Analysing the content of content creators in the classroom 

Maria Murumaa-Mengel 
Associate Professor of Media Studies, University of Tartu 

This learning resource is about the possibilities of analysing the content of content creators (i.e. influencers, micro-celebrities, trendsetters, social media stars, whatever we want to call them) in the classroom or in other settings where you can have a long conversation with young people. 

This document consists of three parts: 
– The longer version of a comprehensive article was initially published in Õpetajate leht
– A lesson plan and thematic plan for topics on influencers.
– 73 questions/aspects to focus on when analysing videos 

Do influencers influence us, and if so how? 

Maria Murumaa-Mengel, Associate Professor of Media Studies, University of Tartu 

Suunamudija” is the Estonian word for “influencer”, which was suggested by children in a word invention contest a few years ago, and it sounded so good and right that it quickly became widely used. Admittedly, the suunamudijas themselves are not very fond of the moniker – sisulooja [content creator], influencer or platform-specific terms such as juutuuber [YouTuber], instagrammer, tiktokker or blogija [blogger] are used in parallel. There are a lot of other terms: mõjuisik [influencer], netikuulsus [online celebrity], digi-arvamusliider [digital opinion leader], brändisaadik [brand ambassador], sotsiaalmeediakuulsus [social media celebrity], trendilooja [trendsetter], mikrokuulsus [micro-celebrity], etc. However, we are often talking about the same thing – people who have built up a significant following by creating content on social media platforms, and who are considered opinion leaders of sorts. It should be borne in mind that the content that is created and the fame that is achieved can vary. Some people become famous on the internet by accident (like-minded people, viral content), some work systematically and professionally towards the status of influencer, and some people create content primarily for themselves and then discover that over time, they have gained a lot of devoted followers.  

However, in marketing, efforts are made to identify the potential magnitude of the impact, and a distinction is sometimes made between nano-, micro-, macro-, and mega-influencers. For example, a nano-influencer could be a slime champion on YouTube with a small but very loyal fan base, while the Kardashians and Charli D’Amelio are considered mega-influencers. It is probably apparent even to the uninitiated that the numbers of followers behind these categories are context-dependent –Chinese and Seto influencers operate in very different-sized spaces. Marketing communication research has shown that influencers with a smaller number of followers often have a more substantial impact on their audience than mega-stars (De Veirman et al., 2017; Park et al., 2021), and recent studies also suggest focusing on the ‘fringes’ and small influencers to trigger larger social upheavals and changes (Guilbeault & Centola, 2021). Influencers with many followers may seem more appealing to people, but their opinions may not be valued because they start to seem fake. More on this below. 

What influence can they have? 

Some skeptical readers will think, “Hmmm!” at this point: “Some influencers and opinion leaders! After all, it’s all a load of baloney. What impact do they have!” Numerous studies, both by us and from elsewhere (see, e.g., Abidin, 2018; Mesipuu, 2022; Õunpuu 2019; Viru, 2019; Miil, 2019; Lukk, 2019; Kaljuvee, 2015), have over the past two decades conclusively proven that, whether we like it or not, they do influence us. The audience of a family blogger can be more significant than a provincial newspaper’s. A TikToker can have more followers than the most prestigious news channel, and a YouTuber’s opinion can outweigh that of a top politician. And the influencers are many and varied – there’s roosabanaanike posting on TikTok about nails, water safety, and vodka in turn. Still, there’s also Arvo Kassin, a pensioner doing home cooking on YouTube, there’s a far-right podcaster, and there’s a nine-year-old dancing star. While it is difficult to quantify the direct and quickly manifested impact of content creators (see e.g. Folkvord & de Bruijne, 2020), it can be argued that influencers do affect people’s purchasing behaviour (both in terms of preferring particular products over others, and in terms of lifestyle and consumption behaviour), health-related choices (diets, ideal body shapes, cosmetic surgery, attitudes towards vaccination, etc.), and political preferences (both support for specific political parties and politicians and broader beliefs about the world).  

A striking example is the ‘Naked Carrot Effect’. In 2019, an important influencer for many young women at the time, blogger Paljas Porgand [Naked Carrot], wrote about how birth control pills are harmful to health and recommended as an alternative a calendar-based monitor (because she had a cooperation agreement with the manufacturer and received financial benefits for recommending it), which gynecologists found to be very unreliable. After a while, Estonian gynecologists began to notice that in the case of unwanted pregnancies, the name Paljas Porgand and the recommendations from her blog came up in conversation with some patients (Laser, 2019). In other words, the impact of one influencer on the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies was noticeable, affecting in a very small way indirectly also the birth rate in Estonia and, unfortunately, the future of many young people and their family planning. 

More broadly, influencers influence social reality, culture, and communication itself. Yes, (teenage) content creators can strongly influence what we consider normal and abnormal, what is desirable, what deserves to be looked down upon, how we interact with each other, and what comprises basic knowledge and core texts. So even if we don’t think much of the influencer culture, or sometimes even ruthlessly make fun of it (see for example, @influencersinthewild on Instagram), we can’t claim that it is just an insignificant blip on the radar. Even the world’s most powerful have realised this – for example, in Russia’s war against Ukraine, influencers have a crucial role to play, so much so that the White House even briefed US TikTokers, once again legitimising the actors in the field. 

Old theories, new phenomena 

From the point of view of media and communication studies, this is a very old phenomenon. As early as the 1950s, there was talk of a two-tiered communication flow, the essence of which is, in a nutshell, as follows: messages are more effective when delivered by people who are important to social groups, who are opinion leaders. In the 1950s, these were mainly key figures in physical communities (village elders, clergy, etc.), but today, social media influencers are often the information mediators and opinion leaders.  

Speaking of social theories that are old but still relevant today, it is perhaps worth mentioning the theory of parasocial relationships, which dates back to 1956, according to which the media can create the illusion of a relationship that seems real to one party but actually is not. A good example are soap opera and reality show stars, whose fans and followers can feel that they know the person on the screen and are rooting for them like they would root for a friend. “What’s Esmeralda up to today?” or “How could Seidi say that?” The same feeling leads us to check if the YouTuber or blogger we follow has posted something new on their social media channels. It’s the same feeling that makes us take an interest in what a likable TikToker or Instagrammer is up to and follow them over a long period. In a parasocial relationship, members of the audience develop an illusory sense of intimacy, often accompanied by trust and identification.  

Of course, the so-called ‘grand old theories’ have been much more widely used in new studies of content creators (if you are curious, see Goffman’s concepts of front and backstage, Bourdieu’s use of the theory of capitals in the analysis of influencers’ activities, or Rogers’ application of the diffusion of innovation models in the context of this topic). 

Four E’s, or how do they do it? 

Researcher Crystal Abidin, who has studied internet celebrities and influencers for a long time, has identified four key qualities, or core values, on which an influencer’s actions can be built. These qualities can, of course, intertwine, and emphases can shift.  

Exclusivity means content creators provide their followers’ access to what is otherwise not accessible to ‘ordinary people.’ This often means exhibiting economic capital – expensive items, luxurious places, and events with exclusive access. We often see this value emerging in travel blogs, for example, and social media content created by the children of wealthy people.  

Exceptionalism attracts audiences above all because the content creator is truly special, an expert. Here, think of all the dancers, drummers, artists, craftsmen, etc. who are active on social media and have gone viral in a positive way. They can do something that we, the ‘ordinary people’, cannot. For example, YouTubers playing various games are currently very popular among children, and are often exceptionally good at this, having dedicated thousands of hours of expert knowledge and technical capital to Minecraft or Sea of Thieves, for example.  

Exoticism: in the case of exotic social media celebrities, the content creator is perceived as deviating from the conventional and ‘normal’ and is, therefore, interesting and worth watching. This could include all influencers who rely on shocking content, content creators with a unique physical appearance, and people who are super good at something weird, surprising, or unusual. Content creators focusing on the mukbang genre (eating large quantities of food) capture the attention of their followers through precisely such exotic cultural capital.  

Everydayness: the category of ‘everydayness’ is the most popular. Everydayness means that we can identify with the content creator, that they are human beings like us, and that they speak openly and authentically about their lives. Followers develop a sense of belonging, identification, and thus often a sense of community with other audience members, exchanging mainly social capital. This means that the content creators show that they are ‘real’ people with ‘real’ problems, not in staged situations. However, it should be remembered that there is always a certain degree of staging, thinking through, and performativity when creating social media content. For example, you can read more about all the techniques and strategies involved in Anett Taal’s bachelor thesis (2021). 

Be/seem sincere and talk to me!  

Despite the ‘dominant E’ choice, today’s content creators need to seem authentic and open to dialogue. We allow an influencer into our minds when we trust them when they seem sincere in what they do and say. When it comes to authenticity and intimacy, the why-it-works question has a simple answer: it is easier for me, as an ordinary person, to trust and identify with my neighbor Mary than with a distant Hollywood star. The first is probably wrestling with the same problems I am – worrying about soaring prices and poor weather during the holidays, wondering on social media what to rustle up for a meal with half a packet of lentils and lemon juice concentrate found in the corner of the larder. However, that old-school Hollywood star is living a life that I have little or nothing to do with: her words are carefully chosen by her PR team, she can be flown to the other side of the world to escape bad weather, a private chef and her abs prepare her meals are kept in optimal shape by a private trainer. This is why all the classic distant celebrities have gradually migrated to social media, trying to achieve a new kind of sincere and authentic (micro)fame or calibrated amateurism (Abidin, 2017). 

Sincerity can be expressed in myriad ways – naively materialistic, genre-true, predictable, philosophically profound, embarrassingly funny, passionately idealistic, whatever. However, if audiences notice that the influencer is trying too hard, imitating someone else, repeating predetermined marketing messages, being inconsistent in their core values, or hiding something, the content creator may be subjected to a wave of anger and ridicule and miss out on the most important capital in the attention economy – our eyes, ears, and fingertips.  

On the other hand, we don’t necessarily have to like the people we are passionately following. Hate-watching, or ironic watching, is a fairly common practice (Murumaa-Mengel & Siibak, 2020), in which an influencer is followed for the follower to feel better and more valuable. Scientific approaches distinguish between ‘upward’ social comparisons (with people who are better, more successful, and more beautiful than ourselves) and ‘downward’ social comparisons (with people we perceive as inferior, uglier, more stupid, etc.). Why did people avidly watch the Võsa-Pets shows, “Girls’ Night Out” and “Bachelor Party,” or look for the most obnoxious drunkards in the Facebook group Eestlaste kolmnurk to watch live? Downward social comparison certainly played an important role here. The characters of this genre, such as Rahaboss, Kidra, Lädra, and Papa Kährik (the reader can think of other social media celebrities relevant to them now), may not always appeal to us. Still, we can find ourselves empathising with them because of the parasocial relationship between us.  

The parasocial relationship becomes stronger when the influencer speaks to us – dialogic can take the form of a conversation, intertextual references, collaborative content, asking questions at the end of the video, taking quick polls, using the AMA genre, reading certain comments from the commentary, and paying attention to your followers. “We have been noticed!” and “They really want to know!” are important sentiments that bind us to social media content creators.  

So, the next time you’re following a content creator/influencer, why don’t you quietly count on your fingers the techniques and effects you recognise: consciously increasing/limiting the audience? Targeting messages to the broad field or the fringes? Upward or downward social comparison? Attempts to influence purchasing, health-related or political behavior? Paid or personal? What type of capital is moving? Is the expected impact personal or societal? Does it offer an opportunity for identification, or does it aim for exclusivity? Is it exceptional or exotic? Do they attempt to start a dialogue with you? What is sincere, and what is performative authenticity? Where does the line run?


Abidin, C. (2018). Internet celebrity: Understanding fame online. Emerald Group Publishing. 

Abidin, C. (2017). #familygoals: Family influencers, calibrated amateurism, and justifying young digital labor. Social Media+ Society, 3(2). 

Folkvord, F., & de Bruijne, M. (2020). The effect of the promotion of vegetables by a social influencer on adolescents’ subsequent vegetable intake: A pilot study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(7), 2243. 

Guilbeault, D., & Centola, D. (2021). Topological measures for identifying and predicting the spread of complex contagions. Nature Communications, 12(1), 1-9. 

Horton, D. & Richard Wohl, R. (1956). Mass communication and para-social interaction: Observations on intimacy at a distance. Psychiatry, 19(3), 215–229. 

Kaljuvee, K. (2015). Eesti sotsiaalmeedia mikrokuulsuste kasutatavad tähelepanu pälvimise strateegiad. Bakalaureusetöö, juhendaja M. Murumaa-Mengel. University of Tartu, Institute of Social Studies. 

Katz, E. & Lazarsfeld, P. F. (1955). Personal influence: The part played by people in the flow of mass communications. New York: The Free Press. 

Lukk, L.-J. (2019). Perekonnana avalikult internetis: (video)blogijate sisuloomepraktikad ja laste kaasamisega seonduvate eetiliste dilemmade mõtestamine. Bakalaureusetöö, juhendaja M. Murumaa-Mengel. University of Tartu, Institute of Social Studies. 

Mesipuu, B. (2022) Suunamudijate turundustegevuse tajumine ja ostukäitumisele suunamine – Eesti noorte arvamused ja kogemused. Magistritöö, juhendaja M. Sukk. University of Tartu, Institute of Social Studies. 

Miil, M. (2019). 9–13-aastaste Eesti noorte vaatamiseelistused YouTube’is ja eetiliselt probleemse sisu tõlgendused. Bakalaureusetöö, juhendaja M. Murumaa-Mengel. University of Tartu, Institute of Social Studies. 

Murumaa-Mengel, M. & Siibak, A. (2020). From Fans to Followers to Anti-Fans: Young Online Audiences of Microcelebrities. In: M. Filimowicz & V. Tzankova (Ed.). Reimagning Communication: Meaning. (228−245). London: Routledge. 

Park, J., Lee, J. M., Xiong, V. Y., Septianto, F., & Seo, Y. (2021). David and Goliath: when and why micro-influencers are more persuasive than mega-influencers. Journal of Advertising, 50(5), 584-602. 

Taal, A. (2021). Teooriast praktikasse: auditooriumi tähelepanu äratava ja säilitava YouTube’i sisu loomise strateegiate rakendamine. Bakalaureusetöö, juhendaja M. Murumaa-Mengel. University of Tartu, Institute of Social Studies. 

De Veirman, M., Cauberghe, V., & Hudders, L. (2017). Marketing through Instagram influencers: the impact of number of followers and product divergence on brand attitude. International Journal of Advertising, 36(5), 798-828. 

Viru, K. (2019). Eesti teismeliste tüdrukute kommertskoostööle orienteeritud tähelepanu püüdmise strateegiad sotsiaalmeedias. Bakalaureusetöö, juhendaja M. Murumaa-Mengel. University of Tartu, Institute of Social Studies. 

Õunpuu, P. (2019). Mõjuliidrite kaasamine reklaamikampaaniatesse: eetiliste probleemide kaardistamine siseringi uurijana. Magistritöö, juhendaja M. Murumaa-Mengel. University of Tartu, Institute of Social Studies

Read full article: Paljas Porgand põhjustab soovimatute beebide buumi? Laser, 30. september, 2019. 

Teacher/youth worker toolkit: analysing content created by influencers  

Regardless of whether or not the teacher and the students are aware of the latest and most popular content creators, the following analysis plan can still be used to work with students. The material (influencer videos) could be brought to class by the students, and the analysis should be done together. The teacher should certainly not claim to be the holder of ultimate truth and knowledge.  

Here is a plan of how to address the topic of influencers together with students in one or more lessons, whereby different points can be omitted, combined, etc., at your discretion: 

  1. First, you should write on a whiteboard, a digital notecard, a joint document, etc., what/whom you will talk about. What other words are used for influencers in Estonian and other languages? Which terms are most appropriate? How do students feel about the word “suunamudija“? Do they know how the word was introduced to our language? Can they find the answer in one minute? 
  2. Working in groups: who, in the students’ opinion, are their age group’s most popular or famous influencers? It is important to note and discuss together whether and how the categories ‘favourite’, ‘popular’ and ‘famous’ differ, as they may not have the same meaning – for example, some people are ‘hate-watched’ or ‘hate-followed’. (Read more at:
  3. Joint discussion: who are the examples that come to mind most often? Write the names on a whiteboard/in a single digital document and add +1 for those already mentioned to identify the most frequently mentioned content creators. You can also discuss: Which platforms are they featured on? Where did they become famous? Which platform is their ‘home base’?  
  4. Working in pairs: search and compare. To introduce a recent historical perspective for children and young people, you could look together at page 14 of Marget Miil’s Bachelor’s thesis, defended in 2019 at the University of Tartu (you could also give the assignment to find this thesis) and discuss whether any of the things mentioned in the thesis are still relevant and well-known. Who don’t students know at all? What might be the reasons why some influencers have lost their fame? What can this mean for the influencer (possible mental, financial, or work-related problems). How hard is the job of a content creator? (Additional material revealing the darker side of the job:
  5. Ask students to choose one video to watch together, preferably a slightly longer audiovisual text, as this will allow more time and nuance to be noticed. A precondition may be that the video does not contain any illegal activities substantially harmful to the author or others. Discussion options: What are these activities? What must an influencer NOT do? Do any laws or codes of ethics govern them? You might want to look at the Guide for Advertisers in Social Media, the Advertising Act, the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia. Are today’s content creators complying with these requirements? (Further information: – there is also a video.)
  6. Watch the selected video together (once). Discuss in pairs or groups of three: what is important to notice about this video? If you had to write a guide for your little sister/grandfather/alien, what would you point out? Draw up a list of aspects that can be analysed. The teacher may provide some examples (see below for a long list of possible analysis questions). 
  7. Together, analyse different aspects of the selected text. You can prepare an analysis matrix for the students or have a more informal discussion. The analysis can be summarised by a poster designed in Canva – you can print it out for Media Week! For the questions below, it is important to clarify in advance that ‘text’ can mean more than just a written text. It can also be a photo, a piece of music, a video, etc. They all tell us a story. We just need some special knowledge to understand it. Special knowledge might mean that you can see the symbols in Caravaggio’s painting of a fruit basket from around 1600 and know the secret meanings of the work (that the wedge is a symbol of Satan and seduction, etc.). Similarly, there are symbols and cryptic meanings in the texts of today’s content creators (slang, visible and recognisable status trademarks, etc.). Critical reading of a media text involves, among other things, seeking answers to various questions about the text itself, its author and structure, and the sources used or the meanings and points of view contained in the text. For example, while reading the text, the following nuances could be analysed together, the teacher could choose from this list of questions, divide the different focuses among the students, or let the students choose what they want to analyse, if necessary, by letting them group and structure the questions beforehand. 
  1. Who is the author of the text?
  2. What is their background and their socio-demographic characteristics? 
  3. Who do they resemble, and who do they not? 
  4. How big a part of society are people like this influencer? 
  5. What/who is this text about? What (new) information does it provide? 
  6. What information is missing? Where are the information gaps? Has something been deliberately left out?  
  7. Who else can you see/hear in the video? Do they support or oppose the main character? 
  8. What does this text show?  
  9. What can we hear in this text? 
  10. Which are the verbal parts? 
  11. What is the level of technical execution? Deliberately amateur or professional? Why? 
  12. What tools are needed to create such content? 
  13. Is this authentic content? Why do you think so? 
  14. How does the content creator speak to their audience? What expressions do they use? 
  15. Do they respond to comments or engage in some kind of dialogue?
  16. Is there a call to action in their text? 
  17. Is there a conflict in the video? Between whom, between what? 
  18. What other criteria of classic news value can be found?  
  19. Which genre does the text belong to? Can it be identified? A genre is a text with clearly recognisable features, e.g., GRWM, Let’s Play, haul, 73 questions, etc.  (An overview of YouTube genres and short descriptions in Estonian (as of 2017) can be found on pages 13-17 of this thesis:
  20. Do you notice any opinions about what is shown in the video? How do you know, on a word level, that the author has a certain attitude towards the topic/characters? 
  21. How do you see it on the visual level? 
  22. What about on the audio level? 
  23. Which words are used in the text, and what is their meaning?  
  24. Are there any metaphors used in the text? Why might the author of the text have chosen this particular metaphor? 
  25. In which direction is the text trying to shape the audience’s behavior? Could this be deliberate? In which direction is the text trying to shape public opinion?  
  26. What could be the societal impacts?  
  27. Can these be conscious and deliberate choices?  
  28. What is presented as the past, what is the present, and what is the future?  
  29. What facts have been presented, and, where relevant, have they been proven? 
  30. What views have been expressed? Whose views are these? 
  31. How does the information in the text relate to what was already known about the event/phenomenon/person?  
  32. Were any sources cited? Which sources? Oral? Written? Digital? 
  33. On which platform was the text published?  
  34. What can/can’t you do on this platform? 
  35. What are the rules on this platform? What is done and what is not? What is approved and what is frowned upon? 
  36. Who runs this platform? How can you make money on this platform? 
  37. In whose interest was this text created? Who could benefit from the publication of this text? Is it tagged? 
  38. Can anyone understand these possible links, or does it require specialised knowledge? 
  39. Is it a global or local text?  
  40. Who are the target audience? 
  41. Why do people follow this content creator? 
  42. Who definitely doesn’t follow this content creator? Who is this text not intended for? 
  43. How can a content creator find out who is following them? Is this an adequate overview? 
  44. Is it an original text, a translation or an adaptation? Has the video used elements of content created by others?  
  45. To what extent must copyright be taken into account? 
  46. Do the verbal text and the (audio)visual material match and tell the same story? 
  47. Who can be seen in the visual part? Are they alone? Are they together with someone or something? 
  48. What are they doing? Are they active or passive?
  49. Who or what is in the centre? Who takes up the most space? Who’s in front, and who’s in the background?  (MMM is also currently in the process of unraveling this topic, but here are a few examples: for more information on the theory of “reading” visuals.)
  50. How are the characters positioned in the visuals? Who is higher and who is lower? Who’s on the left and who’s on the right?  
  51. Who appears bigger and who appears smaller? 
  52. Where are people looking? To the side? In whose direction? In the direction of the viewer? 
  53. What is the surrounding environment like? Was the video recorded indoors or outdoors? In a private or public space? In the country or in the city? Is it even clear? 
  54. What are the overall modality and colours of the video? Gloomy or cheerful? Black-and-white or coloured? Has the video been edited or not? 
  55. Where is the camera? Higher, lower, or at the same level as the person in the video? FYI: When the camera is higher than the person being captured, it creates a smaller, weaker, and more vulnerable impression (as if an adult is looking down on a child). On the other hand, if the camera is positioned lower than the subject, it can create the impression of a powerful, dominant, large, and even dangerous subject (as if a small child were looking down on a large person). The most neutral capture level is considered at the same level as the person, at about eye level. This technique is often used in video interviews with children or film scenes showing a child’s view of the world, with the camera at the child’s eye level. In this way, an equal relationship between the viewer and the person being watched can be established.
  56. What is the thumbnail of the video? Why did they choose that? 
  57. What is the title? Why? 
  58. How fast-paced is the video? Where have the editing cuts been made? 
  59. Which parts are accelerated and which parts are slowed down? 
  60. What is the lighting? Has any lighting equipment been used? 
  61. Was the video recorded by the author alone or did they need someone’s help? 
  62. How could the making of this video be viewed from the side? (
  63. What preparations were needed to make the video? 
  64. How do you think the different parts were recorded? If the video was probably made in several takes, how authentic is the content of the fifth take? 
  65. Has someone paid for some parts of it or otherwise rewarded the content creator? 
  66. Does the content creator sell their own products? 
  67. Who are the main target group? 
  68. Are there any children in the video? Which ethical and legal considerations may be involved? 
  69. Does the video feature cigarettes, vaping, alcohol, or drugs? Violence? Political and ideological preferences? Propaganda and misinformation?  
  70. To what extent, if at all, can an influencer affect what their followers consider to be cool? What behaviour do they emulate? 
  71. Who could be harmed by this content creator’s content? 
  72. Can they be held liable? How? 
  73. What other questions could be asked about this text? [the list of questions can always be supplemented] 

It should be stressed, however, that in the case of media texts, we cannot speak of a single correct way of interpreting and understanding them, since different people may perceive the same text in very different ways. Similarly, the author of a text may not always be aware of the assessments and hidden meanings in their text, as, for example, the fast pace of work may force them to make choices that are simply the most common.