Women making selfie in pink room while sitting behind a laptop

How ‘parasocial’ relationships influence what people buy

If isolation during the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is how much we rely on our relationships with other people. Locked down with only Facetime and TV for entertainment, the line between real-life connections and imagined ones are increasingly blurry. So, if binge watching Keeping up with the Kardashians for the 3rd time has made the Kardashian family feel a lot like your actual family, then you’ve managed to cross over into the realm of the parasocial!

Parasocial relationships are the kind of one-way friendships we have with celebrities or influencers; where we are so invested in their lives that we feel an emotional attachment to them. Parasocial relationships are nothing new and have been around for years. In fact, they were first formally articulated in the 1950’s. Social media, however, has exacerbated this dynamic as occasionally the non-reciprocal ‘friend’ will actually acknowledge and interact with their fans. This helps to strengthen illusions that they are involved in the lives of their fans.

Recent research has revealed that parasocial relationships can have an influence in what people buy, who they vote for or how they feel. Further, a meta-analysis of 14 studies demonstrated that people who feel an affinity with a particular celebrity or influencer are more likely than non-fans to modify their behavioural intentions in the wake of a celebrity health event. 

These results highlight the need for brands to recognise the role of audience involvement in the lives of celebrities and influencers. Further, to harness these opportunities to promote positive behaviours and actions.

Read more about the manifestations of the need for connection that we can expect in the coming time and what that means for brands.