This study aims to analyze the ways in which fans of the band One Direction developed parasocial relationships, or one-sided, non-reciprocal relationships with media personae, through social media marketing, and to explore the economic implications of these relationships in terms of fans’ free promotional labor. At the heart of social media marketing is relationship marketing, or attracting and maintaining customer relationships, a strategy we explore here within the context of the music industry. Previous studies have explored the dynamics of online fan communities, or fandoms, and the free labor they carry out on the part of an artist, such as creating original content and organizing marketing campaigns—work that is typically done by salaried industry professionals. This study aims to understand how parasocial relationships motivate fans to do such work, and whether or not they see free labor as an issue of exploitation. A content analysis of the One Direction Twitter account and a prominent fan account was conducted to better understand the band’s marketing efforts, and interviews with fans of the band were carried out in order to explore their experiences with parasocial relationships and fan labor. This study found that the One Direction Twitter account seemed to encourage fans to perform promotional labor indirectly through relationship marketing tactics, and that the fan account worked to not only actively promote the band’s products, but keep their thousands of followers emotionally and financially invested in the band. It was also found that fans’ parasocial relationships were cultivated through social media, and these relationships were a motivating factor in fans’ willingness to perform promotional labor. Regarding the issue of exploitation, however, the ambivalence of fans was clear: fans wanted to perform promotional labor to support the band, yet they also recognized, to a certain extent, that this labor was valuable and was potentially exploited.
Meese, Kathryn, "You and I: Parasocial Relationships, Social Media, and Fan Labor in the One Direction Fandom" (2021). Honors College Theses. 322.