The Rise of Parasocial Relationships

Since the beginning of the pandemic, people have had to change the way they interact with others. This has led to a rise in screen time, social media use, and the digitalization of human interactions. 

It’s been more than a year since the first lockdown was enforced, and the general public has had to adapt in unique ways. Apps like Party House, Zoom, TikTok, and ClubHouse have made it possible for people to stay connected. 

Now, we’re in a situation where many people are able to create and maintain parasocial relationships with ease. Let’s analyze this further, shall we? 

What are Parasocial Relationships?

Parasocial relationships are connections formed through online interactions and digital experiences. YouTubers tend to form strong parasocial relationships with their audiences because their fans are invested in their lives. 

They interact with each other and have shared digital experiences over an extended period of time. Parasocial relationships are one of the reasons why the BeeHive fiercely supports and defends Beyoncé – an ultra superstar most of them will never meet in person. 

Similarly, the average person can form deep connections with others without ever meeting them in person. This happens more often with social media platforms that make us feel connected to others with constant updates about others’ lives and thoughts. 

An entire romantic relationship and friendship can be born and cultivated through online interactions. 

What Platforms Help Form Parasocial Relationships?

This is a complicated question because there are many ways that parasocial relationships can be formed and maintained. Some of them are more common than others. Here are the top two that we can analyze. 

  • Online Communities

In the past 5 years, more and more online communities have formed to bring like-minded people together without the boundaries of geography. 

One of these is the Online Community that was created for followers of Om Swami to learn more about wellness and spirituality. With a reach of over 90,000 users, a survey was conducted to analyze whether members felt connected to each other. 

72.4% of members say that they feel connected to each other. They’ve never met, but they connect with each other through the articles they write about their personal experiences. 

Platforms like Medium also give users the ability to share personal/professional articles with their followers. It’s possible to follow someone for years and feel connected to them because of the “shared experiences” you’ve had over time. 

Through blogs, short-form articles, and comments, people are able to form communities and feel connected to each other. This is incredibly important in times of social isolation. 

According to Muck Rack Trends, from August 2020-March 2021, there was a sharp rise in articles written about online communities. Over 5,500 articles were written per month about this topic because people were looking for a means of connecting with others. 

  • Social Media 

Social media platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and many others have made it possible for the world to stay connected. People don’t even have to be famous or well-known to enjoy interacting with others. 

In this generation, it’s not uncommon for people to even form bonds with their Twitter followers and end up forming lasting relationships with them. When you have the same interests and share a similar sense of humor, then it’s easier to build a foundation for the start of a parasocial relationship. 

Some people go as far as to marry people they meet on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Others have fun flings, great life lessons, or great friends. 

When it was nearly impossible to meet people in-person to network, connect, and have fun, social media platforms bridged that gap and made it possible for people to stay “social.”

Can Parasocial Relationships be Meaningful? 

Whether or not a relationship is meaningful is rather subjective. It depends on what the person values and deems important in a relationship. 

However, most people can agree that a meaningful parasocial relationship would include some of the following traits: 

  1. Positive interactions 
  2. People feel connected to each other
  3. Shared experiences 
  4. Enjoyable interactions 
  5. Consistent and reliable support or advice

The list can be altered depending on whether the parasocial relationship is professional, inspirational, romantic, or platonic. In a recent survey conducted with members, 57.3% reported that they had developed meaningful parasocial relationships with others in their online community. 

It’s possible to form meaningful parasocial connections but that’s not always the case. Some of those interactions are shallow and uneventful. But the studies show that it is in fact possible to form meaningful parasocial relationships with people in an online community. 

Final Thoughts

We’ve found ways to adapt to the unprecedented circumstances we have no control over. Parasocial relationships are more common than they ever were and are likely to become even more popular. 

Whether or not this is good is also subjective. 

There are those who could’ve slipped into a deep depression if it wasn’t for the parasocial relationships that kept them feeling encouraged and engaged. This aspect of the digital era we live in is worth exploring further!

Author Bio

Pearl M. Kasirye
Pearl M. Kasirye

Pearl M. Kasirye is the Head of PR at Pearl Lemon. She is a researcher and a writer who loves to share her work with her audience.

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