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Analysis of Fashion Consumers Motives to Engage in Electronic Word-of-Mouth

Communication through Social Media

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to analyse consumers interactions with fashion brands on social
networking sites, focusing on consumers motives to engage in electronic Word-of-Mouth
(eWOM) communication.1 Existing WOM motivation frameworks are synthesised (e.g.
Dichter, 1966; Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004) in order to identify seven potential motives that
influence consumers to engage in eWOM on Facebook and Twitter. Subsequently, the
motives are incorporated into an extended Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) model (Ajzen
and Fishbein, 1980) and initially tested in the context of fashion-related eWOM, utilising pre-
existing measures in a quantitative empirical study. Based on correlation and ANOVA
analysis, results demonstrate that all the hypothesised motivations influence consumers
eWOM engagement in the fashion context. Interestingly, the results indicate that consumers
are motivated by economic incentives irrespective of their level of eWOM engagement. In
addition, the main tenets of the TRA are confirmed in the online social media context, with
both attitude and subjective norms mediating fashion brand related eWOM engagement.

1
For the purposes of this study, engaging in eWOM communication refers to all of the following:
writing, liking, sharing, recommending , commenting on, and tweeting fashion brand-related messages
on Facebook and/ or Twitter. A fashion brand-related message includes a post, link, comment or tweet.
Introduction

With ever increasing prevalence, social networking sites are being used by consumers to
connect with one another, and increasingly to connect consumers with brands and vice versa.
This means that, on one hand, research is needed to understand consumers motives for
engaging in social media communication; why do people write comments and posts on social
networks; what makes them communicate in this way about brands? On the other hand, to
examine the various opportunities brands have in order to understand and possibly influence
consumers engagement in eWOM communication as this may ultimately lead to an increase
in brand awareness as well as sales.

Purpose of the paper and contribution

To date, there is a dearth of frameworks specifically developed for the e-business context.
Therefore, and due to the fact that the principal idea is the same, various authors refer to
WOM theory to explain eWOM (Trusov et al., 2009; Xiaofen and Yiling, 2009; Keller and
Berry, 2006; Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004). The differential features in the electronic medium
are related to the speed with which information travels in cyberspace, the extent of access to
large volume of information and the many-to-many nature of online communications.
Correspondingly, electronic word-of-mouth communication (eWOM) can be defined as
positive or negative statements made about a product, company, or media personality that
are made widely available via the Internet (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004: 39). For the purpose
of this research, eWOM is broadened to include non-textual communications, which can be
observed by peers such as liking a brand on Facebook or recommending (retweeting) a
story on Twitter, as well as the more traditional product reviews and comments on social
networks.

Much of the existing research into commercial uses of social networks has focused on
understanding the impact of social media usage on brands and their ability to monetize it.
(Dellarocas, 2003; Smith et al. 2007; Trusov et al. 2009; Xiaofen & Yiling, 2009; Moran,
2010, Kozinets, et al., 2010; Abedniya & Mahmouei, 2010). While it is, undoubtedly, useful
for brands to know this, it should be of interest to both academics and practitioners to better
understand what motivates consumers to engage with brand-related stories on social networks
in the first place, and thus how brands can encourage or discourage these behaviours. This
study aims to bridge this gap by reviewing existing offline consumer motivation research
(Dichter, 1966; Sunduram, et al., 1998; Ryan & Deci, 2000) and subsequently apply it in the
context of fashion brand related eWOM. This context is deemed to be particularly revealing,
as fashion itself is known to spread through network effects; fashion is also a powerful social
symbol used to create and communicate personal identities. Thus, the results of this research
can help brands to better understand how to influence peer-to-peer communications on social
media without the use of traditional advertising techniques.

Literature review

Trusov, Bucklin and Pauwels (2009), alongside other authors (e.g. Thorson and Rodgers,
2006; Brown et al., 2007; Abedniya and Mahmouei, 2010), argue that the effectiveness of
word-of-mouth marketing in both the short and long terms exceeds that of traditional
marketing activities. The authors explain the effects of WOM and marketing actions within a
social network setting through a conceptual model (Figure 1). Not only does the Trusov et al.
(2009) model of eWOM marketing demonstrates that online peer-to-peer recommendations
are expected to lead to new users on brands social networks (becoming a fan or a
follower of a brand), but the reverse is also true. In addition, traditional marketing may also
encourage WOM referrals (e.g. product recommendations), which may produce new signups.
According to Trusov et al., (2009) WOM referrals do not impact on traditional marketing.
However, the opposite may be true when considering eWOM within the social media context,
as consumers online comments may lead to changes in brands marketing response and may
even shape marketing campaigns. Brands are increasingly looking to consumers comments
for inspiration in terms of advertising campaigns and even new product development. This is
often referred as crowdsourcing and co-creation within the digital marketing toolbox
(Wolny, 2009).

Figure 1: WOM Model in the Internet context

Source: Adapted from Trusov et al., 2009.

The question emerging from this analysis is what motivates consumers to engage in online
brand-related communications.

Dichters (1966) motivation research forms the basis of the theoretical framework for this
research. He identified four major motivators for WOM in an offline setting, which include
product involvement, self-involvement (or self-enhancement), other involvement (or concern
for others) and message involvement. Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004) added several more
motives based on pre-analysis of other theories (Engel, Blackwell, & Miniard; Sunduram et
al. 1998) such as consumers desire for social interaction, the desire for economic incentives
and advice seeking. Based on comparative analysis presented in table 1, those seven motives
are proposed for application to the context of fashion brand-related online communications.

Table 1: Comparison of motives for engaging in WOM

Dichter (1966) Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004)

Product Involvement Economic Incentives


Self-Involvement = Self-Enhancement
Other Involvement = Concern for others
Message Involvement Social Interaction/ Benefits
Advice Seeking

Source: Adapted from Dichter, 1966; Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004

Some of these motives relate to peoples intrinsic motivations, where the activity itself, not
the end-result, is rewardin: such as product involvement, concern for others and message
involvement (Lesser and Madabhushi, 2001). Extrinsic motivations, on the other hand, occur
when performing a task is linked to a reward such as the desire for economic incentives (Lin,
2007).

Theoretical framework development

In order to better understand the link between consumer motivations and behaviour the
research adapts the Theory of Reasoned Action model (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980) proposing
that this relationship is mediated by attitudes and subjective norms. Figure 2 presents the
variables included in the theoretical framework and the ensuing hypotheses, which are
described in Appendix 1.
 Dependent variable: Behaviour (consumers engagement in eWOM communication
on Facebook and/or Twitter).
 Independent variable: consumers motives for eWOM engagement.
 Extraneous variable: attitudes and subjective norm with regard to engagement in
eWOM communication.
Due to constraints on the complexity of this study, the variable intention within the TRA is
included only for conceptual purposes, and is not measured.

Figure 2. Theoretical framework

Methodology

A self-administered, internet-mediated questionnaire was distributed online through email


and Facebook, utilising a snowball sampling technique (Saunders et al., 2009). While this
generated an Internet- and social-network literate sample of 154 users, we accept that results
are not representative of the general population. The measures utilised in the questionnaire
relating to the above variables were adapted form Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004) (i.e. consumer
motives) and from Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) (i.e. attitudes and subjective norms) and
applied within the context social media (Facebook and Twitter only). For summary of
measures please refer to Appendix 2. The distribution of scores for each scale was checked,
revealing that the collected data was not normally distributed. Hence, the subsequent analysis
was based on non-parametric tests; however, an ANOVA test was conducted despite it being
a parametric technique as it is relatively tolerant of violations of this assumption if large
enough sample sizes (>30) are present (Pallant, 2010).
Sample description and analysis

Within the sample, 76 per cent of respondents were female, and 24 per cent were male. In
terms of age, the majority (71 per cent) were in their twenties, 21 per cent in their thirties, 3
per cent in their teens, and 5 per cent in their forties (N = 154). Only 19 per cent of
respondents indicated that they use social networks to recommend products/brands to
friends, which shows that the commercial use of networks may not yet have reached its full
potential or alternatively that consumers priority when using social media might always
remain to be its social aspect. For those respondents that do not engage with fashion brand
related communication on Twitter/Facebook (21 per cent), this was mostly due to the fact that
it does not interest them (42 per cent), or that they do not have time (24 per cent).
Respondents also demonstrated that they place more trust in peer communications than in
brand communications, with 51 per cent agreeing and 15 per cent strongly agreeing with the
statement I trust what other people say more than what the brand says this was true for
both experts and friends; conversely 23 per cent of respondents strongly disagreed with a
statement I trust what is said by the brand.

One-way ANOVA analysis revealed that there are significant differences in the impact of all
the hypothesised motives between those that engage in fashion brand related eWOM and
those that dont (p<0.001). The least significant differences were observed for the motivation
economic incentives only exhibiting significant difference between those that often and
rarely engage in fashion-related eWOM behaviour (p<0.001). It can be argued that the
economic incentives are a poor motivator for online engagement, or conversely that all users
are equally motivated by economic incentives, where they engage in eWOM or not.
Spearmans Rho correlations also showed a significant (p<0.001) and positive relationship
between all independent variables and extraneous variables with the dependent variable. The
strongest correlation have been noted between eWOM engagement and product involvement
(r=.49); eWOM engagement and social interaction (r=.49); and eWOM engagement and
economic incentives (r=46). There is also a relatively strong correlation between eWOM
engagement and the extraneous variables attitudes (r=.49), and a weaker one for subjective
norms (r=.37). This means that consumers attitudes prove to be decisive in the process of
engaging in eWOM communication, whereas subjective norm may have a lesser influence on
consumers eWOM.

Table 2. Spearmans Rho correlation

eWOM Product Self- Concern M essage Social


Engagem Involveme Involve for Involveme Interacti Economic Advice Subjective
ent nt ment Others nt on Incentives Seeking Attitudes Norm
eWOM Engagement - .49* .45* .37* .39* .49* .46* .39* .49* .37*
Product Involvement - .43* .48* .49* .48* .39* .51* .53* .29*
Self-Involvement - .52* .41* .38* .38* .45* .39* .30*
Concern for Others - .56* .37* .30* .52* .42* .30*
M essage Involvement - .41* .32* .47* .39* .22*
Social Interaction - .51* .42* .55* .31*
Economic Incentives - .51* .46* .31*
Advice Seeking - .48* .32*
Attitudes - .46*
Subjective Norm -
*Correlation is significant at the .001 level (1-tailed)
Note: r=.10 to .29 =>small, r= .30 to .49 = > medium, r= .50 to 1.0 => large

Conclusions
Following the correlation as well as ANOVA analyses, all previously stated hypotheses H1-
H8 are supported please refer to Appendix 1. Fashion-related eWOM communication is
found to be motivated by product involvement, self-involvement, concern for others, message
involvement, social interaction, economic incentives and advice seeking.

According to Dichter (1966) product involvement makes people want to share a pleasant
experiences they might have had with a product. Our results indicate that within social media,
positive view of a fashion product has a slightly stronger correlation to eWOM than a
negative opinion. This is an aspect Dichter (1966) has not explicitly considered. Interestingly,
on Facebook, there is no dislike button which considering the results obtained would
probably be used almost as much as the like button. However, fashion brands will most
likely perceive the absence of the dislike button as a relief.
In support of Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004), social interaction also exhibits one of the strongest
correlations (r=.49, p<0.001) with engagement in eWOM, perhaps not surprisingly
considering the social nature of the context studied. Economic incentives refer to rewards
given by companies to consumers who spread the word in terms of recommending products
encouraging friends to become a fan of a particular brand on Facebook. Spearmans
correlation shows a positive and significant correlation result (r= .46). Previous research (e.g.
Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004) has also found economic incentives to be a particularly
influential motive. Interestingly, results indicate that consumers are motivated by economic
incentives irrespective of their level of eWOM engagement. This means even people who
rarely engage in eWOM communication will most likely tell others about it given an
incentive.
Application of the TRA model (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980) showed the significance of further
two variables, attitudes subjective norms, in mediating the fashion brand related eWOM
behaviour.

For practitioners, the results confirm some existing practices in social media marketing,
whereby brands engage with opinion leaders by offering them special offers (economic
incentives) on products they like (product involvement) so that they generate positive eWOM
communication on social networks, such as writing product-related posts, forwarding and
sharing messages to their network (social interaction). More importantly perhaps, brands
should be able to accept that they do not necessarily have the power to artificially influence
eWOM. Consumer-triggered messages motivated by concern for others or advice seeing
often drive peer-to-peer communications online. Brands could do worse than allow this to
happen and simply use the information to understand their customers better.

Limitations and recommendations for future research

Despite adding to a growing body of knowledge on online consumer behaviours, the results
of this study should be treated with caution. Firstly, the sample is not representative of
general population, as it is intentionally biased towards those who already use social media.
Secondly, the behaviours are studied in the context of fashion brands, and only on two of the
numerous social media networks Facebook and Twitter, excluding blogs, product review
sites and other media. Additionally, we decided not to measure intention and focus instead
solely on stated behaviours. This can be argued to be a more reliable measure, but deviates
from the original TRA model. Despite its limitations, this research paves the way for future
studies that can apply the extended TRA framework developed here, to other contexts with
the online domain. We would also like to see more in- depth consumer motivation research
being conducted, utilising robust qualitative procedures. Particular attention should be paid to
the co-creative capacity of consumers word-of-mouth to influence the brands image and
perceived value.

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Appendix 1
Appendix 2