Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021 shows people say they pay more attention to influencers than journalists when using Instagram for news


Whilst mainstream news brands and journalists attract most attention around news on both Facebook and Twitter they are eclipsed by influencers on TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram according to the recently published Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021.

One of the main areas the report, which covers 46 markets accounting for more than half the world’s population, is to try to determine the level of attention news organisations earn on social media. The answer appears to be split by platform. 

Across countries, Reuters’ survey respondents say that they pay most attention to mainstream media outlets when consuming news on both Twitter (31%) and Facebook (28%) – considerably more than for politicians, alternative news sources, or influencers.

The onus flips for Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, where the focus is squarely on celebrities or influencers – leaving journalists playing second fiddle, even when it comes to news. Only YouTube users sit on the fence: 25% saying they turn to mainstream news. 24% opting for influencer content. 

But the democratising impact of social media is also laid bare in the following chart, with significant attention going to the views of ordinary people across all networks, also for news. 

Defining personalities

Of course the grouping of personalities to include celebrities and influencers poses its own challenges. A distinction is to be made between the two. I couldn’t find a definition of terms section within the Reuters report, however.

Actors, pop stars, sports personalities, and reality TV stars rise to celebrity status due to their prowess away from social media. They turn to social media for their personal and professional promotion. This is distinct from influencers who were born on platforms including Instagram and YouTube and who are known first and foremost for their social media presence. 

Influencers often spend years honing their online persona, developing subject matter expertise and, fundamentally, nurturing an online community. Celebrities - especially reality TV stars - often have a large social media following thrust upon them.

Successful influencers demonstrate credibility within a defined context - known as source credibility. Source credibility has two dimensions: trustworthiness and expertise. Trustworthiness is distinct from trust. 

Influencers appear trustworthy in comparison to traditional celebrities by creating a sense of intimacy with the audience. In turn, authenticity is an important sub-element of trustworthiness. Successful influencers appear genuine to their followers. Expertise, in this context, may be defined as domain knowledge i.e. specific knowledge in a certain field.

Blurring ordinary people into influencers

There is a further question over where the category edges of influencer begin and an 'ordinary person' end. In an industry marked by micro influencers, nano influencers and even alpha consumers at what point does a friend or family member become elevated from ordinary person to influencer/personality within this report context?

Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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