly examined
outcome variables in the branding literature. The pilot study
results suggested that consumer perceptions of authenticity
can foster perceived emotional attachment between the
consumer and the celebrity. Accordingly, the conceptual
model examines how authenticity relates to emotional
attachment, and if emotional attachment serves as the
underlying mechanism, which explains the relationship
between authenticity on the outcomes of WOM and purchase
likelihood.
Authenticity
Authenticity has received increased attention in the marketing
and branding literature (Brown et al., 2003;Grayson and
Martinec, 2004;Moulard et al., 2014,2015;Spiggle et al., 2012;
Figure 1 Conceptual model
Authenticity Emotional
Attachment
Word-o f-
Mouth
Purchase
Likelihood
H2
H3a
H3b
H1b
H1a
Note: H4a and H4b hypothesize indirect effect of emotional
attachment
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Christine M. Kowalczyk and Kathrynn R. Pounders
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Thomson et al., 2005). Although various definitions exist,
authenticity broadly refers to what is genuine, real and true
(Arnould and Price, 2000;Beverland and Farrelly, 2010;
Charmley et al., 2013;Thomson et al., 2005). Authenticity is
considered to be a socially constructed interpretation of what
is observed, as opposed to the properties inherent in an object
(Beverland, 2006;Beverland et al., 2008;Thomson et al.,
2005). As such, consumers are often considered to be
co-creators of authenticity (Leigh et al., 2006) because they
interact with the authentic object or person (Rose and Wood,
2005). In this view, consumers define authenticity. Some
consumers may perceive an object, brand or consumption
experience to be genuine or real, whereas others may perceive
the same experience as fake or fabricated (Beverland et al.,
2010;Rose and Wood, 2005).
Self-Determination Theory (Deci and Ryan, 2002) and
Attribution Theory (Asch, 1946;Jones and Davis, 1965) are
often used as the theoretical frameworks to explain
authenticity.
Self-Determination Theory describes intrinsic motivation
(self-determined behavior that is innately satisfying and
enjoyable) as “authentic in the fullest sense of the terms”
(Ryan and Deci, 2000, p. 74) because such behavior stems
from one’s innate self. By contrast, extrinsic motivation
(motivation by the potential consequences of potential
rewards and punishments) is associated with being inauthentic
(Ryan and Deci, 2000). According to the work rooted in
Self-Determination Theory, being authentic refers to engaging
in behaviors because they are innately satisfying and
pleasurable, and gratifies the self. Inauthentic activity involves
participating in behaviors or activities based on external
consequences.
Attribution Theory considers whether a person’s behavior is
attributed to intrinsic motivations (i.e. their true self) or
extrinsic pressures (Asch, 1946;Jones and Davis, 1965). More
specifically, a behavior is considered authentic if it stems from
intrinsic motivation (as opposed to extrinsic motivation).
One’s behavior is characterized as intrinsic if the behavior is
unique to that person, is similar across different situations and
is similar across different stimuli or entities. These factors are
referred to as consensus, consistency and distinctiveness. In
sum, both theories describe authentic behaviors as being the
outcome of intrinsic motivation.
Most of the work in authenticity has focused on how
consumers view authentic objects and brands (Beverland and
Farrelly, 2010) as opposed to people. However, recent work
has examined perceptions of authenticity of an artist (Moulard
et al., 2014) and authenticity of celebrities (Moulard et al.,
2015). Although several definitions of authenticity exist,
literature rooted in psychology and sociology relates to
whether a person is “true to the self” (Kernis and Goldman,
2006). Accordingly, prior work has defined celebrity
authenticity as “the perception that a celebrity behaves
according to his or her true self” (Moulard et al., 2015,
p. 175). This definition is used in the current study.
It is expected that celebrity authenticity will result in
stronger WOM and purchase likelihood. WOM refers to the
passing of information from one individual to another, and
purchase likelihood is defined as a consumer’s potential
behavior toward a product or brand. Prior work has
demonstrated that consumers are more likely to reciprocate
perceptions of authenticity by making a public commitment to
an authentic celebrity by engaging in strong feelings and
purchase intentions (Loroz and Braig, 2015). Further,
research has shown that perceived authenticity of a celebrity
leads to positive outcomes in the form of attitudes (Moulard
et al., 2015). Additionally, it has been found that relational
authenticity is a strong predictor of attitudes and purchase
intentions (Ilicic and Webster, 2014). In sum, the following
hypothesis is offered:
H1. Celebrity authenticity will be positively related to (a)
WOM and (b) purchase likelihood.
Authenticity and emotional attachment
It is expected that there will be a positive relationship between
authenticity and emotional attachment. Emotional attachment is
defined as an emotion-laden target-specific bond between a
person and an object (i.e. a person, pet, celebrity) (Thomson
et al., 2005). Accordingly, Attachment Theory is an
appropriate theory to use as a theoretical foundation to
understand the relationship between consumers and
celebrities. Attachment Theory has long been used to
understand the consumer response to brands (Fournier, 1998;
Thomson et al., 2005;Thomson, 2006;Loroz and Braig,
2015), and has recently been used to examine consumer
relationships with human brands (Thomson, 2006). For
example, Thomson (2006) found that higher levels of
attachment are related to the positive outcomes of satisfaction,
trust and commitment.
Attachment Theory suggests a lasting psychological
connectedness between human beings rests on the notion of
close bonds as a result of emotions, such as love, passion and
delight (Bowlby, 1969;Thomson et al., 2005). Emotional
attachment, one form of attachment, can occur between
people or even a specific object, and the relationship does not
have to be reciprocal (Thomson, 2006;Aurier and N=Goala,
2010). Para-social theory, the one-sided, interpersonal
relationships in which an individual knows more about the
other, provides the foundation to understand how consumers
potentially form relationships and attachments with celebrities.
Attachment can be considered to be a form of possessiveness,
a social linkage, favorite item or a combination of the three
(Wallendorf and Arnould, 1988).
Social media can enhance feelings of consumer attachment
with celebrities. Consumers feel closer to celebrities because
of the many opportunities to “engage” with celebrities via the
internet, particularly social media. Prior research suggests
technology has increased the consumer interest in celebrities
(Stever and Lawson, 2013). More specifically, Altman (2005)
found the rapid growth in technologies has only increased
society’s obsession with celebrities and feeds the people’s
sense of connection with celebrities. Thus, it seems that
consumers are developing more of an emotional bond or
connection with celebrities. Indeed, sharing personal
information about the celebrity’s self via social media creates a
sense of intimacy between the celebrity and the follower
(Marwick and Boyd, 2011).
As results from the pilot study suggest, if consumers
perceive celebrities to be more genuine or authentic on social
Transforming celebrities through social media
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media, it is expected that stronger emotional attachments with
the celebrity can be established. Authenticity signals to the
consumers that a celebrity is being true and faithful toward
himself/herself and his/her consumer fan base (Moulard et al.,
2015). The more “available” and “accessible” a celebrity
makes himself/herself, consumers will perceive the celebrity to
be showing more of the private self, which provides more
authentic engagement (Preece, 2015). When consumers view
authenticity in social media posts, it should foster feelings of
closeness or a bond with the celebrity because consumers
believe they are interacting with the celebrity’s private self
(Marwick and Boyd, 2011). This notion is consistent with the
prior work, which has identified authenticity as vital in
creating meaningful connections between consumers and
products or brands, in particular celebrity brands (Preece,
2015). As noted above, this same pattern of relationship was
identified in the pilot study findings. Specifically, informants
commonly described how authentic posts and pictures
resulted in feelings of emotional attachment with the celebrity.
Thus, it is expected that celebrity authenticity should enhance
emotional attachment to the celebrity. Accordingly, the
following hypothesis is offered:
H2. Celebrity authenticity will be positively related to
emotional attachment.
It is also expected that emotional attachment should enhance
WOM and purchase likelihood. It is well established that
emotional attachments are predictive of satisfied, trusting
and committed relationships (Thomson, 2006). In addition,
prior work has demonstrated that consumer’s emotional
attachments result in a willingness to invest more in celebrity
brands (Thomson, 2006). Branding research supports that
positive feelings (attachment) toward the brand transfer
positive effects toward the brand’s extensions (Yeung and
Wyer, 2005). As related to celebrity endorsers, consumer
attachment to the celebrity has impacted consumer attitudes
toward the brand and purchase intentions (Ilicic and Webster,
2011). Also, prior work has shown that brand love, a form of
emotional attachment, is related to stronger repurchase
intentions and WOM (Carroll and Ahuvia, 2006). Consumers
who are more strongly attached to a brand are more willing to
share their intent to engage in behaviors to preserve the
relationship with the brand (Park et al., 2010). Together, these
findings suggest emotional attachment with a celebrity would
result in positive outcomes like WOM and purchase
likelihood:
H3. Emotional attachment will be positively related to (a)
WOM and (b) purchase likelihood.
The indirect role of emotional attachment
Emotional attachment is expected to have an indirect effect on
the relationship between celebrity authenticity and WOM, as
well as the relationship between celebrity authenticity and
purchase likelihood. Prior work has established that emotional
attachment can lead to positive outcomes, including
satisfaction, trust and commitment (Thomson, 2006);
however, no known research has examined the indirect effects
of emotional attachment on behavioral outcomes. Work
rooted in understanding consumer attitudes and behaviors
(i.e. hierarchy of effects and elaboration likelihood model) has
demonstrated affective or emotional components often
explain the relationship between cognitive components and
behaviors (Lutz, 1977;Bagozzi et al., 1979;Petty and
Cacioppo, 1986;Do et al., 2015). Indeed, a wide body of work
in a variety of contexts has uncovered affective constructs to
mediate a variety of relationships (Bagozzi et al., 1999). Work
in psychology suggests a similar pattern in understanding the
role of emotional attachment. A recent study recommends a
revision of the persuasion models to include the interactions
with online messages to translate to offline behaviors
(Alhabash et al., 2015).
Although a different context, the same process is expected
to be present, as it relates to the context of consumer– celebrity
engagements via social media. In this instance, celebrity
authenticity serves as the cognitive component, emotional
attachment serves as the affective component and WOM and
purchase likelihood are the behavioral constructs. The pilot
study participants supported these relationships. Several
informants discussed how seeing authenticity in social media
posts in the form of status updates or photos resulted in feeling
a stronger attachment with the celebrity. Thus, it is expected
the impact of celebrity authenticity on WOM and purchase
likelihood will flow through emotional attachment:
H4. Emotional attachment indirectly affects the relationship
between celebrity authenticity and (a) WOM and (b)
purchase likelihood.
Empirical study methods
A survey was developed and implemented via Qualtrics, an
online survey company. The participants were either drawn
from business courses at a large state university in the
southeastern USA (N 52) or recruited using Amazon.com’s
Mechanical Turk (MTurk; N 144, all US residents), for a
final sample of 196 usable responses (54 per cent male, 70 per
cent Caucasian, median age of 33 years). Students were
provided extra credit for their participation, and the MTurk
participants were paid for completing the survey. Data were
collected from two sources to maximize sample size and
enhance the representativeness of the sample, while balancing
costs. Analysis confirmed no statistical significant differences
based on the source of sample. The sample consisted of both
men and women to generalize the findings from the pilot
study.
After clicking on the survey link and indicating agreement to
participate in the survey, individuals were taken to the survey.
First, the participants were primed to think about their social
media usage for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Next, the
participants were provided with the following definition of a
celebrity, “A celebrity can be defined as a well-known person,
especially in the entertainment industry or sports. Many
celebrities have a presence on social media, including
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter” (Friel, 2011). Then, the
participants were asked to think of and name a celebrity they
follow on social media. After providing the name of the
celebrity, the participants rated their perceptions of
authenticity for the named celebrity and their emotional
attachment with this celebrity. Next, the dependent variables
of WOM and purchase likelihood were measured. The
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participants were also asked to provide the percentage of social
media usage spent following/reading about celebrities on
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The survey concluded after
the participants provided demographic information. See
Table I for sample demographic information and Table II for
the final scale items used to measure each construct and scale
references.
Results and discussion
Measurement model
First, to investigate and validate the constructs, confirmatory
factor analysis and reliability analysis were conducted. The
results from the measurement demonstrated acceptable
convergent validity. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA)
allows for a thorough examination of measurement validity.
The significant model had
2
123.28 with 59 degrees of
freedom. The model’s goodness-of-fit statistics were
satisfactory with a comparative fit index (CFI) of 0.98,
normed fit index (NFI) of 0.96 and a root mean squared error
approximation (RMSEA) of 0.075. Table II displays the
construct reliability for the measurement scales, which range
from 0.89 to 0.96, and the standardized factor loading
estimates, which were all greater than 0.70 threshold, to
evaluate convergent validity. Average variance extracted
(AVE) estimates exceeded 0.50, and the square roots of the
AVEs are greater than the corresponding construct
correlations, demonstrating acceptable discriminant validity
(Fornell and Larcker, 1981)(Table III). Considered in total,
the results suggest a good measurement model fit and
sufficient convergent and discriminant validity (Hair et al.,
2010).
Structural model
The proposed structural model (Figure 2) was developed
based on sound theoretical concepts and extant literature.
Prior to SEM analysis, the data set was explored for any
underlying issues; no concerns were identified. The model was
estimated with AMOS 22 using the maximum likelihood
(ML) estimation method, with the fit indices indicating that
the structural model adequately fit the data (CFI 0.98,
NFI 0.96 and RMSEA 0.07) (Hu and Bentler, 1999)
(Table IV).
Direct effects
H1 proposed that celebrity authenticity is positively related to
(a) WOM and (b) purchase likelihood. Both relationships
were significant (
0.695, p0.001 and
0.293, p
0.001), fully supporting H1. Consumers who perceived the
celebrity to be authentic on social media were more willing to
share information about the celebrity with others and likely to
purchase products that the celebrity may endorse or market.
While each survey participant chose his/her celebrity who he/
she follows on social media, this study supports similar
relationships found in the authenticity literature, which states
that authenticity can produce positive behaviors and
intentions.
H2 predicted a positive relationship between celebrity
authenticity and emotional attachment. The results indicate
that celebrity authenticity had a positive effect on emotional
attachment (
0.244, p0.001). Thus, H2 was supported.
H3 predicted a positive relationship between emotional
attachment and (a) WOM and (b) purchase likelihood. The
results indicate the relationship between emotional
attachment and WOM had a positive relationship, with
significance at the 0.058 level. A significant and positive
relationship was found for emotional attachment and
purchase likelihood (
0.378, p0.001). Thus, it appears
that consumers who felt an emotional attachment with the
celebrity were more likely to purchase products associated
with the celebrity; however, the relationship between
emotional attachment and WOM is not as strong. Thus, H3 is
partially supported.
Indirect effects
H4 proposed indirect effects of emotional attachment on
celebrity authenticity and (a) WOM and (b) purchase
likelihood. To test the indirect effects, the procedures
identified by Zhao et al. (2010) were used, which allows for all
constructs to be simultaneously evaluated instead of
independently via the three-step approach of Baron and
Kenny (1986). Using the bootstrapping test in AMOS 22, the
standardized indirect (mediated) effect of authenticity on
WOM is significantly different from zero at the 0.001 level
Table I Sample demographic information
(%)
Age
Under 21 years 10
21-30 years 45
31-40 years 20
41-50 years 12
51-60 years 9
Older than 60 years 4
No report 1
Ethnicity
Caucasian 70
African-American 9
Hispanic 9
Asian 8
Other 4
Technological devices owned
Computer 97
HD television 63
MP3 player 46
Smartphone 75
Tablet/iPad 44
Devices used to check social media
Computer 88
HD television 8
MP3 player 14
Smartphone 67
Tablet/iPad 31
Most used device for social media
Computer 45
Smartphone 50
Tablet/iPad 4
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T1-2
AQ: 1
T3,AQ:2
F2
T4
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(p0.029, two-tailed), and the standardized indirect
(mediated) effect of authenticity on purchase likelihood is
significantly different from zero at the 0.001 level (p0.001,
two-tailed). This bootstrap approximation was obtained by
constructing two-sided bias-corrected confidence intervals.
These results show support for H4. It appears that the
emotional attachment consumers have with an authentic
celebrity may translate to them sharing information about the
celebrity with others and purchasing products associated with
the celebrity.
General discussion
Summary of findings
Social media has drastically changed the way consumers
obtain information about celebrities (and their brands). In the
past, information related to celebrities was created by press
agents and public relations specialists and was communicated
to consumers through traditional media like radio, television,
magazines and newspapers (Kerrigan et al., 2011).
Innovations in technology have allowed celebrities to take
ownership of their images, allowing consumers to engage
directly with celebrities through branded websites, blogs and
social media. Video-sharing site, YouTube, catapulted
Table II Means, standard deviations, reliabilities and convergent validities of model constructs and scale items
Construct and scale items Mean SD Stand. estimate
a
Authenticity (Moulard et al., 2015)
0.95
This celebrity is genuine 5.68 1.41 0.92
This celebrity seems real to me 5.76 1.35 0.91
This celebrity is authentic 5.68 1.44 0.94
Emotional attachment (Bagozzi et al., 2014),
0.89
I am emotionally connected with the celebrity 3.87 2.49 0.91
The celebrity says something true and deep about who I am as a person 4.21 2.44 0.82
I feel myself desiring the celebrity 3.37 2.69 0.77
If the celebrity was to no longer be in the spotlight, I would feel anxiety 2.78 2.39 0.77
Word-of-mouth (Carroll and Ahuvia, 2006),
0.96
I would recommend this celebrity to others 5.51 1.61 0.90
I would say positive things about this celebrity to others 5.67 1.51 0.95
I would speak favorably of this celebrity 5.75 1.46 0.98
Purchase likelihood (Yi, 1990),
0.96
It is unlikely. . . It is likely 4.48 2.05 0.98
It is improbable. . . It is probable 4.49 2.04 0.99
It is impossible. . . It is possible 4.76 1.96 0.86
Note:
a
Estimates significant at
p
0.001
Table III Discriminant validity of model constructs
Construct Authenticity
Emotional
attachment WOM
Purchase
likelihood
Authenticity 0.86
a
Emotional
attachment 0.24
b
0.67
a
WOM 0.72
b
0.27
b
0.89
a
Purchase likelihood 0.38
b
0.45
b
0.37
b
0.89
a
Notes:
a
Square root of AVE;
b
correlation coefficients
Figure 2 Structural model
Authenticity Emotional
Attachment
Word-o f-
Mouth
Purchase
Likelihood
0.244***
0.108*
0.378***
0.293***
0.695***
Notes: ***Indicates significance ≤0.001; *indicates significance
≤0.10
Table IV Summary of the findings
Hypothesis Supported?
H1a
. Celebrity authenticity will be positively
related to WOM
Yes
H1b
. Celebrity authenticity will be positively
related to purchase likelihood
Yes
H2
. Celebrity authenticity will be positively
related to emotional attachment
Yes
H3a
. Emotional attachment will be positively
related to WOM
No
H3b
. Emotional attachment will be positively
related to purchase likelihood
Yes
H4a
. Emotional attachment will indirectly
affect the relationship between
authenticity and WOM
Yes
H4b
. Emotional attachment will indirectly
affect the relationship between
authenticity and purchase likelihood
Yes
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musician Justin Bieber with his singing videos and linking
them to Twitter. Lady Gaga utilizes technology that searches
across social media sites, blogs and fan websites for content
about her and posts it in real time to Lady Gaga’s website,
allowing her fans to completely connect with her (Pillai,
2012). Musicians, like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, have
embraced technology to not only release their music directly
to their fans, but also keep their fans aware of their personal
lives. Interestingly, few marketing studies have explored the
celebrities’ transformation via social media. This work helps to
address this gap by exploring why consumers engage with
celebrities on social media, what they like about engaging
with celebrities on social media and the outcomes associated
with their engagement with celebrities on social media. The
present research used both the qualitative and quantitative
approaches to achieve these objectives, which provides a richer
understanding into the topic.
The pilot study findings revealed that obtaining career
information and personal information were the primary
motivations to follow celebrities on social media. In addition,
the pilot study findings showed that authentic posts and
emotional attachment were key aspects of what consumers
“like” about following celebrities on social media. The
findings from the empirical study confirm that celebrity
authenticity and emotional attachment play an important role
in understanding the outcomes associated with following
celebrities on social media.
Consistent with the pilot study findings and as predicted,
celebrity authenticity is positively related to emotional
attachment. Accordingly, a perception of authenticity fosters
an emotional bond or relationship between the consumer
and the celebrity. In addition, both celebrity authenticity and
emotional attachment are directly related to WOM and purchase
likelihood, although the relationship between emotional
attachment and WOM did not reach significance (p0.05).
This suggests emotional attachment may be compelling enough
to drive purchase intentions, but not to spread positive WOM.
Finally, as expected, emotional attachment indirectly
impacts both the relationship between celebrity authenticity
and WOM as well as celebrity authenticity and purchase
likelihood. This suggests that emotional attachment plays an
important role in social media relationships between
consumers and celebrities. Authentic celebrity postings can be
enhanced if consumers have an emotional attachment with the
celebrity, which results in more information being shared
about the celebrity and more products potentially being
purchased.
Theoretical and managerial implications
This research expands the growing interest in authenticity, as
it relates to celebrities, and is among the first work to examine
how authenticity may impact celebrities on social media. If
consumers perceive celebrities to be more genuine on social
media, stronger connections can be established. Celebrities
who post on social media in verified accounts are perceived to
be more authentic. During the 2008 Presidential campaign,
Barak Obama’s Twitter account was manned by the
Democratic Party, not the actual candidate, and was perceived
to be a failure in sincere engagement (Yan, 2011). If
celebrities are identified as using ghost writers for their social
media messages, consumers may become disengaged and even
share negative WOM via social media. Personal stories and
photos are ways to show authenticity. In this study,
authenticity drove respondents to share information about
their celebrities and potentially purchase products. Thus,
celebrities should post authentic information about their
careers and their personal lives to engage with consumers.
While research has found these consumer– celebrity
engagements to be para-social (Stever and Lawson, 2013),
this study supports that emotional attachments are created via
social media. This research examines the role of emotional
attachment with the identified celebrity on social media, as it
affects WOM and purchase likelihood. While emotional
attachment had a significant effect on purchase likelihood, but
not WOM, it expands the concept of attachment to celebrities
on social media, which has not been investigated in the
literature. Theoretically, the concept of attachment has been
studied as public versus private (Ball and Tasaki, 1992). More
public attachments with celebrities may result in higher levels
of purchase likelihood for celebrity-branded products,
whereas private attachments may limit the need for consumers
to “show off” with celebrity-branded products. Consumers
may be embarrassed to share their private attachment with
celebrities. The construct of attachment has been found to be
multi-dimensional, including autonomy, relatedness and
competency (Thomson, 2006). While these variables were not
measured in this study, the strength of attachment can be
enhanced by fulfilling the consumers’ need for autonomy
(freedom to make choices), relatedness (closeness to others)
and competency (achievement). However, the strength of
these attachments on social media may be associated with
potential issues in vulnerable groups like adolescents
(Greenwood, 2013).
Advertisers and corporations can learn from celebrities who
have a presence on social media. Social media humanizes
celebrities (Levy, 2012), and social media can humanize
brands too. Experiencing celebrities via social media may
come at a cost to consumers with celebrity postings filled with
self-promotions (i.e. movies, books, etc.) or endorsed
products (Vara, 2013). The focus group participants were
annoyed by product placement by celebrities, especially if it
was not properly identified. Celebrities, and their related
products, can be perceived to be “for hire”, which may affect
the credibility of the celebrity (Jin and Phua, 2014).
Limitations and future research
Exploring consumers’ evaluations of celebrities in social media
has several limitations but provides ample opportunities for
research and discovery. First, the focus group sample was
limited by gender, age and location, and the convenience
sample of students and online panel was also constrained by
age. This may limit the generalizability of the findings.
Extending this study to a more diverse age group would
strengthen the contribution to the branding research.
Moreover, the survey was not related to a specific celebrity or
social media site, and the participants self-selected their
celebrities. Future research could pre-test a celebrity who has
a strong presence on a social media site, allowing for a
potential experimental design. Future studies can examine
different celebrity types, including actors/actresses, musicians
Transforming celebrities through social media
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and even politicians; social media applications, including
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; as well as levels of
emotional attachment with celebrities, including attitudes
toward the celebrity. Finally, the empirical study did not
directly address the motivation of the consumers, which can
provide beneficial insight into attitude and behavior
generation.
Further research is needed to understand the antecedents of
authenticity and emotional attachment as they relate to
celebrities on social media. Emotional attachment with
celebrities is a growing area of research, and the antecedents
(autonomy, relatedness and competency) of this construct need
further investigation (Thomson, 2006). Further, attitudes
toward the celebrity should be captured to evaluate potential
effects.
Conclusion
This research examined the transformation of celebrities via
social media. Celebrities’ presence in traditional media is not a
new concept, but technology, in particular social media, has
transformed how celebrities engage directly with their fans. This
research sheds light on the antecedents of authenticity and
emotional attachment and outcomes of WOM and purchase
likelihood associated with consumer– celebrity engagement on
social media. Little research has investigated these concepts as
they relate to celebrities on social media, and this study
introduces the need to understand the roles that authenticity and
emotional attachment play with consumers and their online
connections with celebrities. As social media sites evolve,
celebrities are provided with more opportunities to engage with
their fans. There is no doubt that consumers will continue to
follow their favorite celebrities, and celebrities will continue to
find ways to connect and engage with their fans, with the hope
that they maintain their presence in the entertainment
marketplace.
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Corresponding author
Christine M. Kowalczyk can be contacted at: ckwlczyk@
gmail.com
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Christine M. Kowalczyk and Kathrynn R. Pounders
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