Sponsored Posts on Instagram A Study by Lauren Kirchenheiter and Taylor Shilling

Research Question

"How do college students feel about sponsored posts on Instagram?"

An example of what we define as a sponsored post.


Much of the literature looked at the rapidly growing role of social media in consumerism. For example, Qualman asserts that our economy is “people-driven,” and the purpose of social media is to have people create and share content, essentially using an electronic word-of-mouth technique to market for companies and products (Socialnomics, p. 1). We wanted to be more specific to sponsored posts on Instagram and the role of Internet personalities within that.


We took a phenomenological approach for this study.

We conducted 30 minute interviews with 5 participants. The participants were all seniors at Clemson University.

Our interview questions were as follows:


Our analysis methods consisted of transcribing our interviews, coding and assigning themes. We looked for recurring themes as well as themes that were unique to each interview. Here are a few of the smaller themes we used to build the major themes: boring, monotonous, loss of relationship, entertainment, interest, support, celebrity, benefits, money, followers, endorsing,

For example: We combined keeping up with friends, expressing yourself, posting to update followers and posting to spread the word into "Reason for use".

Major themes:

1. No Talent: "But I’m supportive of talented people who get famous because of that but I hate when non-talented people get famous because they post a bunch of ads on their social media. Like, don’t be famous for having no talent but selling stuff."

2. Talent:"They were sponsored because they can hit the target audience, that's their thing. They can do that". "If they have a real talent for what they’re doing and it can really help a bunch of people, then I’m all for it."

3. Reason for Instagram use: "I just think it's kind of a quicker and easier way to keep up with my friends and to let them know what's going on." "To keep up with my friends and let them see what I'm up to." "If I’m feeling like being artsy or something. I think that’s a fun and creative way to express myself so if I go on walks or adventures or something, then I will post a fun little picture with a neat little caption, I guess."

4. Ethics:"A downfall for corporate sponsorship is that sometimes people will throw the ethics out of the way and get very greedy and money-hungry, and they won't tell the consumer, their followers, 'Hey I really did not like this and I wouldn't recommend it" "...I also know a few black artists accounts that I like to support so I get on and check their stuff." "There are definitely ethical boundaries that are crossed. I see a lot of fitness accounts doing this type of thing, 'drink water for 7 days and nothing else diet'. You can endorse that all you want but in the end you're hurting the consumer and their health. Don't just take it because sponsors are telling you to do so."

5. Excessive/boring posting: [I unfollow someone] "if they post more than 5 times a day. That’s so annoying, like I don’t need to see every minute of your day." "If their pictures are boring or too monotonous for me." "Or, I will unfollow someone if their pictures are boring or monotonous. So, if someone really loves their car, but I’m just not into cars, I’m just gonna unfollow them. Like, I understand that you love your truck and you’re fixing it up and everything, but it’s just not interesting to me; it doesn’t tell me anything about you."

6. Marketing strategy: "As a communication student, I think it’s a good strategy honestly, but as a consumer I think it’s very very annoying." "I think it's a really good way to market....Why not you and the company benefit from that by letting them sponsor you and endorsing their products? "I think it's smart if they have a large following they're able to reach a lot more people...people the company wants to reach the most." *Celebrity endorsements attract more attention than native ads, because the consumer is already interested in the account that is endorsing the product.

7. Personal opportunity: "I would totally do that [be sponsored] and make that money! But I’d set up a different account probably. I am personally annoyed by it and so I don’t want to annoy people that I know."

So what?

Companies can use this study

Internet personalities can use this study


Created with images by USA-Reiseblogger - "smartphone notebook social media" • ParampreetChanana - "instagram iphone social" • DariuszSankowski - "iphone ios iphoto"

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