Communicative mediation in the times of influencers

At the end of the last century, a current of Latin American theorists proposed a disruptive dimension of communications that was called Theory of Mediations, which rebuild the way of interpreting the relations between media and viewers. It also dimensioned a new intercultural space absent in many of the previous theories of communications.After three decades of this theory, it is necessary to ask ourselves about the resignification of mediations in a totally interactive digital ecosystem, in which the emergence of influencers generates more doubts than answers and an unprecedented challenge.

What is the role of influencers in digital communication?

By: Gabriel E. Levy B. –

When Manuel Martin Serrano coined in 1977 the mediation concept [1], and after the also academic Jesus Martin Barbero expanded and explored this concept in his book “From media to mediations: communication, culture and hegemony”, published in 1987 and republished in 1998 [2], a great change was beginning in the way we study communication and media.

Both authors suggested, from a historical perspective, that the groups that make up society build their own meaning for this communicative message, many times different from the one the issuer had in mind, and thus re-signify even the social relations themselves.

They also affirmed that the reception of the message (when we listen to radio or watch TV) is not the point where communication ends and they recognized the media consumer as a subject capable of incorporating “multiple interpretations of the message” from subjectivity.

In this sense, mediation is an intercultural space between the medium and the viewer, equalized by multiples dimensions:

“Mediations are the places where the contradictions that delimit and configure social materiality and cultural expressiveness come from” Jesus Martin Barbero [3]

The work of Martin Barbero not only significantly permeated communications studies, but also cultural studies from various disciplines, as it provided insights and elements of analysis to understand the complexity of mass media and its relation audiences, as well as culture of masses, and even the so-called popular culture:

“you have to lose the object to win the process…., you have to move from media to mediations….., you have to change the place of questions to make researchable the constitution processes of media senses researchable…

…. The value of the popular does not reside in its origin but in its capacity to express the way of living and thinking of the subordinate classes, the stratagems through which they filter, reorganize what comes from the hegemonic culture, and integrate it and merge with what comes from its historical memory”

(Martin Barbero, 1987:84)

 Another important aspect of this theory is that it suggests that there is a spontaneous critical consumption by audiences towards contents, that is, the viewers do not digest the entire speech preached by the mass media, but rather interpret it from their personal experience, deconstructing the original message and adapting it to their own contexts.

This phenomenon can be enhanced from childhood and adolescence if this type of critical consumption is promoted essentially by parents and teachers, who are called mediators by this trend [4].

Internet changed socio-cultural dynamics

Three decades after the consolidation of this communicative theory, many aspects have changed in mass communications. On the one hand, the traditional media decreased its social and cultural hegemony due to the consolidation of a large global network of computers: the Internet, which in turn gave rise to a host of new emerging native media and many other migrants.

But the most interesting aspect of the internet arrival was the significant empowerment of audiences, which became not only consumers but, in many cases, producers of messages and contents, alternating their role with that of creators, a phenomenon that the visionary Alvin Toffler called prosumo [5]            (an acronym between production and consumption) the last century.

The phenomenon of influencers

It is in the previous context that the so-called influencers: subjects who, in addition to creating contents, manage to have some level of influence, intentional or not, on the public that consumes their messages and digital products, unleashing a cultural effect whose impact has transcended in the social, political, marketing and advertising fields [6].

The influencers use mainly the so-called social media (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, etc.), platforms designed for the exchange of horizontal contents, where the user can democratically play the double role of creator and consumer.

In practical terms, the influencer is that type of prosumer who stands out among other users of these media and social platforms, achieving some kind of recognition among a significant proportion of others prosumers.

From the formal aspect, that is, if one analyzes the format and even the discursive dynamics, influencers have significantly transformed mass communication, providing a fresh air, much closer, daily and digestible.

Influencers have broken the myth of communicative asepsis imposed by the traditional media on marketing issues, and they have significantly expanded the spectrum of topics and contents, generating a thematic offer never seen and substantially widening the communication spectrum.

This does not represent the defeat of the traditional media, much less its extinction, since each media structure has consolidated differentiated communicative functions. In the end, the information spectrum, the contents offer and the communicational dimensions were simply extended [7].

Despite the above and from a sociological perspective, it is important to recognize that the influencer did not emerge as a counter-cultural expression [8], but rather it is a new generation that found in social media the opportunity to interact, in what we could call a new extension of “mass culture” [9].

In other words, in most cases, the communicational value of these so-called influencers does not consist in the complexity, originality or depth of their message, but in the extended propagation of the speech previously mass-produced by the cultural industries.

In fact, if one analyzes the topics dealt with by the biggest Instagram influencers in Spanish, published in a recent report by the Forbes magazine [10], it is observed that it deals with daily issued such as fashion and music, or even frivolous, such as absurd challenges, jokes and criticism of other influencers or personalities.

The demystification of the digital influencer heir to mass culture

It is common for the concept of influencer to be associated with the figure of a youtuber or instagramer, who is dedicated to the promotion, disguised or not, of mass consumption products, while interpreting a speech lacking in depth that apologizes for “superficiality”. This phenomenon has spread globally and it is most probably the result of the digital evolution of the decline of many manifestations of so-called “mass culture”.

Even though in its beginnings this type of digital influencer seemed to be the new “goose that lays the golden eggs” of advertising, seducing the advertising agencies and its generally snobbish and frivolous managers; over time the commercial effectiveness deflated, and even in many cases it became a boomerang effect for many brands, which ended up disappointed with the digital advertising bubble, as we analyzed in 2018 in the article The Crisis of Internet Advertising [11].

Recently, the Colombian journalist Alvaro Montes showed in an article called “The myth of the influencers falls” that this modality of commercial promotion could be very overvalued and that the current pandemic showed its practical ineffectiveness:

“Highly reputed brands have no problem in directing their advertising investment to influencers, motivated by an idea that has already been sufficiently questioned: the number of followers, which does not guarantee conversion into sales”. [12]

In the same article, Montes shows how many Colombian influencers have ended up in the public eye due to questionable facts:

“La Liendra, a popular Colombian instagramer, tried to flee after running over a motorcyclist; Elizabeth Loaiza sold false covid-19 tests and the infamous Daneidy Barrera (epa colombia) reappeared in social media mocking the sanction that Justice imposed on her for not doing it anymore, after filming herself vandalizing a Transmilenio station at the end of last year. She also has not paid the fine of 25 minimum wages”. [13]

But while the article questions the social and commercial value of many of what we might call digital influencers inheritors of the popular culture decline. On the other hand, and due to the situation derived from the Covid-19 pandemic, this article highlights how in the midst of the crisis a new type of much more responsible influencer has emerged, who has managed to catch the attention of the public and effectively transmit a responsible message:

In United States, Dr. Van Wingen got 25 million views of his first Youtube video about procedures for disinfecting food, while Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has more than 21.000 folloers on Twitter and his interviews are viewed by up to 11 million people. In Colombia, Dr. Fernanda has already passed 65.000 followers, and the epidemiologist Zulma Cucunuba has more than 43.000 followers. All obtained for their prestige, not by manipulation of algorithms. [14]

As with any form of generalization, not all influencers can be judged as if they were a single social body, it is necessary to recognize that there are many other profiles of digital social influencers, which are very interesting to analyze because of their valuable social contribution and which could be giving rise to a new form of cultural measurement.

New forms of digital cultural mediation

The booktubers are a type of digital influencer dedicated to promotion of reading books, making literary criticism, recommending publication, and discussing the books contents.

As with booktubers, there are influencers who promote responsible political debate, others solve accounting questions or teach how to travel around the world, some of them experiment with cooking recipes and others more daring teach math and even sex education, while all of them interact permanently with the audiences.

It is in this interaction that communicative mediation is resignified and taken to a new level, keeping that intercultural space identified by Barbero, but in a much more powerful environment, where the interpretative resignification of audiences becomes a visible part of the message, generating new type of social dialogue, in which the multiple views, imaginaries and realities allow the building of a joint and collective speech, much more plural.

Thanks to digital platforms we could be experiencing new forms of mediation, where the conjunction of imaginaries not only occurs in the message originally communicated, which is permeated by direct interaction with viewers, but in the subsequent feedback that these viewers through the free exercise of prosumo reproduce and re-signify through new communicative messages published in their own digital spaces and that likewise become interactive again, thus generating a potentially inexhaustible spiral of mediations and feedbacks.

The role of mediation with minors

In the case of parents, teachers and social institutions, their role with children and adolescents continues and will probably continue to be that of mediators for a long time, but not only in the context of traditional mass media, but also of new platforms and social media, promoting responsible consumption of contents, but above all, stimulating the new generations to be creators of original contents that contribute to the growth of new cultural dimensions.

An environment of diversity and respect should also be promoted, thus allowing them to grow as influencers and mediators with a high sense of social responsibility, that is, the role of institutions with regard to new generations is not limited to promoting a critical consumption of contents and media, but also a critical and responsible creation of them.

In conclusion, the new digital platforms have allowed the mediation concept to develop a much more powerful scope, in an environment where the viewer not only has the opportunity of re-signify the message in his own social-cultural context, but also as creator of contents through the so-called prosumo, even being able to consolidate as an influencer, a very broad concept that could be limited to the frivolous propagation of the decline of mass culture created by the cultural industries, it can also be a scenario for new forms of communication that contribute to the development of a more just, diverse, democratic, plural and inclusive society, through a new communicational dynamic with permanent, potentially inexhaustible, two-way feedback.

Photo: Markus Spiske on


[1] Academic article of analysis about the theoretical proposal of Manual Martin Serrano

[2] From media to mediations: communication, culture and hegemony, Jesus Martin-Barbero, Martin Barbero Martin B, ISBN 58908950X, 9789589089507, 351 pages, 1998

[3] From media to mediations: communication, culture and hegemony, Jesus Martin-Barbero, Martin Barbero Martin B, ISBN 58908950X, 9789589089507, 351 pages, 1998

[4] Looking as we look: Sandoval Yamile, Universidad Santiago de Cali, National Television Commission

[5] Future Shock: The third Wave, Alvin Toffler – Bantam Book, 1981 – ISBN 0553144316, 9780553144314, 537 pages

[6] Economipedia article on Influencers

[7] Academic article: Participatory and convergent culture, the scenario that favors the birth of digital influencers

[8] Encyclopedic article that defines the concept of Counterculture

[9] Encyclopedic article on Mass Culture

[10] Analysis of the top 10 influencers in Spanish from Forbes Colombia

[11] Article: The crisis of Internet Advertising

[12] Article: The myth of the Influencers falls in Semana Magazine

[13] Article: The myth of the Influencers falls in Semana Magazine

[14] Article: The myth of the Influencers falls in Semana Magazine

 Disclaimer: This article corresponds to contextual reviews and analysis on digital transformation in the information society, duly supported by reliable and verified academic and/or journalistic sources. This is NOT an opinion article and therefore the information they contain does not necessarily represent the position of Andinalink, nor that of their authors or the entities with which they are formally linked, regarding the topics, persons, entities or organizations mentioned in the text.