Abstract: The Intersectionality Between Social Media Influencer's Fitness YouTube Videos and Young Women's Efficacy: A Content Analysis

◆ Carina Zelaya, University of Kentucky
◆ Joshua Santiago, University of Kentucky
◆ Hayley Stahl, University of Kentucky

Individuals are increasingly turning to social media as a dominant source of information about social norms and appearance standards (Bair, Kelly, Serdar, & Mazzeo, 2012). YouTube is a major source for diet and nutrition-related information among teenagers and young adults. Social media influencers represent a new type of independent third-party endorser who shape audience attitudes through blogs, tweets, and the use of other social media. YouTube health and fitness influencers present us with an interest combination of marketing techniques (Crawshaw, 2013).
Minimal communication efforts have examined the potential social media influencers have toward individuals seeking to manage or lose weight via YouTube. Social cognitive theory allows communication scholars to examine individuals’ behaviors that are more likely to be reproduced when they can relate to another individual (e.g., social media influencer). This study seeks to fill in the gap of communication literature through a theory guided content analysis.
For the scope of this analysis, we focus on vicarious learning and self-efficacy (through verbal persuasion factors: ease, rapidity, permanence, evidence format) as factors that can influence young women’s behavior. The following research questions and hypotheses are proposed:
RQ1: How frequently are personal experiences (vicarious experience and performance accomplishments) used to give health and fitness advice by fitness influencer accounts?
RQ2: What types of sources do influencers mention during their videos?
H1: Rapidity messages will be more prevalent than ease and permanence messages.
H2: Ease messages will be more prevalent than permanence messages.
H3: Narrative evidence will be more prevalent in fitness YouTube videos more than statistical evidence.
Our sample consisted of 30 videos from the top 30 women fitness influencers. Using Krippendorff’s Alpha, intercoder reliability was α = .821.
Results revealed there were 221 instances of personal experiences: vicarious experiences (64%) and performance accomplishments (36%). There were instances of verbal persuasion message characteristics including: ease (43%), permanence (31%), and rapidity (26%). Evidence format emerged 238 times in the form of narrative (78%), statistical (5%), or both (17%). Surprisingly, external sources were never mentioned.
Results confirmed that message properties revealing efficacy and both evidence types were prominent in our sample. Issue-relevant sources were not widely use throughout our sample. This could be explained by the amount of self-promotion that occurs in the YouTube platform. Influencers use their own experience and their image as a heuristic for credibility.
Through social cognitive theory guidance, we can infer, that viewers might develop a sense of confidence and improve their self and response efficacy when watching these videos. Because most verbal persuasion consisted of ease messages, viewers may feel more confident in executing healthy behaviors.
This study advances the scholarship of message design in a social media context through a social cognitive theory framework. We were successful in the conceptualization and operationalization of message variables from social cognitive theory into video format messages. Future research should continue these efforts of examining new media and thinking of social media influencers as the persuaders of the future.