Influencers create communities through language use

Because followers are so important to influencers, building an engaged audience is one of the key goals of influencer communication. People are more likely to stay as followers if they feel connected to the influencer and the other people interacting with their content – in other words, if a sense of community forms around the influencer.

In a recent article (Limatius 2023), I investigated how influencers use language to create and maintain a sense of community among their followers, and whether organizations can adapt similar practices to their social media communication. The article is available here as an open-access publication (in Finnish). I will summarize some of its main findings in English in this blog post.

1) Influencers create a sense of community by being relatable. Influencers communicate in particular ways in order to appear authentic and trustworthy (see e.g., Kováčová 2021; Meer & Staubach 2020). One part of this is using language in a way that is relatable to their target audience on social media. Influencers might use, for example, informal language, or features typical of certain dialects. They may also want to avoid seeming “too perfect”. By using self-deprecating humour, opening up about their imperfections, and leaving in mistakes in their social media posts, influencers can highlight the fact that they are “regular people”, just like their followers.

2) Influencers interact with their followers actively. For the followers to feel included in the influencer’s community, one-way communication in the form of social media posts is typically not enough. Influencers also need to react and respond to their followers’ feedback. By personalising their responses to individual commenters, influencers show their followers that they know them well. In addition, they create a sense of closeness by directly communicating with their audience.

Image by Shari Jo from Pixabay

3) Influencers publicly support and maintain relationships with others. In addition to interacting with their followers directly, influencers can create a sense of community by publicly praising other influencers they share an audience with. Positive interactions with others help maintain an image of connectedness and friendliness. When describing others, influencers use features such as positive adjectives and affectionate nicknames, as well as hashtags and emoji that have positive connotations. In this way, influencers communicate their relationships with others to their followers through their language use.

4) Influencers define their audience. One central characteristic of a community is the members’ awareness of the group and its boundaries. In other words, people need to be able to pinpoint what makes this community special, and different from other groups. This can be done, for example, by highlighting the community members’ shared characteristics, values, and identities. For an influencer, defining the boundaries of their community has both benefits and disadvantages. For example, an influencer might choose to highlight her experiences of motherhood in her social media content. This could make followers who are also mothers feel like they belong to the same community as the influencer. However, it could also isolate other, potential followers who cannot relate to anecdotes about parenting. So, influencers often have to make a choice between a smaller, but perhaps a more loyal community, and a broader audience that may feel less attached to the influencer’s content.

If you are interested in learning more about language use in online communities, you can have a look at my other articles in the Works section!

Kováčová, D. (2021). Becoming #Instafamous: The analysis of (in)formality in self-presentation on Instagram. Internet Pragmatics 5(1), 12-37.
Limatius, H. (2023) Somevaikuttajat yhteisöjen luojina. In H. Reinikainen & S.-M. Laaksonen (eds.), Vaikuttava Viestintä. ProCom – Viestinnän ammattilaiset ry. doi:
Meer, D. & K. Staubach (2020). Social media influencers’ advertising targeted at teenagers: The multimodal constitution of credibility. In C. Thurlow, C. Dürscheid, & F. Diémoz (eds.), Visualizing Digital Discourse: Interactional, Institutional and Ideological Perspectives. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, 245–270.

Gender perspective on social media influencers: Why does it matter?

In my postdoctoral research, I’m particularly interested in studying social media influencer communication from a gender perspective. In this blog post, I’m going to discuss the reasons why I think this is important.

  1. Unfortunately, sexism and gender-based harassment take place frequently on social media platforms. Previous research has observed these challenges especially in the context of online gaming (Cote 2017; Naidoo et al. 2019). However, female social media influencers have also been found to receive sexualizing and sexist comments (Drenten et al. 2020).  Research can draw attention to such issues and help in finding solutions.
  2. The media also appears to talk about female influencers differently. Deller and Murphy (2020, 125) note that areas of content creation that are considered “feminine” have been criticized as “frivolous” in the press, whereas the criticisms towards male influencers’ work are not as clearly gendered. However, more research is needed to find out how attitudes towards different genders shape the public discussion on influencers.
  3. Influencers’ gender also affects the way their followers view them. For example, in a recent study, Hudders and De Jans (2020) found that women are more likely to engage with social media content posted by influencers who are also women. Studying influencer communication from a gender perspective may help us understand influencer-follower relationships better.
  4. Social media work involves a lot of “invisible” labor that is often done by women. “Invisible” labor in this context refers to work that is overlooked, undervalued and often poorly paid (Duffy & Schwartz 2018, 2976). For example, creative social media workers might be expected to work for “exposure” instead of receiving actual payment. Research can help promote gender equality in social media work.
Image by Piyapong Saydaung from Pixabay

How will my own work add to the research on influencers and gender?

Through my work, I hope to contribute to the research on social media influencers and gender by examining a genre of content creation that is particularly popular among young women, yet often belittled and overlooked: the genre of beauty content. Creators in this genre are easily dismissed as “superficial” or “vain” (Abidin 2016), but their work has the potential to empower people and to question gender norms.

For example, many beauty-focused influencers (particularly women) are balancing between “fashioning” or “beautifying” the body and promoting acceptance of the body “just the way it is”. Even though the fashion and beauty industries can be viewed as problematic, since they enforce particular ideas of what people (especially women) should look like, many influencers have taken a different approach to the idea of beauty.

These influencers have adopted their ideas from the body positivity movement, which seeks to challenge beauty standards in society and increase the visibility of marginalized bodies in the media (e.g., Brathwaite & DeAndrea, 2022; Sastre, 2014). Through combining body positivity activism and beauty- and fashion-focused social media content, influencers are able to redefine both beauty norms and gender norms. I am interested especially in the ways in which influencers do this through their language use.

Finally, although there are already several interesting studies on the topic of influencers and gender, there is a lot more work to be done. For example, while my own research focuses on women, the specific experiences of male influencers, as well as non-binary or genderqueer influencers, should also be considered in future studies.


Abidin, C. (2016). “Aren’t these just young, rich, women doing vain things online?” Influencer selfies as subversive frivolity. Social Media + Society 2(2).

Brathwaite, K. N., & DeAndrea, D. C. (2022). BoPopriation: How selfpromotion and corporate commodification can undermine the body positivity (BoPo) movement on Instagram. Communication Monographs 89(1), 25-46.

Deller, R.A., & Murphy, K., (2020). ‘Zoella hasn’t really written a book, she’s written a cheque’: Mainstream media representations of YouTube celebrities. European Journal of Cultural Studies 23(1), 112-123.

Drenten J., Gurrieri L., & Tyler, M. (2020). Sexualized labour in digital culture: Instagram influencers, porn chic and the monetization of attention. Gender, Work & Organization 27, 41–66.

Duffy, B. E., & Schwartz, B. (2018). Digital “women’s work?”: Job recruitment ads and the feminization of social media employment. new media & society 20 (8), 2972–2989.

Naidoo, R., Coleman, K. and Guyo, C. (2019). Exploring gender discursive struggles about social inclusion in an online gaming community. Information Technology & People 33 (2), 576-601.

Sastre, A. (2014). Towards a radical body positive. Feminist Media Studies 14(6). 929-943.