Political online influencers as intermediaries: New constellations in political communication
Although political online influencers such as Rezo or Louisa Dellert are becoming increasingly present in the German political-media public sphere, they have yet to be treated systematically in communication and media studies. The present DFG project dedicates itself to this new group of actors.
The project's starting point is the observation that a new type of actor, coined as political online influencer (POI), is establishing itself as a new intermediary in the political-media public sphere. These POI are, in several respects, crossing borders between older and newer media contexts and between information- and entertainment-oriented content, and operate skillfully at the transitions of political, journalistic, and commercial contexts. The common thread among these quite diverse actors is that they have built a large network on social media through which they regularly disseminate politically and socially relevant content. In addition to these social media activities, they cooperate with private and public broadcasters, work as columnists and hosts, or are otherwise active in journalism.
The project asks how the new actors gradually establish themselves in the political-media public sphere and to what new constellations in political communication this may lead. Additionally, it analyzes which mediation services are provided by POI for their audience and society, how they relate to classic intermediaries (e.g., political and journalistic actors, NGOs), and which typical development processes can be observed in the institutionalization of this new media profession.
Four research questions differentiate the research interest:
- What (new) varieties of mediation do POIs bring to the political-media public sphere, and how do classic intermediaries react to them?
- What is the communication relationship between POIs and their audience and classic intermediaries, and how do those involved evaluate the relationship?
- What does the professional mediation repertoire of POIs look like?
- How do courses of development of POIs typically appear?
The research program implements a multi-method design with three work packages:
- Mapping the field of POIs and type formation: In the first work package, a mapping of POIs in Germany is undertaken. This involves a content analysis of the mediation styles of POIs, determining which business models they pursue and in which contexts they work (journalism/entertainment industry).
- Interview study with POIs, their followers, and cooperation partners in media and politics: In work package two, qualitative interviews will be conducted. The POIs, their management, followers, and cooperation partners from politics and the media will be interviewed. Questions will include how cooperation between POIs and the media comes about, what the cooperation means for those involved, what adaptation processes occur on both sides, and how the communication relationship develops over time. Followers of POI will be asked how they perceive POIs and their development.
- Case studies on selected POIs: The third work package implements four case studies on selected POIs and aims to trace the development of POIs to map typical trajectories in forming the hybrid communication role and mechanisms of persona formation. For this purpose, qualitative content analysis will be combined with qualitative interviews and document research.
f.l.t.a.: Dr. Paula Nitschke, Paul Storm, Kirsten Wünsche M.A.