Why influencers shouldn’t disable their social media comments

After a scandal or controversy, some influencers, like celebrities, resort to turning off comments on their social media posts. But, according to a recent study, this decision could well cost them their influence. — Image by freepik

After a scandal or controversy, some influencers, like celebrities, resort to turning off comments on their social media posts. But, according to a recent study, this decision could well cost them their influence.

Bad news for influencers. By disabling social media comments, these online personalities appear less likable and less persuasive, according to research conducted by scientists at the University of Alabama and Vanderbilt University in the US.

Published in the Journal of Marketing, the study's findings are clear: by removing access to social media comments, even in response to negative sentiment, users turn a critical eye towards celebrities: "Celebrities and influencers are more than just public figures in today’s digital age. They often serve as a bridge connecting brands and consumers by integrating their personal narratives into sponsored brand content.

“Despite their popularity, influencers receive plenty of criticism and they often disable comments on social media as a first line of defense against negative feedback. However, this behaviour can negatively impact how consumers judge influencers and respond to their promotional content,” the researchers explain in a news release.

In it for the money?

If an influencer's job is, among other things, to promote certain products to boost sales, refusing to give consumers a voice is inevitably frowned upon by their followers. In fact, it's this closeness between the influencer and the user, fostered by discussions and interactions on social networks, that feeds the feeling of an almost friendly relationship.

By forbidding these exchanges, influencers can create a distance between themselves and their followers: "Online influencers have the ability to interact with their followers in a relatively intimate and informal manner, which makes them seem sincere and approachable," the researchers say.

"We discover[ed] that when influencers disable comments, they are perceived as less receptive to consumer feedback, or what we term ‘consumer voice.’ Consequently, they are judged as less sincere and ultimately incur both interpersonal and professional consequences.

“In other words, disabling comments can undermine a key influencer asset, their perceived receptiveness to consumer voice and their ability to connect and engage with their followers," explains study coauthor, Michelle E. Daniels.

Keeping comments open

Worse still, disabling comments on a controversial post rather than leaving them up can have even more negative consequences, even if the comments are unpleasant or hurtful. "This effect occurs because influencers who leave their comments enabled appear to be interested in hearing from the public and learning from their actions, while those who turn them off signal their dismissiveness of others’ opinions," the researchers say.

Even so, some users are well aware of the need for influencers to block, restrict or ban comments, especially when it comes to preserving their mental health. However, researcher Freeman Wu qualifies this by pointing out that it is ultimately the consumer, and not the creator, who decides whether or not disabling comments is justified, depending on the situation.

In 2023, global spending on influencer marketing campaigns reached US$34.1bil (RM160.41bil) and is expected to exceed US$47.8bil (RM224.85bil) by the end of 2027. – AFP Relaxnews

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