Another research project back from my business degree days – circa 2010. Such an interesting topic still and relevant even today.
Introduction and The Research Problem
Social Media has become a new and useful tool in developing brand awareness and tracking or persuading consumer evaluation. What has not been taken so far into consideration is the controlled and uncontrolled discussions about products that social media can provide such as advertisements and peer reviews relating to what has been searched by consumers, along with groups to comment on specific products to gaining opinions from users to achieve an unconscious persuaded product evaluation. This phenomenon can be defined as “any form of online publication that allows the user to be engaged with many conversations about that content on any website that allows this function” (Online Matters, (n.d.)). There is a need for a definitive model to understand how consumers are persuaded in a digital realm and to see how conversations by companies can persuade individual’s opinions and the choices that are then reflected upon themselves.
In this research analysis, it will be looking into the interaction between the Private Self Awareness Effect and the Persuasion Knowledge Model on a social media platform. It will be a mixed methods study into how consumers are persuaded in the online realm of social media and how they believe their choices are then reflected on themselves.
It is important to define the two key concepts before interpreting the literature. The Private Self Awareness Effect, developed by Goukens, Dewitte and Warlop (2009) where they define this effect as a concept where an individual assumes that at any given time they will be focusing on themselves in an environment that has personal, social and cultural consequences. The Persuasion Knowledge Model is ”how peoples persuasion knowledge influences their responses to persuasion attempts” (Friestad & Wright, 1994). There is already an evident connection between the two concepts, understanding its interaction in a digital realm has not been understood as yet.
The Private Self Evaluation Effect as stated previously was developed by Goukens, Dewitte and Warlop (2009) where they define this effect as a concept where an individual assumes that at any given time they will be focusing on themselves in an environment that has personal social and cultural consequences. This is an effective theory to look into as social media reflects on an individual which perhaps can influence decisions made. This is due to social media being able to personify their tastes in a contextual environment where “personal preferences are built” (Goukens, C., Dewitte, S., and Warlop, L., 2009) in order to reduce relative discrepancies in decision making. The tool Goukens et. al. (2009) used in order to develop this concept is personal preferences and the power of choice in alternatives, or in other words, the level of attitude-behaviour consistency, would be an explanatory tool to show an interaction between this and the Persuasion Knowledge Model. This assumes that a consumer variety seeks, which in this research problem we assume this would be done prior to gaining information online, whilst being able to compromise options based on personal preference (Goukens et. al., 2009). Sassenberg, Boos and Rabung (2005) discuss the Private Self Awareness Effect as a moderator or a mediator in face to face and computer-mediated communication. This mixed methods analysis has created a basis to work off when considering persuasion through companies in social media. Their study focused on interpersonal versus norm based influences and how attitudes change because of the Private Self Awareness Effect. It did not delve however too extensively into the emotions and how consumers cope with persuasion that influenced the effect and this will be a focus of this study as an extension to Sassenberg, Boos and Wright’s analysis. The Persuasion Knowledge Model is, according to Friedstad and Wright (1994), “a model of how people’s persuasion knowledge influences their responses to persuasion attempts.” Their study broadened the idea of the consumers ability to be learn about persuasion over time in which this makes an interesting when applied along with how consumers feel their choices reflect on themselves. Below is their diagram that can aid in further creating a model that can be used in analysing the collected data.
The diagram shows the connection between knowledge gained of a specified product and its influence on whether individuals are persuaded over time. Their study depicts proving the model above exists in persuasion attempts in advertising and selling attempts by companies. This can prove helpful as Friestad and Wright have already pretested this model against others to find this to be the optimal Venn diagram to base further studies on and will be used in this research to ensure accuracy as a measuring tool.
It is important to also understand, as the research will undoubtedly bring up choice factors as contributing factors, if not the mediator or moderator of this research. The mechanics of choice that Simonson (1989) discussed, found that “people who experience greater decision conflict are more susceptible to the compromise effect” (Goukens et. al., 2009), and there fore this should be treated as an alternative result as this can have an influencing factor on the results this study could arrive at. Simonson (1989) first describes choice as having two types of uncertainty, these being uncertain about future consequences of current actions and uncertainty about future preferences regarding those consequences. The latter has not been developed in research in as much depth as the first but both conclude that uncertainty represents the true value of alternatives.
Uncertainty is at the heart of this research topic where consumers need the assurance of their choices that are influenced by social media that leads to a persuaded product evaluation. One could go so far as to say that choice and decision making, can prove to define a moderator to the research topic. Tversky and Kahneman (1986) discuss the current theories of decision making and where issues and improvements have been assumed. The belief now is that decision making is a “logical analysis of games of chance” in order to pursue goals, learn from experience and increase survival in a competitive environment (Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D, 1986).
Iyengar and Lepper (2000) addressed the choices consumers make and whether having many choices or a limited amount affects motivation and with an increase of choices, a fall in a thorough consideration, and ability to process choices, effectively is proven. They note that value and risk of an individual’s decision making must also be taken into account as these are important factors in the psychological analysis of choice. The studies done in this article by Tversky and Kahneman (1986) prove how relevant this concept can be to the topic at hand. The studies establish that having a greater choice increases frustration and difficulty as finding the best possible option is hindered and having a greater amount of choices does increase dissatisfaction (Iyengar, & Lepper, 2000). When in the social media situation, it is necessary to understand this concept through knowing how the consumers are motivated and where this motivation is strongest alongside persuasion and how it is reflected upon themselves through company specifications and reviews. Choice is a key factor in arguing the interconnectedness of the two concepts being considered and will have a factor when analysing the transcribed data from the research that will be done.
No research article has looked as thoroughly into the emotions that persuasion would have on product evaluation and how it reflects on how others see them. The mixed methods research that will follow should show an interaction between the two concepts and discover from different view points, the emphasis this will play not only in academia but also in practice.
The Research Question
In order to analyse whether there is an interaction between the Private Self Awareness Effect and the Persuasion Knowledge Model in a social media setting the following research question can be established: In a social media setting, will there be an interaction between the Private Self Awareness Effect and the Persuasion Knowledge Model when comments are made by companies? And, why might this occur?The contribution this research would have on academia is that there is no research currently focused on social media’s influence on the private self awareness effect. With data collected it can contribute to current theory and enhance the concept that social media is a tool consumers utilise in order to evaluate purchase decisions both consciously and unconsciously. This research can prove that the use of emotional processes, consumers are able to evaluate given information quicker through this medium and should be less apprehensive of persuasion attempts by companies.
The Research Proposition
The expected relationships in the research are the ones between persuasion, self awareness and choice. Two hypotheses can therefore stem from the above literature review and research question. There will be a third hypotheses that will stem from the first research to further analyse the topic at hand. It is important to also note that the hypotheses and research questions will be reviewed and adjusted if necessary after each study according to the design of qualitative analysis.
There will be a positive interaction between the Private Self Awareness Effect and the Persuasion Knowledge Model when persuasion attempts are by companies. It will follow the following trend as set out graphically below.It would be expected that the Private Self Awareness will fall when there is low involvement by companies in the persuasion process, and vice versa.
Studies have been done around social media as to how it reflects on consumers lives. This is primarily proven in the youth demographic by Debra Viadero (2008) where she addresses issues such as “ethical behavior of adolescent school students, legitimacy of information and their use in social media”. This relates to understanding around the topic where key statistics have been found that “28% have created their own online journals or blogs and 26% remix content they find online into their own creations” (Viadero, D., 2008) This adds to the research question as perhaps a focus more on the youths to beginning of middle aged should be focused on as more individuals in these age groups are influencing others through social media as shown below and perhaps could and should be utilised by companies.
This diagram gives an idea of the spread of ages involved in social media, and can give this research a conceptual idea to where the target market for companies lie. Through the use of this diagram in the research design, it can aid in ensuring key samples are utilised to their maximum potential. Also, within an article by Noreen O’Leary (2010) it was discussed that social media is the evolution of word of mouth and will be an incredibly powerful communications tool. (Flickr, 2010)
As stated before, social media is a more widely used resource for businesses to promote their products and for consumers to review good and bad experiences. Large companies such as Microsoft and Apple are finding ways in which social media can be incorporated into their applications and how it would improve their business. Microsoft recently incorporated “what your friends do on Facebook right into its Bing search engine” and began a “new feature that can show what someone’s Facebook friends “like” on the search results page” (Associated Press, 2010). This emphasises the large conglomerates find this platform crucial to the future of their businesses and therefore it makes this article crucial to making academia aware of social media mechanics. Amazon currently promotes frequent reviewers to ensure opinions are made apparent and products are promoted according to what a user has bought in the past. Though is it fair of them to choose the most popular reviews and products for users, is it too “big brother” of them to tailor their website in this way and would consumers be motivated to look elsewhere if they knew reviews were being chosen for them? If it is for profit maximisation then it is a whole other issue, however if this is a tool for motivation then it should be considered in the research.It is important for companies to look at connections between people rather than focusing on an individual. It has been likened to a virus by Nicholas Christakis (2010) as the more interconnected a user is, or those that have a more technical “achitecture”, the quicker information will spread. Therefore it is important for companies to look for those with the greater connections in order to achieve a more global domination. In this specific seminar, Christakis speaks of obesity being spread from person to person. This has been measured over a thirty year period which adds credibility to understanding that there is an influence from peers particularly through social media. The concern however is whether companies would reposition themselves to become the influener. This result was shown in a dot diagram where those that were obese were shown as clustered together and those not were also in their own group. Social media works like the below diagram and it is proven that it is better to taget those in the middle than those in the outer edge if information is needing to be spread and motivation to succeed:(Christakis & Fowler, 2009)If one peer can influence another to become obese, the power of persuasion should further be studied, particularly on emotions and what consumers reveal about how it reflects on themselves. I also hope to develop a similar scatter graph with the data collected through the questionnaire, and according to this data by Christakis, it should follow a similar trend.Consumers need the assurance of their choices that are persuaded by social media that may lead to an overall motivation to buy or evaluate products. Consumers may have already considered alternatives before looking online and may be more likely to find benefits and drawbacks of a product to achieve a perhaps persuaded evaluation. The structured questionnaire and in-depth interview design, discussed below, is appropriate as it would not only answer the research question but also add to current research in this area. According to past research done on similar topics, the best method to answer the research question would be a 2x1x1 model or survey methods (Sassenberg, Boos & Rabung, 2005) as this specific article looks into both personal and interpersonal variances. It is known that consumers are apprehensive when dealing with companies, particularly when persuasion attempts are used. This has not been studied in a social media setting and could prove to show an opposite trend as through an online realm, no face-to-face contact is required and may not perhaps be judged to the same extent. This research is looking at a more in depth understanding of why consumers are persuaded the way they are through this social media platform and how it affects their external image.
Plan for Empirical Studies
I would like to look at this research project with an interpretivist view in which the research methodology will be presented in a way that discovers why consumers do what they do and data will be interpreted accordingly. It is important that the research design is reliable, can be replicated and is valid. The reason this is of great importance is becuase these ideas “emerge in the context of the discussion of research design” that will be formulated below (Bryman & Bell, 2007). There is a level of variance over whether persuaded consumers increase purely because of someone elses opinion or whether there is an inner personification of opinions when evaluating products, that is they believe their evaluation will directly effect how others see them.
The studies will be based on mixed methods around a cross sectional study where there will be a structured questionnaire and a semi tructured interview. Bryman and Bell (2007) talk of cross sectional research design as usually when more than one case is being researched at a single point in time, a connection between two variables is trying to be achieved. As the interaction between the Private Self Awareness Effect and the Persuasion Knowledge Model are the key concepts being studies, it makes cross-sectional design a perfect fit for this project. The questionnaire will aid in creating further discussions in the in depth interviews. According to Varadarajan (1996), it is crucial that “testing before examining the psychometric properties of the scales developed to measure the key constructs be done before all sampling as “no confidence can be placed in the findings of a study in the absence of an assessment of the psychometric properties of the measures”. This is also a contributing factor to proving validity and accuracy of the research and therefore a prestest will be done prior to both studies where their interpretation of images will be analysed to ensure a broad variance is covered in the sample.
Keeping the three key business research properties in mind the research design would be drawn out as follows. Study One will follow a structured questionnaire formal where there will be a minimum of 1000 participants, minimum 500 valid entries. Images, brands and words will be prominent in this as five different survey’s will be formatted to ensure a wider coverage of issues and across five different social media platforms. This will give a variation of answers that will ensure all areas are answered. This will also be done online to keep the theme of the social networking setting. If the research question needs to be readressed, it will be done so at the end of this study according to a mixed methods format (Bryman & Bell, 2007). The Structured questionnaire and will be analysed graphically to understand further the Persuasion Knowledge Model’s effect in social media, along with its relevance to the Private Self Awareness Effect.
Study Two will be the most time consuming of the studies as this will be done as an in depth interview with approximately five to ten consumers and company managers that use this as a marketing tool. This will be done through Skype and recorded for transcribing purposes. Skype is an effective tool to use as international responses can be gained. This study is done in order to further extend what is said in Study One and to enable more depth in understanding whether there is a connection between ideas. This analysis will be done through Thematic analysis where coding is used to find similarities and will find categories that should prove the interaction between the Private Self Awareness Effect and the Persuasion Knowledge Model. The interview will be semi structured, allowing the interviewer to delve more when prompted by the participants responses (Bryman & Bell, 2007). There will be a general format with a series of questions that must be answered, but the interviewer may ask them in any order (Bryman & Bell, 2007). Questions will be formatted in a way that are open ended and urge the respondents to discuss further their opinions and concerns of each issue addressed. Cues will be used such as images, logos and words to prompt feelings about what persuades them most and by whom.
By using such a platform in the test it can enhance their answers as they would be participating whilst involved in the desired platform. This can therefore give a result to answer the research question whilst also giving an insight as to how social media is used as a tool for evaluating products, perhaps more than we currently perceive.
This research can prove that the use of emotional processes are able to evaluate given information quicker through this medium, whilst gaining a variation of opinions to total the interaction between the two key concepts and an answer to the hypotheses proposed. Within practice, this would prove to benefit companies wishing to enter the online realm. It would also help businesses understand where their key persuasion tools are and how to influence their target market when developing new products that may perhaps have a strong condition that self reflection is apparent This research should increase awareness of how the majority of consumer’s minds work when online and in relation to their products.
The potential limitations of this research is that it is researched online which could mean perhaps a consumer really are not themselves. They can be anyone, as in many cases identity can easily be frauded and therefore data would need to be double blinded to ensure accuracy. However, where social media is concerned, it may be the closest platform to real identities as profiles include images and histories through photos and “tags”, conversations and friends. The information collected by consumers could also be held to be untrue, and ability to be persuaded would fall because of the unknown, it would have an effect on the conscious or subconscious level for product evaluations. This however could be included in a further study as to the psychology of consumers when presented with information that is true and untrue and their unknowing of which is which. This would add to also the motivations of making choices over a World Wide Web.
Future research into this would include whether Digital Globalisation is happening. This is the focus on people moving online rather than in person and what influence this has on the Persuasion Knowledge Model. What is being discussed at present is the increase in the appearance of pets having these social media pages. It would be interesting to look into the persuasion of owners more specifically when pet products are targeted towards these pages and whether there is a market for owners being persuaded through this means (Carroll, J., 2010). As this is a new concept with little research done, it may be an innovative concern to look into. Also further research could be done on tracking a social network over a long period of time through groups and companies, monitoring added members and comments made. This would aid in furthering the understanding of consumers and their use of social media for information on products.
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