Connecting through content: Teenagers' temporal tribes

MOORLOCK, Emily and DEMPSEY, Elizabeth (2024). Connecting through content: Teenagers' temporal tribes. In: 12th EIASM workshop on interpretive consumer research, Malaga, Spain, 18-19 Apr 2024. Malaga, Spain, EIASM.

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The need to belong is deeply rooted in society (Kahle et al., 1986). Consumers possess an inherent need for social acceptance, seeking positive and enduring relationships with others (DeWall & Bushman, 2011; Leary, 2010). ‘Fitting in’ and connecting with others is particularly pertinent to teenagers, who are searching for ways to connect with others to avoid negative consequences, such as low self-esteem, anxiety and depression (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Denissen et al., 2008; Isaksen & Roper, 2012). Teenagers, as heavy social media users, turn to online platforms, such as TikTok, to connect with others (Anderson and Jiang, 2018; Chen, 2017). At times of pressure, these social connections can alleviate stress and improve wellbeing (Kar, 2023). In this paper, we are interested in how teenagers negotiate their parasocial interactions with other consumers ‘like them’ on social media. We focus on the social media platform TikTok due to its popularity amongst teenagers (Vogels et al., 2022) and the specific context of GCSE and A-Level examinations. By narrowing the focus of the research, participants were more easily able to articulate their lived experiences than if they were asked more broadly about their general experiences and interactions on social media. Social media enables teenagers to connect and parasocially interact with other consumers outside their offline network (Miller et al., 2016; Wang & Edwards, 2016). Horton and Wohl (1956) conceptualise parasocial interactions as the vicarious, one-sided (non-reciprocal) friendship a media viewer has with a media persona. Whereby the viewer feels that they know the persona as intimately as a friend in everyday life, with this friendship serving a consumer need such as friendship, utility or affection (Perse & Rubin, 1989; Hays, 1984). Parasocial interactions are conceptualised here as the ‘virtual’ interpersonal relationship between a performer and a spectator, with the spectator perceiving this relationship as ‘real’ (Sokolova & Kefi, 2020). In previous consumer research, the performer is typically the celebrity and/or influencer (e.g., Chung and Cho, 2017; Lee & Watkins, 2016). In the context of our research, we posit that teenagers have parasocial interactions with ‘ordinary’ everyday consumers, whereby the performer is the everyday consumer who, for example, has created relevant and authentic content that the spectator (the teenage participant) gets utility or connection from engaging with. Teenagers are notoriously hard to engage in academic research (Bassett et al., 2008), with research methods needing to draw on active methods to engage participants (Banister & Booth, 2005; Nakarada-Kordic et al., 2017). We draw on creative methods, with the study designed collaboratively with teenagers, drawing on researcher- and participant led triadic interviews with teenagers who had used TikTok during their GCSE and A-Level examinations. The interviews drew on projective and enabling techniques along with the visual method of storyboarding to engage teenagers in an in-depth discussion to access their conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings (Boddy, 2005; Rabin, 1986). We explore how teenagers actively seek out and negotiate complex online parasocial interactions with ‘ordinary’ consumers (e.g., other teenagers and teachers) who are experiencing a shared (common) reality at that moment in time (Cova & Cova, 2002). Authentic and culturally relevant user-generated content plays a pivotal role in forming ephemerally tribes, which the teenagers draw on to use to connect with other ‘ordinary’ consumers who are going through the same experience at the same time.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sheffield Business School Research Institute; Department of Management; Marketing and Strategy
SWORD Depositor: Symplectic Elements
Depositing User: Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited: 08 May 2024 12:34
Last Modified: 08 May 2024 12:34

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