This study aimed to examine the effects of awareness of paid endorsements by social media influencers on followers’ cognitive persuasion knowledge (ad recognition), attitudinal persuasion knowledge (relationships with the influencer), and behavioral intentions, specifically eWOM intention and purchase intention. Employing an online survey (N = 269), this study found that awareness of paid endorsement relates to ad recognition, which is correlated with purchase and eWOM intentions. We also found that awareness of paid endorsement is correlated with influencer-follower relationship, which is associated with purchase and eWOM intentions. However, ad recognition does not affect influencer-follower relationship. Implications for public relations theory, practice, and policy are discussed.
Building strong relationships between organizations and their multiple publics through open, authentic, and transparent communication has been regarded as the touchstone of excellent public relations (Taylor & Kent, 2014). An essential part of building these relationships has been through media relations, often regarded as the raison d’etre of public relations (Sriramesh & Vercic, 2009). However, the rapid hybridisation of the media environment, the ubiquity of social media, and the rise of social media influencers have challenged traditional notions of media relations, demanding that practitioners tasked with building effective relationships with their organizations’ publics engage with these new sets of gatekeepers, opinion leaders, and influentials (Booth & Matic, 2011; Pang, Tan, Lim, Kwan, & Lakhanpal, 2016; Smith, 2010; Walden, Bortree, & DiStaso, 2015). Social media influencers, a type of opinion leader, engage in self-presentation on social media, accomplished through the creation of their online images employing rich multimodal narration of their personal, everyday lives, and leverage these images to attract attention, and a large number of followers (Khamis, Ang, & Welling, 2016; Senft, 2013). Pivotal to their success are the relationships between their personal brand and their followers, upon which is premised the potential for deep influence (Abidin & Ots, 2015) leading to positive outcomes such as followers’ electronic-word-of-mouth (eWOM) communication and purchase intention (Boerman, Willemsen, & Van Der Aa, 2017; Evans, Phua, Lim, & Jun, 2017; Wojdynski et al., 2017). However, organizations’ engagement of social media influencers through paid endorsements, and the subsequent blurring of lines between paid and earned media add complex dimensions to the ethical practice of public relations.