Political influencers on social media: An introduction


Influencers are omnipresent on social media platforms. They occupy important digital real estate across a range of topical domains including beauty, fashion, and gaming. While researchers have contributed important work on the respective role that authenticity plays for influencers’ success and have described a burgeoning industry within the larger domain of social media entertainment, comparably little is known about what happens when influencers get involved in politics, when they harness their digital clout to promote political causes and social issues, and thereby become political influencers. This introduction to the special issue on political influencers provides a definition of what makes someone a political influencer. It theoretically locates political influencers within the larger field of media and communication scholarship, and delineates the term from other, related concepts such as that of opinion leader. Building on eight contributions focused across more than six countries and nine platforms, the article showcases important strands of current and future research. It provides the foundation for a more systemic understanding of political influencers on social media, situating them within a media ecology complicated by a diverse array of traditional and nontraditional actors, tactics, and dynamics. The article concludes with recommendations for future research.