Artificial Intelligence in Influencer Marketing: A Mixed-Method Comparison of Human and Virtual Influencers on Instagram

Jiemin Looi*, Lee Ann Kahlor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


The prominence and profitability of influencer marketing have facilitated a proliferation of virtual influencers—fictitious digital personalities created and managed using artificial intelligence. Virtual influencers may offer advertisers greater creative control and yield greater engagement than human influencers. Hence, we investigated these claims by comparing the persuasion strategies and outcomes between human and virtual influencers. We retrieved 99,680 English-language Instagram posts uploaded by 424 human and virtual influencers within the beauty, fashion, and lifestyle domains from 2020 to 2022. Dictionary-based sentiment analysis (replicated across the AFINN and Bing lexicons) indicated that Instagram posts from both types of influencers predominantly conveyed positive sentiment. Latent Dirichlet allocation topic modeling revealed that both types of influencers asserted opinion leadership differently: Human influencers engaged in active self-promotion, while virtual influencers emphasized their identity. A natural experiment found that human influencers elicited greater engagement than virtual influencers. Influencer tier also significantly interacted with Instagram verification to affect engagement. Theoretical contributions, managerial implications, and directions for future research are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-126
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Interactive Advertising
Issue number2
Early online date3 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - May 2024

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Communication
  • Marketing

User-Defined Keywords

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Instagram
  • computers are social actors (CASA)
  • influencer marketing
  • uncanny valley hypothesis


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