Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Theses & dissertations (College of Business)
Anthony M. Townsend
This exploratory research examined the potential for online social networks to provide the context for humans to anthropomorphize companies in a way that leads to new considerations of electronic word-of-mouth communication (eWOM); specifically, the possibility for organizations to be the initiator of the communication. Traditional models of word-of-mouth communication show individuals as the starting point for word-of-mouth communication but online social networks have created an environment in which humans may respond to organizations in social ways and engage an organization in communication previously considered to be restricted to human-to-human interaction. The impact of group status, loneliness, trust, credibility, interpersonal influence, and behavioral cues in social situations were considered as important influences in this new view of eWOM.
Two exploratory surveys (Study 1), two experiments (Study 2 (Forced Like) & Study 3) and content analysis (Study 4) were the primary tools of investigation. The two exploratory surveys involved questions related to Facebook use, interaction with individuals and firms on Facebook, and questions related to the importance of brand influence. Information from the exploratory surveys was used to create appropriate experimental conditions later in the research. For example, it was determined that a fictional travel firm should create less of a confounding impact on the experiments because travel firms were perceived as having a lower level of brand influence during the exploratory surveys.
The two experiments conducted in Study 2 and Study 3 were nearly identical in that both studies involved a 2x2 between subjects design with random assignment of participants to one of the four conditions. Both studies involved the independent variables of group status (in-group or out-group) and level of positive social communication (high or low). Additionally, both studies involved the same questions related to a fictional travel firm's Facebook page. Participants responses to questions related to anthropomorphism, word-of-mouth communication, loneliness, need for social cues and general Facebook use.
The difference between Study 2 and Study was that Study 2 involved a Forced Liking component. That is, subjects in Study 2 in the in-group status conditions were directed to click on the Like button for the travel firm's Facebook page whereas participants in Study 3 who were in the in-group conditions were only asked to imagine having clicked on the Like button on the travel firm's Facebook page. Study 2 is referred to hereafter in this document as Study 2 (Forced Like).
The findings of the research show a variety of results. It was expected that increased positive social communication between organizations and others within Facebook would generate social responses from subjects and this was supported in experimental Study 2 (Forced Like) (Forced Like) but not in Study 3. Group status was not found to increase anthropomorphism in either study but both studies showed significant correlation between individuals who did anthropomorphize an organization in an online social network and an interest in word-of-mouth communication. While increases in positive social communication did lead to significant increases in trust of an organization by individuals in Study 2 (Forced Like) such increases were not found in Study 3. Neither study found support for the idea that individuals forming a relationship with an organization in an online social network will cause an increase in the willingness to engage in word-of-mouth communication. Individuals self-reporting as more lonely were expected to anthropomorphize more and this was supported in Study 2 (Forced Like) but not in Study 3. Individuals reporting a higher reliance on interpersonal influence in consumer decision making situations were expected to be more likely to anthropomorphize a business in an online social network and this was supported in Study 3 but not in Study 2 (Forced Like). It was also predicted that subjects with a higher self-reported need for behavior cues would also be more likely to anthropomorphize and while this was not supported in Study 3 there was significant support in Study 2 (Forced Like). Finally, the level of trust subjects had for companies Liked on Facebook prior to the study was expected to show a correlation to the likelihood to anthropomorphize a business in the experiments. This was supported in Study 3 but not in Study 2 (Forced Like).
Content analysis conducted through unobtrusive observational analysis resulted in a number of interesting possible themes related to anthropomorphic responses to organizations by Facebook users. Anthropomorphic themes involved social motivation, effectance motivation and elicited agent knowledge. Additionally, the Content analysis seemed to uncover themes involving word-of-mouth communication within the online social network including themes involving self-disclosure and trust.
Overall, the results for this exploratory research provide direction for future research related a new model of word-of-mouth communication within online social networks although there are numerous lingering questions regarding the reasons for differing results in several important parts of the experiments.
Shayne Michael Narjes
Narjes, Shayne Michael, "Anthropomorphism and word-of-mouth communication in online social networks" (2013). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 13113.