I’m Not Listening! Disabling Social Media Comments Makes Celebrities and Influencers Less Persuasive and Likable

Celebrities and influencers like Addison Rae, Hailey Bieber, Justin Timberlake, and even Oprah have, on various occasions, disabled access to their social media comments in response to negative sentiment. Is this misguided?

The answer is yes, according to our Journal of Marketing study. We find that influencers who disable social media comments are less persuasive and likable than those who do not, even when the displayed comments are mostly negative in their content.

Celebrities and influencers are more than just public figures in today’s digital age. They often serve as a bridge connecting brands and consumers by integrating their personal narratives into sponsored brand content. Despite their popularity, influencers receive plenty of criticism, and they often disable social media comments as a first line of defense against negative feedback. However, we find that this behavior can negatively impact how consumers judge influencers and respond to their promotional content.

Online influencers have the ability to interact with their followers in a relatively intimate and informal manner, which makes them seem sincere and approachable. Such positive assessments are often a product of how influencers engage with their viewers or followers, including directly addressing them in their posts and treating them more as friends than as consumers. Although these behaviors can dramatically increase consumer engagement, this level of approachability can also come at a cost.

As consumers become accustomed to influencers’ accessibility, they may feel emboldened to share feedback that is critical. The constant stream of followers’ feedback can be overwhelming and even detrimental to influencers’ mental health. As a result, many influencers have chosen to turn off their comment sections at various points, likely to avoid unwanted feedback. Our research reveals the negative downstream consequences of this seemingly well-intentioned behavior.

The Cost of Disengagement

We discover that when influencers disable comments, they are perceived as less receptive to consumer feedback, or what we term “consumer voice.” Consequently, they are judged as less sincere and ultimately incur both interpersonal and professional consequences. In other words, disabling comments can undermine a key influencer asset—their perceived receptiveness to consumer voice—and, relatedly, their ability to connect and engage with their followers.

In fact, we find that turning off comments is more costly for an influencer’s reputation than leaving them on, even when the displayed comments are mostly negative in nature, like those you might find flooding an apology post. This effect occurs because influencers who leave their comments enabled appear to be interested in hearing from the public and learning from their actions, while those who turn them off signal their dismissiveness of others’ opinions.

We find that turning off comments is more costly for an influencer’s reputation than leaving them on, even when the displayed comments are mostly negative in nature.

Our results show that, under certain situations, consumers understand an influencer’s decision to disable comments. If, for example, an influencer is perceived as taking reasonable measures to protect themselves during times of emotional turmoil and distress (e.g., grief and mental health struggles), the backlash against disabling comments is weakened.

However, it is critical to note that it is consumers, rather than the influencers, who decide what are considered reasonable forms of self-protection. So, while consumers might empathize with an influencer’s decision to disable comments if their beloved pet had recently died, they may be less empathetic to influencers who disable comments to avoid negative feedback after apologizing for a transgression.

Lessons for Influencers and Brands

Our findings highlight the importance of understanding the delicate balance between establishing personal boundaries and managing audience expectations. While it is necessary for influencers to protect their mental health, how they decide to communicate this desire and manage their social media interactions play a significant role in shaping relationships with their viewership.

Relatedly, our study encourages thoughtful consideration of how best to manage one’s online interactions and highlights the need to clearly communicate a legitimate reason for disabling comments to avoid sending the wrong signals to viewers.

By recognizing the tension between mental health protection and audience engagement in the context of social media comments, we strive to empower influencers and public figures to navigate the challenging waters of audience engagement. We hope these findings inspire influencers to adopt strategies that safeguard their well-being while maintaining a strong, positive connection with their followers.

Global spending on influencer marketing campaigns reached $34.1 billion in 2023 and is projected to surpass $47.8 billion by the end of 2027. Therefore, seemingly innocuous online activities could have important professional ramifications for influencers’ brand partnerships. Our study demonstrates that the decision to disable social media comments can reduce influencer persuasiveness, which emphasizes the importance of ensuring communication between brands and influencers to optimize their strategic partnerships.

To all the celebrities and influencers out there: Think before you decide to disable comments!

Read the Full Study for Complete Details

Source: Michelle E. Daniels and Freeman Wu, “No Comments (From You): Understanding the Interpersonal and Professional Consequences of Disabling Social Media Comments,” Journal of Marketing.

Go to the Journal of Marketing

Michelle E. Daniels is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Alabama, USA.

Freeman Wu is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Vanderbilt University, USA.