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Social Media Celebrities and Para-social Relationships: The Chinese Context



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Social Media Celebrities and Para-social Relationships:
The Chinese Context
Meng Tao 1, Hamza Kaka Abdul Wahab 2 and Jashim Khan3
1 International Business School, DUFE, 116025 Dalian, China
2 School of Business Administration, DUFE, 116025 Dalian, China
3Surrey International Institute, University of Surrey, Guildford, GU2 7XH, UK
Abstract. The purpose of this study is to examine the role of social media ce-
lebrity plays in developing para-social relationship with their audience. The re-
search examines this relationship by investigating a) the mediating role of num-
bers of hours enthusiast spent interacting with celebrities and b) the moderating
role of celebrity identification in the relationship between social media celebrity
effect and para-social relationship. An online survey gathered 527 response
from female students between the ages of 18-30 years who follow social media
celebrities. Result shows that hours spent online with social media celebrities
mediate the relationship between the effect of social media celebrities and para-
social relationships. Moderated mediation reveals that the indirect path (hours
spent with social media celebrity online) through which social media celebrities
exert their effect on para-social relationships is dependent on the enthusiast
identification with social media celebrities. This paper makes available im-
portant findings for marketers, governments and academics. Businesses may
make use of the role play by social media celebrities in influencing women and
as a result use them to promote their products. Governments can also use the ce-
lebrities to pass on information to their followers on matters regarding social
vices. The role of time spent online with social media celebrity and identifica-
tion on para-social relationships are discussed together with future research di-
Keywords: Social Media Celebrities, para-Social Relationship, Identification.
1 Introduction
Most young women have been carried away by social media celebrities they follow
on different social media platforms, and young women from China are no exception.
Social media platforms such as; Sina Weibo, QQ, RenRen, Youku and WeChat are
heavily followed in China. The followers of these celebrities see them as their peers
and therefore engage them in interactions which leads to social comparison [1] and
spend hours on social media reading about the post and looking at the pictures/ videos
their favourite social media celebrities upload on their blogs [2]. Online communities
can bring social values to their users and see the internet as a potent channel for a
person(s) to create an intimate relationship with peers and to augment the person’s
way of life or welfare [3-4]. Numerous researchers have postulated that the followers
establish para-social relationships with the celebrities which leads to one sided inti-
macy [5-6]. Nevertheless, the perception of having intimate relationship with the ce-
lebrities is nothing but a mere illusion, since is it established and maintained only by
the follower, without the awareness of the celebrity [7]. Some scholars are of the view
that identification with a celebrity affects the follower’s behaviour, values and beliefs
and these make hem side with whatever the celebrity trumpets through numerous
sociocultural contexts [8-9] (for instance, conscientizing the public about drug abuse
and its avoidance [8]; creating public awareness regarding child abuse [9]. Empirical-
ly, recent research findings have asserted a strong backing for a relationship between
social relationship and identification. For instance, [10] opined that para-social rela-
tionships with Angelina Jolie triggers her fans to identify with her. Moreover, follow-
ers identifying themselves with media celebrities usually get heightened as their para-
social relationships with the celebrities get established [9-8]. Irrespective of the fact
that influence of mediated celebrities has a significant relationship with para-social
relationships [11]; there seem to be a lacuna in the literature to add hours spent online
as a mediator between social media celebrity influence and parasocial relationships
and celebrity identification as a moderator.
The study dwells on the influence of social media celebrities in the Chinese con-
text. It investigates the mediating effect of hours spent online and the moderating
effect of identification on the mediation. We focused on the following research ques-
tions in relation to the research objectives: RQ1) what is the mediating effect of hours
spent online in the relationship between social media celebrities and parasocial rela-
tionships? RQ2) what is the moderating effect of identification in the relationship
between social media celebrities and parasocial relationships? RQ3) what is effect of
identification moderating the mediated relationship of hours spent online between
social media celebrities and parasocial relationships?
2 Background
2.1 Conceptual Model
In this study celebrity influence model propounded by [9] was used but a slight
change was made to it so as to investigate the influence of social media celebrity on
para-social relationships. Identification moderates social media celebrity which is the
independent variable and hours spent online which on the other hand is the mediator
between social media celebrity and para-social relationships. Social media celebrity
also directly influences para-social relationships which is the dependent variable.
2.2 Social Media Celebrity
Social media celebrity (SMC) social media celebrity is an individual who has become
famous as a result of his or her activities on social media platforms. Social media
celebrities usually influence their followers and this leads to social impact; which is
defined as an influence exerted on person’s way of thinking, how the person behaves
which is triggered by the implied, real, or imagery existence or activities of others
[12]. Social media platforms are the easiest and quickest ways for users in establish-
ing and sharing what is known as user-generated messages and, an instant communi-
cation with different users on several devices held in the hand [13].
2.3 Identification
Celebrity identification has to do with an individual adopting the opinion or attitude
of another individual to create and maintain a desirable relationship with the individu-
al via psychological means [14]. Empirical research findings have postulated a strong
support for a relationship between social relationship and identification [15-16]. It has
been suggested that, in the course of identification with the media celebrities, an audi-
ence could tend to believe that he or she and the celebrity have something in common
and this will make him or her identify with the celebrity [17-18].
2.4 Para-Social Relationships
Para-social relationships are one sided relationships established by followers of a
celebrity with the celebrity not being aware of the relationship. Para-social relation-
ship brings about intimate relationship which is perceived by an individual to have
with media celebrities [5-6]. The celebrity influence model proposed that exposure to
the media is the basis of establishing parasocial relationships. By virtue of the social
relationship with celebrities on social media, followers of these celebrities view them-
selves as having some levels of closeness with the celebrities [8], [9], [10] [17], [19].
2.5 Hours Spent Online
The chances of meeting celebrities in person are very small so they (followers) often
get to link up with the celebrities via the media which social media is no exception. In
order to keep in touch with the celebrities, they spend some quality time to follow
them on their social media blogs to read their latest posts, look at their photos, and
gossips about the celebrities and access other updates [2]. It was found out that users
spend hours online with the average number of hours spent weekly online being 17.4
in 2019, which increased to 19.7 by 2010 [20].
3 Research Methodology
Female students of Dongbei University of Finance and Economics, Dalian, China
were sampled for his research. Simple random sampling technique was employed.
Pertaining to this study all the items used were adopted from published literature with
some modification made to them. We used constructs from (CPPI) Celebrity Persona
Parasocial Interaction Scale [21], (CPI) Celebrity-Persona Identification Scale to
measure the participants’ identification with the social media celebrity [22], and in-
fluence of social media celebrity [19]. For the scale, we adopted a five point Likert
scale spanning from 1= strongly disagree to 5= strongly agree for all the items. An-
swers were given in a 5 point scale from 1=strongly disagree to 5= strongly agree.
Majority of the respondents were between the ages of 18-22 years old representing
49%. Majority of the respondents (86.3%) were heterosexual and the celebrity with
the highest identification was Papi Tyan (47%). The highest number of hours spent
online by the respondents to interact with their social media celebrity idol is 1 hour,
representing (50.9%). 527 questionnaires were used for the analysis. We obtained the
questionnaires within period of April 15th to May 17th, 2018.
4 Results, Discussion and Conclusion
To analyze unidimentionality, exploratory factor analysis (EFA) employed using
SPSS, version 20. In addition, we found all the individual factor loadings to be highly
significant, giving support for convergent validity [23]. We calculated the Cronbach
alpha coefficient, composite factor reliability, and average variance extracted for each
of the scale and the values were in the desirable range.
We used hierarchical multiple regressions to test the mediating effect of hours
spent online and hierarchical moderated regression to test the effect of celebrity iden-
tification effect on the relationship between hours spent online and para-social rela-
tionships. Both analysis (mediation and moderation) followed procedure shown by
[24] utilizing Hayes model [25].
The results show that the direct effect of social media celebrity on para-social
relationship is weak in presence of numbers of hours enthusiast spent interacting with
celebrities = .52, S.E = .03, p <.05) suggesting partial mediation. The effect of
social media celebrity on para-social relationship is significant via the mediator num-
bers of hours enthusiast spent interacting with celebrities. In other words, the relation-
ship is also significant indirectly social media celebrity → numbers of hours enthusi-
ast spent interacting with celebrities --> para-social relationship = .15, S.E. = .03,
Boot LLCI = .10, Boot ULCI = .19). Absence of zero between Boot LLCI (Boot
Lower Level Confidence Interval) and Boot ULCI (Boot Upper Level Confidence
Interval) supports that social media celebrity and para-social relationship is stronger
when enthusiast spend longer hour interacting with the celebrity. Our result buttresses
the findings about the number of hours being spent on the web by web users [20]
(Hargittai and Litt, 2011). Our unique contribution to social media celebrity literature
is on showing a moderated mediation analysis. Moderated mediation reveals that the
indirect path (hours spent with social media celebrity online) through which social
media celebrity exerts their effect on para-social relationship is dependent on the en-
thusiast identification with social media celebrity (See Table 1).
Table 1. Mediated- moderation result for Influence of social media celebrities on
para-social relationships.
direct effect
Hours with
SM celebrity
Note: * Value of the moderator are the mean and plus/minus SD from mean.
The result of this research contributes to understanding social media celebrities influ-
ence and hours spent online by their followers on para-social relationships. Although
there is a partial mediation between social media celebrities and para-social relation-
ships established by the followers as a result of hours spent interacting with them
(social media celebrities), on the other hand, the relationship is significant. This sug-
gest that, marketers and businesses alike can capitalise on this to use social media
celebrities to endorse and also promote their products and services on social media
platforms which would be a cheaper form of promotion as against the traditional me-
dia such as; television, magazine, radio etc. Government and NGO’s can also take
advantage of the relationship between the followers and social media celebrities to aid
in communicating their agenda on social media on social issues (such as child abuse,
prostitution, HIV-Aids) affecting the youth and women as a whole. It is very crucial
to note that the indirect path where social media celebrities influence para-social rela-
tionships depend on the follower’s identification with the social media celebrity as a
result of the hours spent online. So by virtue of this, social media celebrities can be
used by marketers to endorse their products and services on their individual blogs and
pages. Limitation of the study pertain to gender and location. The study sampled the
views of only female respondents from a single university in China. To better investi-
gate the influence of social media celebrities on para-social relationships, we recom-
mend future researchers to incorporate both male and female respondents and also
widen the scope of the geographical location of the respondents when collecting data
for the study. We again recommend to future researchers to investigate the possible
relationship between social media celebrities and identification, with para-social rela-
tionships as the moderator.
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