Social media stars gain star-status with uploads on social media pages like YouTube, TikTok or Instagram. One of the most popular platforms, especially designed to upload picture contents, is the service “Instagram” owned by Meta/Facebook. The growing social, cultural, and economic power of so-called influencers raises questions about key drivers of success and, moreover, distribution of income on social media platforms. Instagram has been accused of strategically favouring images with nude content, according to media reports. In order to shed light on this socio-critical aspect, this paper examines the following research questions: Does body exposure drive income success on Instagram? Is there a difference between male and female content in this regard? This paper empirically analyses 500 top Instagram stars within the categories (1) fashion and beauty, (2) fitness and sports, (3) music, (4) photo and arts, (5) food and vegan. The unbalanced panel data set consists of 100 stars within each category over an observation period of five months. The data provides information on popularity, posting behaviour, and price estimates per post. Since influencers are not paid by the platform, but mainly by advertisers for promotion of their products, the estimated price per upload serves as a valid proxy for income and economic success. Mean comparison tests show that accounts with focus on female accounts have a significantly higher degree in body exposure, while the price per picture is higher for male content. Furthermore, using regressions estimations, I estimate the effect of body exposure and sex on price per picture. The results show that body exposure influences prices positively, while results for gender are mixed. Eventually, this raises first questions of a gender pay gap in social media.
Income and Nudity on the Internet: Attention Economics of Instagram Stars
Ilmenau University of Technology
Sophia Gaenssle is junior researcher at the chair of Economic Theory at the Ilmenau University of Technology since 2017. She specialises in media and cultural economics, with particular emphasis on industrial organisation and digital markets.
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