Journal of Data and Information Science ›› 2022, Vol. 7 ›› Issue (2): 31-56.doi: 10.2478/jdis-2022-0011

• Research Papers • Previous Articles     Next Articles

I'm Nervous about Sharing This Secret with You: Youtube Influencers Generate Strong Parasocial Interactions by Discussing Personal Issues

Mike Thelwall(), Emma Stuart, Amalia Mas-Bleda, Meiko Makita, Mahshid Abdoli   

  1. Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group, University of Wolverhampton, UK
  • Received:2022-02-09 Revised:2022-03-25 Accepted:2022-03-27 Online:2022-05-20 Published:2022-04-19
  • Contact: Mike Thelwall


Purpose: Performers may generate loyalty partly through eliciting illusory personal connections with their audience, parasocial relationships (PSRs), and individual illusory exchanges, parasocial interactions (PSIs). On social media, semi-PSIs are real but imbalanced exchanges with audiences, including through comments on influencers' videos, and strong semi-PSIs are those that occur within PSRs. This article introduces and assesses an automatic method to detect videos with strong PSI potential.

Design/methodology/approach: Strong semi-PSIs were hypothesized to occur when commenters used a variant of the pronoun “you”, typically addressing the influencer. Comments on the videos of UK female influencer channels were used to test whether the proportion of you pronoun comments could be an automated indicator of strong PSI potential, and to find factors associating with the strong PSI potential of influencer videos. The highest and lowest strong PSI potential videos for 117 influencers were classified with content analysis for strong PSI potential and evidence of factors that might elicit PSIs.

Findings: The you pronoun proportion was effective at indicating video strong PSI potential, the first automated method to detect any type of PSI. Gazing at the camera, head and shoulders framing, discussing personal issues, and focusing on the influencer associated with higher strong PSI potential for influencer videos. New social media factors found include requesting feedback and discussing the channel itself.

Research limitations: Only one country, genre and social media platform was analysed.

Practical implications: The method can be used to automatically detect YouTube videos with strong PSI potential, helping influencers to monitor their performance.

Originality/value: This is the first automatic method to detect any aspect of PSI or PSR.

Key words: Parasocial interaction, Parasocial relationships, Influencers, YouTube, Social media, semi-PSI