Political Relational Influencers: The Mobilization of Social Media Influencers in the Political Arena
Social media platforms are a powerful tool to exert influence and impress opinions—for commercial operators, brands, and political campaigns. Influencers can help campaigns reach specific audiences and convey support for issues and candidates. In this study, we focus on political relational influencers who operate to legitimize and amplify political messages, specifically in the context of Instagram and TikTok. We define this group of influencers as content creators who promote political and social causes, for payments or without payments, to their audiences. Through in-depth interviews with 18 influence campaign stakeholders—a term under which we congregate influencer marketing executives, political organizers, strategists, influencers, journalists, academics, and regulators—we shed light on the complex and sophisticated ways influencers coordinate among each other and with political campaigns, the motivations of influencers to get involved in political campaigns, and the question of where to draw the line between genuine grassroots coordination and disingenuous (astroturfing) organizing.