Parasocial Relationships in the Age of Social Media
Updated: Mar 12, 2022
Social media might be the most powerful tool that has ever fallen into the hands of marketers but what decides which brands or politicians succeed or fail on the platform? The answer lies just behind your eyes and right between your ears. Your brain is hardwired to make you fall for those who use social media in a very specific way, the way that creates a parasocial relationship between you and them.
What we considers homo sapiens have been on this planet in one form or another for almost 300,000. The span of recorded history is roughly 5,000 years, beginning with the Sumerian cuneiform script, with the oldest coherent texts from about 2600 BC . During the vast majority of that time most people only saw the people in their community with any regularity; the local shopkeepers, whatever passed for public safety, their neighbors, etc. The people you saw you depended on, especially in pre-history when the people you regularly interacted with helped you secure food and shelter. As such, we as a species are hardwired to care about people we interact with regularly.
A parasocial relation is one that takes advantage of this hardwiring. A parasocial relationship refers to a phenomenon whereby an audience in their mediated encounters with performers in the mass media, particularly on television and on online platforms, form a strong emotional bond with said performers .
We have all seen this in our lives. The secretary who loves Tom Selleck a little too much. Teenage girls who scream and faint over boy bands. The father who speaks of an old baseball player like a brother he hasn't seen in a while. Or, most noticeably the last several years, voters becoming zealots for one candidate or another.
These politicians, brands, and influencers enjoy seemingly undying devotion from their supporters. This fandom translated to money, votes, and power.
Once one observes this phenomena the question has to be asked; how does one create the most powerful parasocial relationship possible to reap the largest benefit?
How To Make Your Fans Addicted to You
Post Early, Post Often! You are either quick or dead in the modern environment. Post at least once a day to make sure you are being seen.
Character Counts: Always try to come off as a real person, or a company with character, and not as just a regurgitator of your press releases. Speak in the first person and respond to users posts when appropriate. Even if you have an entire team handling an account it is always better to come off as a single person to create the parasocial bond you are looking for.
Get A Little Personal: Dropping your guard and posting the occasional personal item will further convince your followers that you are a real person just like them.
Are Parasocial Relationships Safe?
"Parasocial relationships are actually perfectly normal and in fact psychologically healthy. As humans we are built to make social connections and so when we're presented with a person through audio or video, we seek to establish a bond with them. As Cynthia Vinney, a psychology writer and scholar specialising in media psychology, previously wrote for ThoughtCo: "This response does not mean that the individuals believe the interaction is real. Despite media consumers’ knowledge that the interaction is an illusion, however, their perception will cause them to react to the situation as if it were real."