Vol. 4 No. 3 (2023)
Research Articles

The Business of Influencing: Business Models of Social Media Influencers – a Literature Review

Christian Zabel
TH Koeln

Published 30-11-2021


  • Influencer Marketing,
  • Business Models,
  • Service-dominant logic,
  • complementors,
  • co-creation,
  • cooperation,
  • coopetition,
  • Digital Business Ecosystem
  • ...More

How to Cite

Zabel, C. (2021). The Business of Influencing: Business Models of Social Media Influencers – a Literature Review. Nordic Journal of Media Management, 4(3), 3–36. https://doi.org/10.54337/njmm.2597-0445.7224


Purpose: Influencer Marketing (IM) has become an important marketing category and has, in turn, led to the rise of so-called social media influencers (SMI), who as a group generate significant economic activity. Whereas IM has been studied extensively from an advertiser or effectiveness perspective, addressing the issue from the perspective of SMIs and their economic activities – how they generate, deliver and capture value – has received relatively little attention. Therefore, this study reviews and conceptually represents the current state of knowledge on business models of SMIs.

Methodology: Structured literature review of peer-reviewed, English-language journals in Scopus database between 2017-2022. The findings are organised according to Osterwalder and Pigneur’s nine-dimension business model concept, adapted to service-dominant logic aspects following Ojasalo & Ojasalo (2015).

Findings/Contribution: Value generation, delivery and capture in SMI business models occur in complex, even collective (co-)production and (co-)consumption settings. This co-creation involves several stakeholders, involves mutual vetting by potential partners and is characterized by significant transaction costs. The scalability of SMI business models is limited due to the core value proposition (the SMI persona and contents), space and time constraints as well as by increasing efforts to sustain parasocial relationships with audiences. Due to the personalised nature of the value proposition, the intertemporal stability of business models is uncertain. The study enlarges the understanding of competition within platform-based ecosystems by looking at complementors with limited resources and scaling ability. It also sheds light on digital business models from a service-dominant logic perspective.