1 Department of Teacher Education and Outdoor Life Studies, Norwegian School of
Sport Sciences; 2 Department of Sport Sciences, Malmö University, Sweden
Our curiosity about the role of social media in stable cultures led us to choose to investigate influencers and ask the question, what is really going on here? The study analyzes and explains the impact of social media influencers on stable cultures in Sweden and Norway, contributing to the understanding of the complex relationship between equestrian sports and social media—a relationship that is important for the welfare of horses. Since equestrianism is one of the most popular sports in Sweden and Norway, influencers’ social media communication greatly impacts followers’ perception of the human-animal relationship. Despite the popularity of equestrian sports, studies thereof are rare, and research combining equestrian sports and social media is almost non-existent, making this study important and relevant. The analysis focuses on the six biggest equestrian influencers in Sweden and Norway and their social media accounts. Three research questions are in focus:
- How do the equestrian influencers perform on social media?
- What do the equestrian influencers communicate on social media?
- How can the social media communication initiated by the equestrian influencers be analyzed and understood?
Theoretically, we utilize Goffman’s (1967) micro-sociological perspectives and the concepts face, face-work, line, and expressive order, which he identifies as main elements of a meeting since they constitute essential aspects of the interaction ritual and form the basis for social interaction. The study is also influenced by media theory and how media research explains the development of media celebrities. The theoretical frames are used to discuss knowledge exchange, co-creation of authenticity, intimacy, sponsorship and advertising.
Creating Authenticity and Intimacy
The influencers mainly focus their communication on horse-related issues and their (and their followers’) love of horses to create intimacy, which is used as a basis for other messages (perceived knowledge and advertising). The intimacy and authenticity are strengthened in the interaction between followers and influencers, and the latter receive positive feedback for their way of handling their horses. The Influencers perform face-work in which a horsey authenticity is central. Through dialogues and reflections, they present themselves in a way that allows their followers to feel there is intimacy and closeness in their connection. In their posts, these influencers construct a sense of community and a common understanding of how life as a (horse)person can and should be lived. The line consists of successful people. Even when presenting failures, the influencers show themselves overcoming these, demonstrating to their followers that they are able to handle difficult situations.
The expressive order of stable culture(s) is seldom questioned and in the few cases where the expressive order appears to be questioned, the influencers have the power to correct their followers – and the acceptance of this order is likely to make the commercial endorsements less visible and more convincing.
The performance of horse-knowledge is an important part of the line and face-work of the influencers we have studied, and they are mostly expressed through horse-related images, captions, and videos. By sharing pictures and comments on their lives, equestrian influencers produce ideas and perceptions of how horses should be cared for. Through face-work, they emphasize themselves as experts in the equine sector – as “real” and passionate horse people – and they stress their own ideas when answering the followers’ questions on how to treat and ride horses. The influencers’ continuous line is constructed and shaped together with the followers; the understanding and interpretation of the line is constantly co- created through mutual interaction. The line shows that their equestrian lives are a fulltime commitment. This may seem as a paradox in relation to their engagement with social media. They are clearly part of the digital labor market; the line is, however, closely connected to a traditional equestrian sphere.
Advertisement and Sponsorship
Intimacy and the common love of horses creates trust between the influencers and their followers. The perceived closeness and common understanding generated through an acceptance of face-work, line, and the expressive order build a solid base for affecting others’ purchasing decisions. The forms of personalized advertisement and the blurred lines between seemingly friendly recommendations and what is bought and sold makes it difficult to grasp the influencers’ commercial power.
Our study explains the interaction between influencers and devoted followers and enables a better understanding of how social media works. People’s understanding and commitment to their hobbies and sports develop in relation to others and shared perceptions are crucial for the relationship between influencers and their followers. Influencers wield considerable power over the economy, impact, and development of the contemporary sports landscape.
Increased knowledge of the influencers’ impact on the landscape of sports is essential in relation to influencer-follower dynamics, perceived authenticity, generation of trust, and the impact on consumer behavior