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Title: Social media and virtual communities' role in the consumer-brand relationship : an online investigation into the development of consumer identity
Author: Fletcher, K.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7973 273X
Awarding Body: University of East London
Current Institution: University of East London
Date of Award: 2018
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Academia's research into the influences and consequences of consumer behaviour have led to the emergence of several theories developed within consumer research or adapted from the social sciences. This research project provides a significant contribution to this tradition of consumer research by exploring the evolving role of social media in cooperation with brands to individuals' lifestyles, identity and consumption decisions. The research approach adopted was exploratory but designed to consider a research problem which had several angles. The research was concerned with discovering the drivers of consumer-brand identification that are influenced by the social media context, which then influence the development of identity and the consumer-brand relationship. This research problem guided the formation of several objectives and questions with the overall aim of understanding the relationship between identity, identification and the consumer-brand relationship due to the interactive environment of social media. This study fills a gap in the research where consumer-brand identification, consumer-brand relationships and social media brand communities interact but are not usually studied for their influence on each other. Consumer research has not fully outlined the composition of the social media brand community and the consequences to identity. The study adopted an interpretive approach consisting of netnography, in-depth interviews and social media monitoring to explore the brand community in this continuously evolving platform. The study consisted of eight interviews, five thousand hashtag posts and five thousand brand posts. The data analysis comprised of thematic analysis and the BASIC IDs framework, which revealed that social media brand communities have a strong influence on the development of consumer identity, by acting as a socialising agent that places the values of the brand and community at the core at the individual's self-concept. The social media brand community, though virtual, provides a real audience for individuals to express themselves. The process of identifying with the brand and the community, built the identity of the individual with the brand central to the development and accomplishment of his or her identity goals, prestige, distinctiveness and belongingness. As such, the brand and community develops the consumer identity but also support social as well as personal identity and other layers of the individual's self. The consequences of such being brand loyalty, brand and community commitment as well as passion plus the inclusion of these into the individual's self-concept. The social media brand community enhances the consumer-brand relationship due to the proactivity of individual interaction within the platform. Additionally, the emerging hierarchy provides structure that outlines the measure of influence members have on each other and the development of a consumer culture within the social media brand community. The findings have implications for consumer research and practice. Modelling a process for the development of identity and the consumer-brand relationship as well as showing the hierarchy of membership within the social media brand communities provides a measure of structure that had previously been missing in academic discussion. The findings also give marketing managers a clearer outline of the environment to share their content and social media strategies. Researchers can build on this research by applying quantitative methodologies or executing similar studies in other types of brand communities.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral