Does online consumer generated media influence attitudes towards brands?

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This is my full copy of my dissertation reflecting an early review on social media and its impact on brand perception. Happy to share as after all these years the theory is still true, in fact the impact of social media on brand perception is now more prominent.

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Does online consumer generated media influence attitudes towards brands?

  1. 1. Does online consumer generated media influence attitudes towards brands? A study of the credibility of recipe blogs and their effect on consumers’ attitudes towards food brands in Turkey This dissertation is submitted in part of the fulfilment of the MA Interactive Marketing in Bournemouth University I, Sevil Özer, declare that this dissertation is the result of my own independent investigation and that all sources are duly acknowledged………………………..Sevil Özer Supervisor:(September, 2005) Mr. Mike Molesworth
  2. 2. THE TABLE OF CONTENTSCHAPTER 1 – INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................................... 5 1.1. BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY.................................................................................................................. 5 1.2. STUDY FOCUS: W HY BLOGS? ................................................................................................................ 6 1.3. PURPOSE OF THE STUDY ........................................................................................................................ 7 1.4. STATE OF THE BLOGOSPHERE ................................................................................................................ 8 1.5. MORE ON GENERATING CONTENT .......................................................................................................... 9 1.6. FOCUS OF THE STUDY ........................................................................................................................... 10CHAPTER 2 - LITERATURE REVIEW ....................................................................................................... 12 2.1 OVERVIEW .............................................................................................................................................. 12 THE MODEL FOR PROCESSING INFORMAL BRAND INFORMATION ONLINE: FRAMEWORK FOR BLOG’S EFFECTS ON BRAND ATTITUDE CHANGE ...................................................................................................... 12 2.2. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK .................................................................................................................. 14 2.2.1. Persuasion and the Online Consumer ...................................................................................... 14 General View: Persuasion .................................................................................................................................. 14 Low-Involvement Processing Model of Heath ................................................................................................. 16 Product Categories and Involvement ............................................................................................................... 16 2.2.2. Blog’s Effects on Brand Attitude Change .................................................................................. 17 Attitude towards brand ........................................................................................................................................ 17 Online Word of Mouth Communication ............................................................................................................ 18 2.2.3. Credibility of a Blog ...................................................................................................................... 21 General View: What is Credibility?.................................................................................................................... 21 A General View on Web Credibility ................................................................................................................... 23 Blog Credibility ..................................................................................................................................................... 24 PATH MODEL OF PREDICTORS OF BLOG CREDIBILITY ................................................................................... 24 The Blog Author’s Credibility ......................................................................................................................... 25 Visitor Related Factors ................................................................................................................................... 26 Design and Content Related Factors ........................................................................................................... 28 2.3. CONCLUSION ......................................................................................................................................... 29CHAPTER 3- RESEARCH METHODOLOGY ........................................................................................... 30 3.1. OBJECTIVES AND MAIN RESEARCH QUESTIONS .................................................................................... 30 3.2. OVERVIEW OF THE RESEARCH PROCESS ............................................................................................ 30 3.3. THE SIMPLIFIED FRAMEWORK FOR BLOG’S EFFECTS ON BRAND ATTITUDE CHANGE ........................ 31 Hypothesis to be tested ......................................................................................................................... 31 3.4. PRIMARY RESEARCH.............................................................................................................................. 32 3.4.1. The methodology and methods adopted .................................................................................. 32 3.5. EVALUATION OF RESEARCH DESIGN..................................................................................................... 33 3.5.1. Sample definition and rationale.................................................................................................. 33 3.5.2. Method of sampling and rationale ............................................................................................. 34 3.5.3. Method of data collection and rationale .................................................................................... 35 3.5.4. The Questionnaire Design .......................................................................................................... 36 3.5.5. Research Process ....................................................................................................................... 39 3.6. LIMITATIONS FOR THE STUDY ................................................................................................................ 40 3.6.1 Methods used to achieve reliability and validity in the findings. ............................................. 42 3.6.2 Post Research Findings ............................................................................................................... 43 3.7. SECONDARY RESEARCH ....................................................................................................................... 43CHAPTER 4 - FINDINGS .............................................................................................................................. 44 4.1 OVERVIEW OF THE STUDY ...................................................................................................................... 44 4.1.1. Descriptive Statistics ................................................................................................................... 44 Motivation * Have you visited this site before? Crosstabulation .............................................................. 45 Site and Visitors ............................................................................................................................................... 46 Previous Purchase Reports ........................................................................................................................... 48 Overall Perceptions of Credibility .................................................................................................................. 48 –2–
  3. 3. 4.1.2. Summary ....................................................................................................................................... 49 4.2. BLOG CREDIBILITY FACTOR ANALYSIS .................................................................................................. 50 4.2.1. Dependent Measures .................................................................................................................. 50 4.2.2. Independent Measures ............................................................................................................... 51 Visitor related factors .......................................................................................................................................... 51 Source reliance ................................................................................................................................................ 51 Internet experience ......................................................................................................................................... 51 Convenience .................................................................................................................................................... 52 Site Familiarity ................................................................................................................................................. 52 Design and Content Related Factors ............................................................................................................... 53 Usability and Design ....................................................................................................................................... 53 Content ............................................................................................................................................................. 53 Additional Factor - Interactivity ...................................................................................................................... 53 Author Related Factors ....................................................................................................................................... 53 4.2.3 Measurement Results for Blog Credibility Factor Analysis ..................................................... 54 Primary Results .................................................................................................................................................... 54 Visitor Related Factors and Blog Credibility ................................................................................................ 54 Experience level of the visitor and Blog Credibility .................................................................................... 55 Convenience Perception of Visitor and Blog Credibility ............................................................................ 55 Site Familiarity and Blog Credibility .............................................................................................................. 56 Site Design and Content and Blog Credibility ............................................................................................. 56 Interactivity Factor and Blog Credibility ....................................................................................................... 56 Perception of Author Characteristics and Blog Credibility ........................................................................ 56 4.2.4. Conclusion .................................................................................................................................... 57 Limitations for factor analysis ............................................................................................................................ 58 4.3. BLOG’S EFFECTS ON BRAND ATTITUDE CHANGE ANALYSIS ................................................................ 58 4.3.1. Dependent Measures .................................................................................................................. 58 4.3.2. Independent Measures ............................................................................................................... 59 Blog Credibility: Definition of “Is the Source Credible?” ............................................................................ 59 Motivation: Browse or Search ....................................................................................................................... 60 4.3.4. Hypothesis Test Results ............................................................................................................. 61 Overview ............................................................................................................................................................... 61 Results .................................................................................................................................................................. 62 4.3.4. Conclusion .................................................................................................................................... 65CHAPTER 5 – CONCLUSIONS................................................................................................................... 66 5.1. CONCLUSION ......................................................................................................................................... 66 5.2. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE INDUSTRY.............................................................................................. 66 5.3. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH ...................................................................................... 67REFERENCES................................................................................................................................................ 68APPENDICES ................................................................................................................................................. 71 APPENDIX 1 – THE QUESTIONNAIRE ............................................................................................................ 71 APPENDIX 2 – THE SCREENSHOTS OF ONLINE QUESTIONNAIRE ........................................................ 72 APPENDIX 3 – SOME SCREENSHOTS OF THE BLOGS WHO SUPPORTED THE SURVEY STUDY74 APPENDİX 4 – BLOG CREDİBİLİTY FACTOR ANALYSİS .................................................................................. 77 APPENDİX 5 – BLOG CREDİBİLİTY FACTOR ANALYSİS .................................................................................. 81 APPENDIX 6 – BLOG CREDİBİLİTY FACTOR ANALYSİS CORRELATİON MATRİXES ...................................... 1 APPENDİX 7 – BLOG CREDİBİLİTY FACTOR ANALYSİS CONTRİBUTİON FROM COMPONENTS ....................... 1 APPENDİX 8 – HYPOTHESİS TEST SPSS OUTPUTS ...................................................................................... 1 CASE 1 – Credible Blog * Search (High-involvement) ........................................................................ 1 CASE 2 – Credible Blog * Browse (Low-involvement) ........................................................................ 3 CASE 3 – Non-Credible Blog * Search (High-involvement)................................................................ 5 CASE 4 – Non-Credible Blog * Browse (Low-involvement) ................................................................ 7 –3–
  4. 4. LIST OF TABLESChart 1- Framework for Blog’s Effects on Brand Attitude Change, Pg 11Table 1 - Examples of factors influencing credibility (print and interpersonal media), Pg21Table 2 - Factors influencing credibility (specific to computer-based media) Pg22Chart 2 - Path model of predictors of blog credibility, Pg.23Chart 3 - The research process, Pg.29Chart 4 - The simplified model for Blog’s Effects on Brand Attitude Change, Pg.30Table 3 - Rotated component matrix for significant blog credibility variables, Pg.56Chart 5 - Simplified Framework for Blog’s Effects on Brand Attitude Change and respondents, Pg.60 –4–
  5. 5. C HAPTER 1 – I NTRODUCTIONConsumers search online, entertain online and increasingly create and contribute online.In the year 2005, the Internet users themselves became the main source of onlinecontent. Consumer generated media (CGM) online is available in forms of discussionforums, newsgroups, message boards, collaborative hypertext dictionaries (known also aswikis), personal home pages, podcasts and last but not least blogs (known also as weblogs). The Pew Internet and American Life Project has revealed that nearly half of adultInternet users have submitted some sort of creative content to the World Wide Web(2004). 44% of the respondents of the study reported that they have built or submittedcontent online in the forms of personal web site, or contribution to another site asphotographs, artwork, written material or comments on newsgroups/discussionforums/blogs or posting video/audio files through Peer-to-peer file sharing programs (PewReport, 2004; Research Alert 2004 cited in, Mintel-a 2004).1.1. BACKGROUND OF THE STUDYPeople seem to be demanding more involvement and interaction, and culture and themedia have contributed to the growing desire for involvement in decision-making throughprogrammes such as Pop Idol, The Big read and Restoration (Mattinson and Trayner,2004). “Consumers are tired of being told what to do and served up a diet of what theadvertisers and programmers and media owners think they should get. So, consumers areexercising their choices and taking back control of their lives” (Lyon, 2005 p.2). Popularityof new media and communication formats such as blogs, discussion boards andpersonalized TV formats are based on greater involvement or interaction and moreimportantly the empowerment of the consumer (Mattinson and Trayner, 2004). As a resultof this entire media power shift to consumers, the relationship between advertisers, mediaand the consumers about to change fundamentally (Mandase, 2005).The Internet is an enabler for individuals to have the power to publish and distributecontent. Today anyone can publish his or her personal feelings, experience andperceptions about any brand or product. ‘Water cooler talks’, ‘grape wines’, ‘chit chats’ and‘rumors’ are now available online and just a click away to anyone who has Internet access.As a result online word-of-mouth (WOM) became one of the main sources of information. –5–
  6. 6. Increasing amount of CGM (also known as micro media) means increasing amount ofonline informal content about any business. Consumers are no more the passiverecipients of media content (Mandese, 2005-b; Mandase 2005). The amount of newinformation posted online is so high that traditional search engines are struggling to keepup with the rate at which people update their blogs (Branscombe, 2005). Search engineslike Google treat blogs like any other web site while new generation blog tracking sitessuch as Technorati, Blogpulse, Feedster and Bloglines are specialized just on blog search(Branscombe, 2005). A recent study states that when users search for companies, 26% ofthe results are content generated by consumers, 22% by experts, 18% by corporatesources, 12% by media, and 22% by other sources (Stein reported by Jarboe, 2005).(Which) This means that ‘informal sources’ are main resources for corporate and brandinformation. As Mandase summarizes “This could mean a complete role-reversal of the classic advertising model; instead of marketers underwriting media content in exchange for consumers paying attention to their ads, marketers may need to find a way of underwriting consumer content” (2005).1.2. STUDY FOCUS: WHY BLOGS?Blog is defined as a “Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections,comments and often hyperlinks,” and has selected as the word of the year in 2004 for U.S.dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster Inc (Reuters 2004 cited in Mintel-a, 2004). In thisstudy the term ‘blog’ will refer to personal blogs only; excluding all newly mushroomedcompany blogs (or c-level blogs), paid blogs, sponsored blogs, spoof and spam blogs(Branscombe, 2005; Sifry, 2005).Blogging is a growing phenomenon for the last 4 years mainly as a result of free, userfriendly services. According to latest figures a blog is created about every second, andover 80.000 blogs are created daily (Sifry, 2005). According to Pew Report, 7% of Internetusers in the United States have created a blog or web-based diary (2005). Moreimportantly blogs encourage readers to contribute. “The interactive features of many blogsare also catching on: 12% of Internet users have posted comments and material onblogs.” (Pew, 2005). –6–
  7. 7. Posts to blogs constitute the major part of online CGM, as of June 2005 about 900,000posts created each day (Sifry, 2005-b). Thus while analyzing the effects of consumergenerated content online, this study focuses on the blogs. Blogs are good representativesof CGM while they are popular sources of ‘informal content’. In addition it can be arguedthat blogs have main characteristics of personal home pages and forums. Blog softwaresare enabling authors (bloggers) to create the web site and post content faster and easier,so that (there are) no technical knowledge is necessary to run a blog. Other thantechnology, blogs are almost similar to personal web sites. On the other hand blogsoftwares enable visitors to comment on author’s postings and also having multipleauthors to post entries on the same blog. This activity is very similar with observedconsumer behavior for forums where a moderator or limited number of active users postmajority of new topics, answers to questions and comments. So that blogs might beaccepted as an extension of discussion forums that is more likely to have a one-to-manythan many-to-many relationship. Because of these characteristics a study on blogs haspotential to enlighten relationship between CGM and brand attitudes.1.3. PURPOSE OF THE STUDYBlogging is surely a popular topic for the day and has a big potential to grow. But is thereany consumer knowledge value to blogs that can be exploited by marketers? Do blogshave any influence on consumer’s decision making process? Or they are just the new toysof Internet users; or an online entertainment form inherited the popular reality show trendand enables the writer to show and the reader to observe other people’s private lives?When it comes to blogs can we argue they are centers of attention, blog authors areopinion leaders thus content on blogs are capable of changing consumer’s attitudestowards a brand? Previous research on online content showed that credibility becamemain problem in an authorless environment (Warnick, 2004). Thus the first aim of thisresearch is to evaluate credibility of blogs.Can a blog influence consumer to make a brand choice? If yes why and how? Whichfactors of a blog are more important to increase the credibility of a blog? In order toanswer these questions the second aim of this study is to find out relationships betweenvisual and contextual and visitor related factors of a blog and their possible effects on thereceiver’s attitudes towards a brand or product. –7–
  8. 8. In summary, the investigation of the consumer’s perception of the credibility and credibilityfactors of blogs is expected to enlighten the question of if blogs are capable of changingattitudes towards brands. At the end of this study it is expected to identify clues in order tounderstand and explain the possible implications of blogs as an informal source.1.4. STATE OF THE BLOGOSPHERECurrently there are over 31 million blogs in the blogosphere (blog universe); 10 million ofthese blogs were created in the first quarter of 2005 (Bir, 2005, Johnson and Kaye, 2004).Considering blogging services attached to a social network service like Microsoft’s MSNMyspace and other local blogging services -especially in South America and Asiaespecially in China, Korea and Japan- estimations for number of blogs goes up to 50million as of April 2005 (Riley). On the other hand, the total identified active number ofblogs reported in the top two blog search engines Blogpulse and Technorati is 16 millionas of August 2005 (Blogpulse.com, Technorati.com).Google’s Blogger.com is now one of top 10 most influential websites in the UK (Mintel,2004). As much as Blogger, other free blogging services Microsoft MSN Spaces,LiveJournal and AOL Journals are growing quickly, and use of software like WordPressand Movable Type to provide blogs continue to grow significantly (Sifry, 2005). As bloggingbecomes a craze one of the top three players in the market Yahoo! launched its bloggingtool called Yahoo 360 in March 2005, which combines a new blogging tool along with othertools instant messaging, photo storage and sharing, and Internet radio. Yahoo takes CGMone step forward and “offers tools for sharing recommendations about places to eat,favorite movies, music and so on” (Hansen, 2005).As blogging becomes much easier and convenient through the launch of new tools, thenumber of blogs continues to double every 5.5 months (Sifry, 2005). As of the end ofAugust 2005, the leading search engine for blogs Technorati was tracking over 16 millionweblogs, and over 1.4 billion links (Technorati, 2005). According to Technorati cumulativeblog figures, it has been stated that the blogosphere has just about doubled betweenMarch 2005 and June 2005 (Sifry, 2005). On the other hand readership of blogs are alsoincreasing. Top blog hosting domains like blogspot.com, livejournal.com and typepad.comnow reaches more visitors than many mainstream media sites like NYTimes.com,USAToday.com (ComScore, 2005). 27% of Internet users say they read blogs while 5% of –8–
  9. 9. users state that they use RSS (Really Simple Syndication) aggregators or XML (ExtensibleMarkup Language) readers to get the updated posts on the blogs (2005).So who are the bloggers? According to Pew Internet report they are young; 48% ofauthors are under age 30 (Pew, 2005). Supporting that, a recent survey for MIT MediaLabs shows that an estimated 46.3% of blogs are started by people between the ages of21 and 30, with 28.2% authored by people in the 31- to 40-year-old demographic (Viegas,2004). Majority of bloggers are Internet veterans; 82% have been online for six years ormore and they are well educated; 39% have college or graduate degrees (Pew, 2005).Universal McCann Media in Mind study revealed that bloggers are far from the averagemedia consumer while they are spending 62% more time on the Internet and 38% moreon Email; they are slightly greater users of TV and magazines (+1.4% and +2.8%respectively) and significantly lower users of radio and newspapers (-12.8% and -7.4%)(Mandase, 2005).It can be seen from the following figures that blog visitors have similar demographics withthe blog authors. According to a survey done by ComScore and MediaMetrix, 32% of blogvisitors are aged between 18-34 while 49% of them are aged between 35-54 (ComScore,2005). This study reveals that blog visitors are demographically attractive audience toadvertisers while “Blog visitors are disproportionately likely to be affluent, young andbroadband-enabled” (ComScore, 2005). ComScore study also shows that blog visitors arespending more time and money online. The average blog visitor viewed nearly 77 percentmore than the average Web user. Thus blog users also spend substantially more timeonline, about 23 hours per week (ComScore, 2005). The study also found that blog visitorsare 30 percent more likely to buy products or services online, while 51% of blog visitorsmade an online purchase in Q1 2005 (ComScore, 2005). In summary, it can be stated thatboth blog authors and visitors are valuable consumers or prospects for a brand.1.5. MORE ON GENERATING CONTENTMassive amount of content posted online over blogs. AskJeeve’s blog search engineBloglines.com reported nearly 700 million articles indexed (Bloglines, 2005). It has beenreported that every second around 10 new postings are added into the blogosphere (Sifry,2005-b). –9–
  10. 10. According to Technorati, about 55% of all blogs are considered active which means theyhad at least one posting in the last 3 months (Sifry, 2005-b). In addition, 13% of all blogs(currently 1.8 million blogs) update at least weekly. “The average rate of postings hasgrown steadily such that at the end of July 2005, there were about 900,000 posts createdeach day. Thats about 37,500 posts every hour, or 10.4 posts per second” (Sifry, 2005-b).Blog postings are reported to increase after event milestones like Tsunami or Live8concert (Sifry, 2005-b).The influence (or authority) of a blog is measured by the number of people who are linkingto it. So instead of counting hits or page views, given links to a site by other sites arecounted. Technorati data reveals, “The most influential media sites on the web are stillwell-funded mainstream media sites, like The New York Times, The Washington Post, andCNN. However, a lot of bloggers are achieving a significant amount of attention andinfluence” and in the top 40 influential online information source list there were 11 blogspresent (Sifry, 2005-c).In spite all the blog boom, they are still not that well known. Pew Internet’s study on blogsshowed that 62% of Internet users had no idea what ‘blog’ means (2005). Which meansthe potential for growth of blogosphere is high in the short term. As both (all) blog authorsand readers are consumers and studies shows that they are talking about brands andproducts, it has been believed that this study might generate an added value to themarketing on the blogs theory.1.6. FOCUS OF THE STUDYIn today’s highly developed economies it is hard to differentiate a product from itscompetitors while most reputable brands perform similarly and tangible competitiveadvantages are rare (Heath, 2001). As a result, consumers are rarely able to base theirbrand choices on rational performance (Heath, 2001). Especially daily routine purchasessuch as water, chocolate bar or cereals, are accepted as low involvement processes whichdo not entail a high level of involvement and commitment. On the other hand “Televisionadvertising does not usually create strong pre-purchase attitudes towards brands but atthe most small –possibly undetectable- changes in perception” (Foxall et all., 1998). Thisis a challenge for marketers while consumers are hard to be influenced by advertising tobuy fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) immediately (Brown, 1991). Thus usage ofalternative methods like price promotions and product trials, and lately usage of alternative – 10 –
  11. 11. communication channels like consumer loyalty programmes, direct marketingprogrammes and Internet are used to increase brand awareness and manipulateconsumer’s attitudes toward the brand.In order to evaluate the implications of CGM -for this study blogs-, low involvementproducts FMCG category are selected as the general focus to this study. It is essential topoint out that advertising in FMCG category in today’s market conditions means achallenge for brands. Therefore it has been believed that as a new and alternative mediafocusing on blogs’ effects on FMCG brands constitute a valuable research area. Previousstudies reveal that consumers often resort to word-of-mouth or personalrecommendations, and rely on these informal communication sources in making purchasedecisions, because unlike formal sources, the sender is perceived as having nothing togain from receiver’s subsequent actions (Heath, 2001; Schiffman and Kanuk, 2004 p.293).In summary this study aims to evaluate the credibility of blogs and therefore their potentialto persuade consumers to change their attitudes towards low involvement products –forthis study food-. Can blogs become a remedy to overcome the above stated marketingchallenges for the low involvement products’ marketing?While designing the research study in order to represent the reported changes in aparticular consumer behavior and achieve a valid data set, food as a low involvementdecision making product category has been chosen. Several Turkish recipe blogs andtheir readers are invited to join the research study to obtain a reliable and representativegroup of participants for this study. However, as this study proposes a framework toanswer the relationship between blogs, their usage and attitude changes towards brandsthe result of the study is expected to have universal values and not to be valid only for theTurkish market. – 11 –
  12. 12. C HAPTER 2 - L ITERATURE REVIEW2.1 OVERVIEWIn this chapter, first of all the model for processing informal brand information online will bepresented. Following the model which constitutes the base for this research study, thebackground for the model will be explained. In order to place this study in appropriatecontext, persuasion and web credibility literature has been reviewed. Therefore, the reviewof the basic communication model and Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) literature inconsumer behavior will be presented firstly. Following that as food products are acceptedas expressive low-involvement products the decision making process and messageevaluation via peripheral route will be analyzed. The low involvement processing model,and source credibility as a peripheral cue as a part of low-involvement processing will bereviewed and factors for blog credibility will be analyzed based on previous researchstudies. As this study aims to investigate changes in attitudes towards brand, the conceptwill be elaborated following the impacts of Word-of-mouth (WOM) communication. Onlinedecision making process and credibility of online information sources and factors ofcredibility for blogs would be the final highlights for the theoretical framework for this study.Following the literature review, the model for processing informal brand information onlinethe “Framework for Blog’s Effects on Brand Attitude Change” will be presented.THE MODEL FOR PROCESSING INFORMAL BRAND INFORMATION ONLINE:FRAMEWORK FOR BLOG’S EFFECTS ON BRAND ATTITUDE CHANGETo begin with I want to present a summary of my model for processing informal brandinformation online: “Framework for Blog’s Effects on Brand Attitude Change” (See Chart1). This model tries to approach a working model in order to explain “How mightconsumer’s process informal brand information online?”. It is important to note that thisstudy does not try to provide a formal model but rather provide a framework to guidediscussion of how might CGM effect consumers’ attitudes towards brands.According to the model motivation of the user, “search or browse state” determines theinvolvement of the consumer. Depending on previous research studies which will bepresented in the following section, this model suggests that consumers who are searchingfor particular product information online are likely to be open to the processing of thatinformation with high attention (Adopted from Heath, 2001). As the model suggests,highly involved visitors who are searching for a particular information likely to learn from – 12 –
  13. 13. the blog and this might lead to shallow processing and a passive learning even in the caseof the perceived credibility of the blog is low (Adopted from Heath, 2001). But in caseconsumer perceives the source credible, active learning takes place and this might driverational attitude changes.On the other hand, with low involvement motivation factor which is the browse case,source credibility suggested to have more critical influence on the processing of informalbrand information. When the consumer is just browsing, such as a regular visitor of theblog, and if the blog perceived as a credible source, the information received goes throughan automatic processing which results with an implicit learning. Consumer gains newassociations to the brand and this might drive intuitive brand attitude changes at the end(Adopted from Heath, 2001). However, if the perceived credibility of the blog is low; it hasbeen suggested that no learning will take place. Brand/Product related message received from a Blog Did consumer No No Pre-attentive Is source Search for that Processing Credible? information? No learning Yes Yes Automatic processing Implicit Learning Associations + Meanings Shallow processing No Is source Passive learning Credible? Might drive intuitive brand attitude changes Yes Might drive intuitive brand attitude changes Explicit processing Active learning Framework for Blog’s Effects on Brand Attitude Change, Might drive rational the model for processing informal brand information brand attitude changes onlinebased on low-involvement processing model of Heath (2001)Chart 1- Framework for Blog’s Effects on Brand Attitude Change – 13 –
  14. 14. Please note that factors of credibility for a blog assumed to be as in “Path model ofpredictors of blog credibility” (Chart 2) which is also presented in this paper.2.2. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK2.2.1. Persuasion and the Online ConsumerIn order to understand how online consumers make decisions about any brand, thissection of the literature review will elaborate the ELM model, low-involvement processing,role of peripheral cues in low-involvement decision making and influences of productcategory for information processing.GENERAL VIEW : PERSUASIONToday’s busy life style leaves a little time for consumer to make a selection from endlessalternatives in the market. Payne, Bettman and Johnson (1988) demonstrated thatconsumers who are faced with making a choice under time pressure will accelerateinformation processing, ignore certain pieces of information, or shift to simpler heuristics(Cited in Hawkins & Hoch, 1992). When a consumer has lost the opportunity to engage inan effortful decision strategy, simpler low-involvement decision takes place with theretrieval of previously informed affect associated with the product; so that memory forproduct information or evaluations may play an important role in decision making in suchsituations (Adopted from Peter & Nord, 1982 cited in Hawkins & Hoch, 1992). This meansthat every little detail that collected in consumers’ memory has an important role in buildingattitudes toward a product thus the purchase decision making.The basic communication model implies that “communication is the transmission of amessage from a sender to a receiver via a medium (or channel)” (Schiffman and Kanuk,2004 p.293). Persuasion is the use of communication to change attitudes in order tochange behaviour (Foxall, Goldsmith & Brown, 1998). “Basically, the persuasion processconsists of a sequence of two broad factors that determine the impact of thecommunication: the message source and its channel, and the message itself and itsreceiver” (Foxall, Goldsmith & Brown, 1998 p.117).When analyzing persuasion process of the consumer, many researchers use ELM –theElaboration Likelihood Model of Petty and Cacioppo (Flanagin and Metzger, 2000; Wantenand Burkell, 2002; Schiffman and Kanuk, 2004). According to the ELM, there are two – 14 –
  15. 15. different persuasion routes that consumers follow in case of decision making: the centralroute and the peripheral routes (Petty, Cacioppo & Schuman, 1983; Cho, 1997).The level of personal relevance or importance of the product to the consumer, determinesthe level of involvement (Park & Young, 1986 cited in Gotlieb, Schlacter & Louis, 1992). Ifconsumers display high enduring involvement in a product area, they are likely to paymore attention to a message and more likely to experience cognitive responses to themessage; this process of persuasion is termed in the ELM as the central route (Foxall,Goldsmith & Brown, 1998). Obviously, if consumers are less involved in the productcategory, the decision process has been done using less cognitive effort, but with thesupport of heuristic such as familiarity, spokes person; this form of persuasion is calledperipheral route to persuasion (Foxall, Goldsmith & Brown, 1998).According to Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann (1983) Attitude changes that occur via the peripheral route do not occur because an individual personally considered the pros and cons of the issue, but because the attitude issue is associated with positive or negative cues – or because the person makes simple inference about the merits of the advocated position based on various simple cues in the persuasion context.Therefore, a person may accept an advocacy simply because the source is an expert or itwas presented in a pleasant lunch (Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann, 1983). Details forcredibility factors will be presented in following paragraphs however it is good to signpostat this point that, the simple cues concept implies that -especially for low involvementproducts- blogs are likely to be effective in persuasion as they are informal sources ofinformation and mainly owned by expert authors.Everyday we are exposed to thousands of many different types of brand related messagesmostly unconsciously (Heath, 2001). The link between memory and persuasion iscomplicated while there are many information resources influencing belief, such asadvertising message, experience, the consumer’s own thoughts and WOM (Hawkins &Hoch, 1993). Heath (2001) categorizes processing of brand messages into three maintypes: Active, automatic and shallow. The type of mental processing we use depends onour levels of involvement. Active processing requires high level of involvement and israrely used while it requires much use of working memory to think about and interpret thelearning outcome (Heath, 2001). However, a subconscious mental process takes place – 15 –
  16. 16. and contributes to our learning and store of knowledge since the beginning of humankind:Automatic processing (Heath, 2001). While most mental processing goes either automaticand active, there is a semi-conscious level of learning process that takes place whencircumstances are not important for active process but nor completely unimportant forautomatic process which called shallow processing (Heath, 2001).Supporting Heath’s (2001) arguments, Krugman’s early study on low-involvement (1965cited in Hawkins & Hoch, 1992) highlights that low-involvement learning occurs whenconsumers attend to marketing communications without explicitly intending to evaluateand learn from the message. Or, “without an explicit intention to evaluate the message,the consumer does not link the message to personal needs, brand beliefs, or pastexperiences” (Hawkins & Hoch, 1992). On this basis it can be argued that the learningfrom blogs might likely be dependent on the attention level and current motivation of theconsumer.LOW -INVOLVEMENT PROCESSING MODEL OF HEATHHeath developed ELM model one step further and proposed ‘The model of lowinvolvement processing of advertising messages’ (Heath, 2001). He proposes 4 differenttypes of processing for a marketing stimulus, according to consumer’s attention level. Lowinvolvement processing model argues that high attention leads to explicit processing ofthe message which means message would be kept in analytical memories and persuasivemessages would lead to rational brand choice. On the other hand low attention might leadto shallow, automatic or pre-attentive processing, might be kept in perceptual orconceptual memories and learned associations and meanings of the brand might drive tointuitive brand choice (Heath, 2001 p.79).PRODUCT CATEGORIES AND INVOLVEMENTProduct category is accepted as a factor influencing consumers’ motivation for informationprocessing. Most FMCG are accepted as low involvement products. As Kotler states “inlow involvement consumers do not search extensively for information about brands,evaluate their characteristics, and make a weighty decision on which brand to buy” (1996,p.225 cited in Silayoi & Speece, 2004). Silayoi and Speece (2004) also state that foodproducts often chosen without prior planning and representing a form of impulse buying;such as one-third of women shoppers buy food products through habits. – 16 –
  17. 17. Another approach for grouping products is according to consumers’ motivations. Dahlen(2002) states that “Products can generally be categorized as either functional orexpressive based on the motives that consumers have for buying and consuming them”.Functional products are subject to cognitive motives while expressive products are toaffective motives (Ratchford, 1987 cited in Dahlen, 2002). Therefore, there are differenceshow consumers’ seek and evaluate information for the two product types.Functional products likely to require logical and objective purchase decision processbased on functional facts (Vaugh, 1980, 1986 cited in Dahlen, 2002). Functional productsare characterized by thinking while expressive products are more to feeling (Vaugh, 1980,1986 cited in Dahlen, 2002). “The customer may ‘care’ a lot about the product but stillmanifests little cognitive activity” (Mittal, 1989 cited in Dahlen, 2002). The informationseeking is also different for the two types of products, whereas consumers seem moreinclined to search for and process information for functional products, but less initiativewhen it comes to expressive products (Dahlen, 2002). For expressive products theinformation search does not necessarily take place before purchase (Ehrenberg, 1974;Rossiter and Percy, 1992; Dahlén and Bergendahl, 2000 cited in Dahlen, 2002).Therefore, automatic and shallow processing for low-involvement expressive products islikely to take place more commonly than active processing. Regular visits to a recipe blogsuggest a continuous reception about food brands and products.2.2.2. Blog’s Effects on Brand Attitude ChangeIn order to place this study in an appropriate context, a theoretical framework tounderstand the processing of the online CGM and its possible effects on brand attitudechange is developed based on previous studies. As a result of this review study, in thissection the literature for brand attitude, online Word-of-mouth (WOM) and finally the goalorientation factor online -in other words the user’s motivation- will be presented.ATTITUDE TOWARDS BRANDHughes defines an attitude as an “individual’s favorable or unfavorable inclination towardsand attribute of and object” (Cited in Foxall, Goldsmith & Brown, 1998). According toFishbein and Ajzen (1975 cited in Mitchell & Olson, 1981) a person’s attitude is a functionof his salient beliefs at a given point in time. Attitudes -toward brands, products,companies or advertisements- are learned or acquired rather than inborn; “they areformed as a result of personal experience, reasoning or information, the communicated – 17 –
  18. 18. experience of others” (Fishbein, 1975; Lutz, 1991 all cited in Foxall, Goldsmith & Brown,1998).Actually, marketing researchers have been mainly concerned with consumer’s beliefsabout attributes of a brand (Mitchell & Olson, 1981). Beliefs are the subjectiveassociations and salient beliefs are activated from memory and considered by the personin given situation (Fishbein & Ajzen 1975 cited in Mitchell & Olson, 1981).Change in attitude is facilitated by acquisition of new information (Ginter, 1974). In bothcentral and peripheral route processing, attitudes toward the brand are formed (Droge,1989). Droge also states that “Cognitions about the brand, though perhaps vague andimpoverished in peripheral processing, always precede attitude formation. In each route,attitude formation precedes intention and behavior” (Droge, 1989). On the other handFoxall, Goldsmith and Brown argue that “not only do attitudes influence behavior butbehavior influences the formation of attitudes as consumers learn through personalexperience which brands best meet their needs and expectations” (1998). This means thatthe relation between attitudes and purchasing behaviour is not linear.ONLINE W ORD OF MOUTH COMMUNICATION“The concept of personal influence refers to any change in individual’s beliefs, attitudes, orbehavior that occurs as a consequence of interpersonal communication and WOM is oneof the most important means which personal influence can occur” (Newman, 2003). As anonline WOM medium blogs are likely to change attitudes towards brands.Word-of-mouth communication (WOM) plays an important role on shaping consumers’attitudes and behaviors (Brown & Reingen, 1987). In one of the first studies on WOM,Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955) found that WOM was the most important source of influence inthe purchase of household goods and food products (Cited in Brown & Reingen, 1987).Many studies on WOM stated that informal resources such as friends, co-workers andeven strangers, impact the consumer purchase decision process (Arndt, 1968; Day &London, 1976; Silverman 1997; Whyte, 1954; McGrath & Otnes, 1995 all cited inNewman, 2003). Consumers prefer to do this because unlike formal information resourcessuch as advertising, “the sender of informal communications is perceived as havingnothing to gain from the receiver’s subsequent actions”, therefore informal WOMcommunications tend to be highly persuasive (Schiffman and Kanuk, 2004; Newman,2003). – 18 –
  19. 19. WOM is defined as “informal communication about the characteristic of a business or aproduct which occurs between consumers” (Westbrook, 1987 cited in Ha 2004 p.331).WOM allows consumers to receive both informational and normative influences on theproduct evaluations and purchase intentions of fellow consumers (Bone, 1995; Ward andReingen 1990 cited in Ha 2004). As Ha states WOM is claimed to be more influential onbehavior than other marketer-controlled sources as “WOM has been shown to influenceawareness, expectations, perceptions, attitudes, behavioral intentions and behavior” (Ha2004, p.331).“Why WOM is more accessible in memory and exerts a relatively greater impact onconsumers? (Herr, Kardes & Kim, 1991 cited in Newman, 2003)  WOM has personal relevance, which increases receivers’ involvement levels and consequently the information’s impact.  WOM is concrete, containing detailed facts about specific people, actions, and outcomes.  WOM testimony occurs in close temporal, spatial, and sensory proximity to receivers. The story is fresh and new, its setting and context are local and recognizable, and the account describes the narrator’s firsthand experience, which listeners can likely relate.”(Newman, 2003)WOM is no more a strong tie social network issue; in the Internet era opinion leaders areno more restricted to communicate only with friends and family members (Brown &Reingen, 1987; Newman, 2003). “The exponential growth of the Internet has rendered theWOM process as one of the most powerful interpersonal communication means in oursociety today-capable of reaching unlimited number of internet users” (Newman, 2003).Ries states that with the evolution of the Internet, now "Word of mouth is the real secretweapon in building a brand" (Cited in Angeld, 2004). Today blogs became a powerfulchannel for online WOM with increasing popularity. So that buzz metrics – tracking“naturally occurring conversations” on blogs (as far as message boards, review sites andgroup sites) is an important issue for brands managers (Angeld, 2004). Buzz, is the termused mainly for Online WOM and “it is the modern variant of gossip and a combination ofmarketing communication (which is all about telling our commercial stories) and public – 19 –
  20. 20. relations (used to narrate particular angles of a story) in a highly networked world”(Angeld, 2004). These changes in marketing dynamics also suggest that blogs areaccepted as effective information sources for informal brand talk.In summary, it can be argued that, depending on the previous studies, persuasion powerof WOM communication is likely to appear as an important aspect of blog’scharacteristics. While research studies have demonstrated that WOM may affect productpurchase intensions positive or negatively (Arndt, 1968; Richins, 1983 cited in Newman,2003) a blog might influence the attitudes of the consumer towards a brand.Motivation Factor: Search or BrowseWeb based behaviour is categorized into two distinct styles of navigation: goal directedand experiential (Chen, Houston and Schatz, 1998; Li& Bukovac, 1999 all cited in Dutta-Bergman, 2004). For this study, goal directed behaviour defined under the term ‘search’and experiential behaviour is ‘browsing’. Although browsing is characterized by its exploratory nature and absence of planning, goals, or objectives (Marchionini, 1987; Marchionini & Shneiderman, 1988 all cited in Dutta-Bergman, 2004), searching is goal-directed and the user looks for specific information to solve a problem or to fulfill specific information needs (Chen et al., 1998 cited in Dutta-Bergman, 2004).The searcher is driven by his or her very specific interest in the search topic, has a goal inmind thus is highly involved. Searching involves planned information seeking marked bygoal-directed processing of relevant information and uses the central route (Dutta-Bergman, 2004). As the central route involves deeper and more effort-intensiveprocessing (Petty, Cacioppo & Schuman, 1983) the searcher pays attention to the strengthof the arguments presented in the blog (Adopted from Petty, Cacioppo & Schuman, 1983;Dutta-Bergman, 2004).On the other hand, surfing with its unplanned, experimental and exploratory informationprocessing strategy that heavily depends upon serendipity, involves peripheral processing(Carmel, Crawford & Chen, 1992; Marchionini, 1987; Marchionini & Shneiderman, 1988;Murphy, 1998 all cited in Dutta-Bergman, 2004). Dutta-Bergman suggests that, based onELM analogy, message-based criteria are used under searching (high-involvement) andsource-based criteria are used under surfing (low-involvement) for consumer decision – 20 –
  21. 21. making (2004). Li and Bucovac point out that “information seekers in searching situationsselectively orient their attention to information based on its relevance and surfersexperientially oriented and are drawn toward whatever is interesting in their informationenvironment“(1999 cited in Dutta-Bergman, 2004).In summary, searching or browsing situation of the consumer is likely to influence theattention level, thus the consumer-generated-information processing.2.2.3. Credibility of a BlogGENERAL VIEW : W HAT IS CREDIBILITY?Credibility is one of the most studied message source characteristics, and includesexpertise, objectivity and trustworthiness. “Although scholars disagree about the exactnumber of dimensions that underlie source credibility, trustworthiness and expertise of thesource are the most widely used dimensions in the operationalization of source credibility”(Dutta-Bergman, 2004). There is a “direct connection between the credibility of amessage’s source and the amount of attitude change the message produces may appearto be a common-sense proposition” (Foxall, Goldsmith & Brown, 1998). In summary, it canbe stated that when the source is credible, the message is much more likely to bebelieved.As stated above, consumers process information in stages and may alter the form ofreceived information in the process of encoding (Gotlieb, Schlacter & Louis, 1992).Especially under low involvement conditions there is a little motivation to deeply process amessage, and an attitude is formed primarily by associating the message position with aneasy-to-access, peripheral cue (Sengupta, Goodstein & Boninger, 1997).Peripheral cues, like the credibility and attractiveness of the source, have a much biggerimpact on persuasion under low-involvement conditions. (Chaiken, 1980 and Petty,Cacioppo & Schuman, 1983 cited in Hawkins & Hoch, 1992). According to Gotlieb,Schlacter and Louis, “credibility of the information source mediates how consumersperceive and interpret the stimuli“and they state that “ELM view source credibility as asignificant variable that affects consumers’ responses to persuasive messages” (1992).Petty and Cacioppo argue that the “credibility of the information source can affect thedevelopment of behavioral intentions by serving as peripheral cue” (1979 cited in Gotlieb, – 21 –
  22. 22. Schlacter & Louis, 1992), which means that as the credibility of the resource increases,the possibility of persuasion of the consumer increases.As source credibility can serve as a strong positive peripheral cue, the consumer can bepersuaded through it rather than by a thoughtful evaluation of the message (Gotlieb,Schlacter & Louis, 1992). “The directional effect of source credibility is the same for high and low involvement products, but the reason for the effect is different. For low-involvement products it serves as a peripheral cue; for high-involvement products, it suppresses the generation of negative cognitive responses. It appears that source credibility may be a central cue in consumer decision-making process for selecting a provider for a product” (Gotlieb, Schlacter & Louis, 1992).Credibility depends on a number of factors. Dholakia and Sternthal states that “Sourcecredibility is believed to be comprised of two underlying dimensions: Expertise andtrustworthiness” (1977 cited in Gotlieb, Schlacter & Louis, 1992). According to Schiffmanand Kanuk the most important credibility factors are the perceived intentions of the source(2004 p.297). On their study for web credibility, Wanten and Burkell analyzed all factorsthat influence credibility for traditional media as seen in Table 1 (2002). According to theirstudy, credibility is dependent on several variables regarding on all aspects ofcommunication: Source, receiver, message, medium and context (Wanten & Burkell,2002). Expertise and trustworthiness of the author and motivation, issue relevance andinvolvement of the receiver are some of the credibility factors that found to be influencingcredibility (Wanten & Burkell, 2002). This assumption constitutes a basis for the authorcredibility factor for predicting blog credibility model developed for this study.Source Receiver Message Medium ContextExpertise/Knowledge Issue relevance Topic/content Organization Distraction "noise"Trustworthiness Motivation (i.e. Need for Internal Usability Time since message the information) validity/consistency encounteredCredentials Prior knowledge of the Plausibility of arguments Presentation issueAttractiveness Issue involvement Supported by data or Vividness examplesSimilarity to receivers Values/Beliefs/ Situation Framing (loss or gain)beliefs / contextLikeability/Goodwill/Dyna Steriotypes about the Repetition/familiaritymism topic or source Social location OrderingTable 1 – Examples of factors influencing credibility (print and interpersonal media), (Wanten andBurkell, 2002). – 22 –
  23. 23. As stated by Olaisen “Personal information sources are most trusted in spite they are notnecessarily the experts. Social location will influence quality factors like credibility,relevance, and perceived value of information” (1990 cited in Wanten and Burkell, 2002).As the Internet completely changed our social location and the types of social networks weinhabit, virtual communities became as one of the most influential reference groups fortoday’s consumer (Schiffman and Kanuk, 2004). Given with these studies’ validity, it isassumed that personal information sources and word-of-mouth communication is likely tobe a critical issue which is influencing persuasion capability of blogs positively.A GENERAL VIEW ON W EB CREDIBILITYFlanagin and Metzger found out that “information obtained via the Internet is perceived tobe as credible as that found through magazines, the radio and television” (2000 p.529).However, different than traditional media, online media readership requires the consumerto be an Internet user. Therefore the Internet channel itself brings the technicalrequirements for both on source and the receiver sides in credibility perception. Wantenand Burkell’s (2002) study on web credibility suggests that for an online information sourcethere are two types of elements effect the credibility: Cognitive and Technical (See Table2).Cognitive qualities are suggested as source expertise, trustworthiness, credentials andmessage relevance (Wanten & Burkell, 2002). Different than traditional media, computer-based media credibility also dependent on technical qualities, mainly based on site designand usability factors such as surface attractiveness, speed of loading, usability andinteractivity (Wanten & Burkell, 2002). Parallel to printed and mass media credibility,receiver’s motivation, expertise to the Internet and relevance to issue and personalassumptions about the source appears to be influential on the credibility of a web site(Wanten & Burkell, 2002).Source/Medium/Message ReceiverSource expertise/knowledge/competence Assumptions about source or topic Cognitive QualitiesSource trustworthiness Motivation (i.e. Need for the information)Source credentials/influenceMessage context/relevance/currency/accuracy Knowledge/expertise re: issue Institutional Quality Knowledge/expertise re: technologySurface attractiveness/formatDesign of interface Social location Technical QualitiesSpeed of loadingUsability/accesibilityInteractivity/flexibilityTable 2 - Factors influencing credibility (specific to computer-based media) Wanten & Burkell (2002) – 23 –
  24. 24. BLOG CREDIBILITYBlog’s which are created by consumers have a special media characteristics. For blogsboth the message and the medium are independent of the manufacturer, retailer or theservice provider (Bone, 1992 cited in Newman, 2003). Therefore, blogs are likely to beperceived as honest and objective information resources. Supporting this argument, asstated above, previous studies on WOM prove that credibility of informal sources is high.Perception of having nothing to gain from any published information is likely to make ablog be perceived as a credible source (Adopted from Schiffman and Kanuk, 2004).Several studies on credibility of blogs proved that distrust and dislike of traditional media isgrowing (Reynolds 2003 cited in Johnson and Kaye, 2004). Flanagin and Metzger supportthis argument as “commercial information online seems to be quite distinct in its low levelof perceived credibility” while manipulative intent on the part of source negatively impactstrustworthiness” (2000, p.531). The decrease in the trust to commercial informationsources fosters the credibility perception of blogs.On the other hand as Crumlish states, blogs are just the best current tool that supportsfreer personal expression which allows disintermediation of mass-broadcast middlemanand supplementing a people-to-people communication channel (2004). Using theadvantage of being independent, blogs’ credibility perception increases in today’smarketing environment. Supporting this argument, Johnson and Kaye found out that blogusers are likely to consider blogs a highly credible source of information because “they areindependent rather than controlled by corporate interests; bloggers may discuss issuestraditional media shy away because they might hurt corporations” (Cristol cited in Johnsonand Kaye, 2004).PATH MODEL OF PREDICTORS OF BLOG CREDIBILITYCredibility of a blog is dependent on a complex web of factors. In order to explain thesefactors, a model for the predictors of Blog credibility (See chart 2) is developed based onprevious research. According to this model, factors influencing a blog’s credibility aregrouped under 3 main aspects of blog communication: Author, visitor and site design -content. In following sections the theoretical background for each factor group will bepresented. As can be seen in Chapter 4 the first aim of this study is to analyze thesefactors’ contribution to blog credibility. – 24 –
  25. 25. Expert Independent Personal Neutral/Fair In depth, accurate info Author credibility Visitor Related Factors Design+Content Related Factors Web reliance Related with Site content Usability/Design Blog credibility Demographic Content Related with variables Author credibility Contribution Convenience From Blog visitorsChart 2-Path model of predictors of Blog credibilityThe Blog Author’s CredibilityNow we know that the sender and his or her perceived honesty and objectivity have anenormous influence on how the communication is accepted by the receiver(s) (Schiffmanand Kanuk, 2004). On the other hand, peripheral cues such as the expertise of themessage source have had a greater impact on persuasion under conditions of lowinvolvement (Cacioppo & Schuman, 1983). These basic rules of marketing communicationsuggest that author characteristics are important factors influencing the credibility of ablog.Wright (1974 cited in Cacioppo & Schuman, 1983) argues that involvement wouldincrease both source comments and message comments; however more sourcecomments made under low involvement conditions and message comments were morecommon under high involvement. This makes blog author’s characteristics more importantespecially in low involvement conditions. The expertise of the author suggested as a factorto affect the level of credibility of a blog and tested for this study.Previous studies on blog credibility suggest that consumers prefer fair comments ofanother consumer even if they know the information on a blog might be opinionated, while – 25 –
  26. 26. it is independent and personal (Johnson and Kaye, 2004). Based on Johnson and Kaye(2004) study, perceived level of the information being personal and independency andfairness of the blog author are suggested as other factors which have an impact on thelevel of credibility of a blog author therefore the blog itself.Informal communications sources often become opinion leaders, and they often profitpsychologically by being in an ‘expert’ position. “This ego gratification may actuallyimprove the quality of the information provided, because the opinion leader oftendeliberately seeks for latest detailed information in order to enhance his/her position”(Schiffman and Kanuk, 2004, p.297).Based on assumptions stated above author characteristics expert, independent,neutral/fair and the perception of messages being personal combined to build authorcredibility factor for predicting a blog’s credibility.Visitor Related FactorsAccording to ELM, personal relevance is thought to be the only one determinant of theroute to persuasion (Cacioppo, Petty & Schumann, 1983). Consumer’s perception ofrelevance and convenience of a blog is likely to increase his/her motivation for processingproduct relevant information (Adopted from Cacioppo, Petty & Schumann, 1983). On theother hand, personal characteristics of the consumer may induce different motivations tothink, different people may typically employ different styles of information processing, andsome people might enjoy thinking more than others (Cacioppo and Petty, 1982).Therefore, situational variables and individual difference variables such as priorknowledge, online experience and web reliance may also be important moderators of theroute to persuasion (Adopted from Cacioppo, Petty & Schumann, 1983).Receiver’s online experience is one of the most influential factors to online source’scredibility. Greer discovered that the amount of time online was the strongest predictor ofwhether an online medium would be judged as credible (Cited in Johnson and Kaye,2004). On the other hand, Johnson and Kaye discovered that this is not true for all typesof information online and the amount of Web use failed to predict online credibility forsport and political news (Johnson and Kaye, 2000). However in another research theystated that “Past studies suggest that credibility of a medium is strongly linked how oftenone uses it.” (Austin and Dong 1994, Wanta and Hu 1994 cited in Johnson and Kaye,2002). This aspect of credibility defined as experience credibility by Wanten and Burkell – 26 –
  27. 27. (2002) also argued by Johnson and Kaye in their latest study on blogs (2004). Theypredict that Internet use predicts blog credibility and the results of the study showed thatblog reliance was the strongest predictor of credibility: “As in traditional media that themore one uses a medium, the more credible one judges it” (Johnson and Kaye, 2004p.634). Similarly, people judge their preferred medium as the most credible (Rimmer &Weaver, 1987 cited in Johnson & Kaye, 2004b).They also state that “amount of reliancemay also be a strong predictor of the credibility of a source by using various cues such asreputation of the medium and style of delivery” (Tewksbury and Althaus cited in Johnson &Kaye, 2004 p.634).According to Ferguson & Perse (2000), one’s level of perceived expertise can influencehow of the Internet is used (cited in Johnson & Kaye, 2004b). Who have been onlinelonger believe that they have greater expertise (UCLA Internet Report, 2003 cited inJohnson & Kaye, 2004b). Supporting these studies, Flanagin and Metzger (2001 cited inJohnson & Kaye, 2004b) also discovered that Internet experience predicted onlinecredibility. However, rather than relying on objective measures such as number of yearsonline and number of Internet activities, they used five subjective measures: Internet andweb use, experience, expertise, familiarity and access (Johnson & Kaye, 2004b). So, thatthe numbers of years spend online has been considered as a visitor related factorinfluencing the credibility perception of a blog.On the other hand, number of years online found to be indicative for online user behavior.Johnson & Kaye (2004b) states that “Experienced users are more likely to go online forresearch and work while new users go for pleasure”. The Stanford Institute study (Nie &Ebring, 2000 cited in Johnson & Kaye, 2004b) found that the more years a person hadbeen online, the more hours per week they surf the Internet and the more activities theyengage. Another study from Rosales (2001 cited in Johnson & Kaye, 2004b) “combinedyears online and number of online activities into a single Internet experience measure andexamined its influence on the Internet use”.The amount of time spend online is another user related factor that affects credibilityperception. Past studies suggest that credibility of a medium is strongly linked to howoften one uses it (Austing & Dong, 1994; Johnson & Kaye, 1998; 2000; Wanta & Hu, 1994all cited in Johnson & Kaye, 2004b). However, the amount of time spent with the Internetseems to have little influence on judgments of media credibility (Johnson & Kaye, 1998; – 27 –
  28. 28. Kiousis, 2001 all cited in Johnson & Kaye, 2004b). Based on the assumption that previousstudies’ outcomes are valid and reliable, visitor’s perception about the convenience of theInternet medium, visitor’s web reliance and specific web reliance on the topic – theInternet as a brand information source and the Internet as a recipe source- determined tobe the main factors influencing the credibility perception of a blog. Therefore it has beenincluded in the model as a multidimensional visitor related factor.Demographics of the visitor are another aspect that might effect the blog’s credibilityperception. As Internet users have become increasingly mainstream, demographicsaccepted to have less influence on media credibility (Johnson & Kaye, 2004b). Johnsonand Kaye (2000) found that “the Internet population resembles the population at large;demographics have less impact on Web reliance”. However, as the Internet penetration isaround 10% in Turkey (Source: www.internetworldstats.com, 2005), the Internet is still farfrom accepted as mainstream media. Therefore, the demographics factor has beenincluded in the model in order to test the influence of demographics to the credibilityperception of a blog.Design and Content Related FactorsIn spite under the low involvement conditions, attitudes appear to be affected by simpleacceptance and rejection cues in the persuasion context and are less affected byargument quality (Cacioppo, Petty & Schumann, 1983). Poh and Adam state that “if a Website is well-liked, some visitors to the Web site may be more receptive to the Web sitescontents, including its advertisements” (2002).Researchers Johnson and Kaye analyzed differences in credibility perceptions of theInternet and traditional channels. They argue that criteria affect credibility of Webinformation are source, content, format, presentation, currency, accuracy and speed ofloading (2000, 2002). Supporting this argument, Wanten and Burkell’s (2002) proposedmodel for the judgment of online information, implies that appearance, usability andinterface design and organization of the information are the main aspects that influencesurface credibility perception of a web site.Content is also accepted as important as design and usability factors (Wanten & Burkell,2002). Content’s relevance, currency, accuracy are appear to be important factorsinfluencing the credibility perception as far as source credibility aspects already explainedin previous sections (Olaisen 1990 cited in Wanten & Burkell, 2002). – 28 –
  29. 29. For blog’s, the only content source is not the authors. Collaborative content on blogsconstitutes an important part of the CGM online. Therefore, the relation between the blogauthor and visitors is likely to be an important factor influencing blog credibility. Supportingthis argument, Wanten and Burkell state that Internet has the persuasion characteristics ofinterpersonal channels by allowing give and take between the message source andreceiver. Therefore the Internet may have “a greater ability than other mass media tomake use of principles of consumer behavior to enhance information provision anduptake” (Cassell, Jackson & Cheuvront, 1998 cited in Wanten & Burkell, 2002).Based on the assumption that the above stated studies are valid and reliable, blog’susability and design, the content of the blog as author as a source and visitors as a sourcecombined to build a multidimensional site related factor for predicting a blog’s credibility.2.3. CONCLUSIONSince the year 2004, marketers are talking about blogs. Whittle states that “Blogs candeliver advertorial without costing anything. A great product and just one fanatical clientwith a popular blog can result in some effective marketing — like wise, an unhappy vocalcustomer can spell disaster.” (Cited in Arun, 2005). Maybe 62% percent of Internet usershave not heard about the blog word yet (PewInternet, 2005) and “The average blog hasan average audience of five. But there are celebrity bloggers being created.” (Neff, 2005).Zwiren states that “The real power lies in bloggers influence. Bloggers are "catalysts" ofpublic opinion. They are individuals who have a passionate opinion about a product, andinstead of talking over the fence to a neighbor, they are talking to a neighbor online whomay be in another state or another country” (Cited in Oser, 2004).In these circumstances, this study proposes a new approach to understand how mightblogs have an effect on consumer’s attitudes towards brands. Based on previous studieson persuasion models, ELM, source credibility and web credibility, the proposed model forfactors of blog credibility and the framework for informal brand information processing areexpected to answer this question. – 29 –
  30. 30. C HAPTER 3- R ESEARCH METHODOLOGY3.1. OBJECTIVES AND MAIN RESEARCH QUESTIONSThis research aims to answer the following questions:  How credible is the content on blogs?  What are the contributions of author related; site design and usability related and visitor related factors on a blog’s credibility perception?  Are attitudes towards a brand likely to change as a result of blog use?  Does searching for particular information online makes a difference on information processing on a blog therefore brand attitude change as a result of blog use?As a summary, this study basically aims to provide the empirical support for proposedmodels: “Blog’s Effects on Brand Attitude Change” and “Predictors of blog credibility”(Please see Chart 1 and Chart 2) and test the below stated hypothesis in order to explorethe universal truth about the influences of online consumer generated content.3.2. OVERVIEW OF THE RESEARCH PROCESS Literature Review Development of the framework Proposing hypothesis to test Design the Test Runs Launch survey Survey (English) Data Data Collection Collection Feedback from Findings and Test the theory Conclusion Participans Analysis Hypothesis Recommendations UpdatesChart 3 – The research process – 30 –
  31. 31. 3.3. THE SIMPLIFIED FRAMEWORK FOR BLOG’S EFFECTS ON BRAND ATTITUDECHANGEThis study aims to test the blog’s effects on brand attitude change model as reportedattitude change for purchase intentions and brand information learning level. There aremultiple reasons for the usage of a simplified method in the research design. First of all,usage of the real framework necessitates a long term study on visitor’s previous and postattitudes towards a brand depending on a blog readership. Possibility of pre and post testsand applying complex quantitative and qualitative researches was out of scope of this MAdissertation study. The second reason was the problem of collecting reliable empiricaldata. The study designed using quantitative research methodology, self reporting onlinesurvey method whereas reporting memory processing differences expected to be harderfor the respondents. Therefore, the model is simplified to provide empirical support oncredibility and motivation factors and their possible impact on brand attitude change (Seechart 4). Brand/Product related message received from a Blog No Was consumer H4 Is source credible? Searching for No change information? No H3 Yes Yes Attitude Change No Was consumer H2 Searching for Attitude Change information? No H1 Yes Simplified Framework for Blog’s Effects on Brand Attitude Change, Attitude Change the model for processing informal brand information online, based on low-involvement processing model of Heath (2001)Chart 4 – Simplified Framework for Blog’s Effects on Brand Attitude ChangeHypothesis to be testedThere are four different cases an attitude change likely to happen as a result of blogreadership. It has been suggested that there is a hierarchical relationship between the – 31 –
  32. 32. levels of attitude change among these four cases depended on the credibility perceptionof the blog and motivation –involvement level- of the visitor. The hypotheses to be testedfor this study are as bellows:H1 – If the respondents were searching for information (high-involvement), they morelikely to report that their attitudes toward the brand mentioned on the “credible blog” likelyto change.H2 – If the respondents were browsing (low-involvement), they more likely to report thattheir attitudes toward the brand mentioned on the “credible blog” likely to change.However, the reported change in the attitude expected to be lower than high-involvementcredible source case.H3 - If the respondents were searching for information (high-involvement), they more likelyto report that their attitudes toward the brand mentioned on the “non-credible blog” likely tochange. However, the reported change in the attitude expected to be lower than high-involvement credible source case and low-involvement credible source case.H4 – If the respondents were browsing (low-involvement), they more likely to report nochange in their attitudes towards the brand mentioned on the “non-credible blog”.3.4. PRIMARY RESEARCH3.4.1. The methodology and methods adoptedThis study was designed using a positivist approach for epistemological considerationswhile it utilizes scientific methods to analyze the social world (Grix, 2004). Positivists arguethat “There are patterns and regularities, causes and consequences, in the social world asthere are in the natural world” (Denscombe 2002 cited in Grix 2004). The collected dataand the outcomes of the study are in quantitative terms in order to identify mathematicalrelationships between blog readership and change in a specific attitude towards a brand.In other words, the purpose of collecting the data is to find out main factors that make ablog credible enough to change the consumer’s attitudes towards a brand.This study does not aim to understand individual, subjective ideas but explain thiscontemporary phenomenon in society independent from actors (Grix, 2004; Bryman,2001). This means that the objective approach had been used while developing this – 32 –
  33. 33. research strategy. Bryman states that objectivism is “an ontological position that assertssocial phenomena and their meanings has an existence that is independent of socialactors” (2001 p.16). It can be concluded that there is a logical compatibility betweenepistemological and ontological components in this research (Grix, 2004 p.67).As can be seen in research process (Chart 3), this research has been developed andapplied using a deductive approach. Hyde states, “deductive reasoning is a theory testingprocess, which commences with an established theory or generalization, and seeks if thetheory applies to specific instances” (2000, p.83). The first stage was the development ofnew framework for blog credibility and its effects on brand attitude change. Testing thetheory developed is the main purpose of the research design.This study utilizes quantitative research methodology while it aims to emphasizequantification in the collection and analysis of data (Bryman, 2001). As stated by Hyde “therole of quantitative research is to describe the general and ignore the particular” (2000p.84) and this study would present “a view of social reality as an external, objective reality”in order to achieve this target (Bryman, 2001 p.19). Thus, quantitative research expectedto be the appropriate methodology to reach specific targets of this research. Supportingthis argument, Johnson and Kaye used quantitative methodology in all their studies whileresearching online credibility (2004, 2003, 2000). Their studies were based on quantitativemethodology utilizing online survey technique.3.5. EVALUATION OF RESEARCH DESIGN3.5.1. Sample definition and rationaleThe sample frame for this study is defined as “the visitors of recipe blogs in Turkish” whileour research questions the effects of blog readership. Inclusion criterion for this study isonly being a reader of a recipe blog. Visitor might be a regular visitor or a first time visitor.Recipe blogs are one of the popular topics on the blogosphere. According to BlogPulsetrend report 0.45% of all posts on blogs on July 2005 was containing keyword recipe. Aslow involvement products and mainly food are selected as a focus research area, recipeblogs are selected as the source to research sampling. While majority of posts andcomments on pure recipe blogs have references to food products. Recipe blogs representan exact interest area and they are mainly center of attention for women. – 33 –
  34. 34. With over 73million citizens and 10% Internet penetration, Turkey has larger onlinepopulation than many European countries (Internetworldstats, 2005). Turkey has agrowing Internet population with 263% growth rate in the last 5 years that also suggests alarge potential to grow in the near future (Internetworldstats, 2005). Culturally decisionmaking on food purchases are done by women while they do the majority of householdshopping. Majority of recipe blog visitors are also women in Turkey, while cooking is theduty of women in the house. Parallel to developing urban city culture, young men are alsointerested in cooking and trying new recipes.It has been expected that the results of this study to be valuable in terms of analyzing abrand new market: Turkey. As a contemporary topic, a research on blog usage in Turkeyhas never been done before. Benefiting from being the first in the market this study hasbeen welcomed and received blog authors’ kind supports and even visitors of blogs’ haveshowed a high interest for this academic study.Finally, the personal engagement of the researcher to the topic blogs must be stated. Theknowledge on blogs and online marketing dynamics expected to increase the efficiency ofthe research process. With leveraging the knowledge of market dynamics, contacting withseveral blog owners with the right method and recruiting more demographics becamepossible. Technical abilities resulting from researcher’s computer programmingbackground allowed the researcher generate server pages scripting and the databasedesign for the online survey without a need of extra resources.3.5.2. Method of sampling and rationaleThis study facilitates a non-probability sampling methodology: self-selection conveniencesampling. This method also defined as volunteer sampling as an Internet samplingtechnique (Hewson et.al, 2003). Announcements are posted on target recipe blogs andvisitors are invited to join the study. All of the participants are informed that the survey wasa part of academic study. As stated by Hewson et.al, this method expected to give theresearcher more control over the type of users who is likely to see the announcement aswell as restrict distribution to a particular country (2003).In favour of self-selecting convenience sampling, the method run in partnership with one(more) popular web site(s) is proved to be an effective method (Johnson and Kaye, 2004-2002). Several studies on blogs and web site credibility by Johnson and Kaye also utilized – 34 –
  35. 35. self-selection convenience sampling (2004, 2003, 2000). There are several limitations tothe study resulting from self selecting convenience sampling. Please see section 3.5.6 forexplanation of these limitations.While designing this study several blogs have been audited by the researcher. It has beenknown that there is a huge range of blogs according to their regular visitor figures. Andobviously there is little value researching on the dead blogs. Therefore, active blogs withhigh contribution of consumers targeted for this study. In order to reach target populationmini banners and invitations to survey has been placed on selected recipe blogs in Turkey.There are over 40 Turkish recipe blogs and 15 of them are selected according to followingcriteria:  Active: At least 1 post in last 7 days.  Collaborative: At least 10 comments for each post.  Independent: None of the authors are working for an FMCG company or advertising agency.  Popular: Linked or referenced by other blogs.  Advertising free: None of these blogs are placing google ads or banners.  Exclusively on recipes: All of the blogs selected contains only posts related with recipes. Other blogs containing recipe posts as far as other topics such as DIY, jewellery design or child care have not been included in the study.Please note that these criteria are defined by the researcher, depending on (the) personalexperience.(Please see Attachment 10 for Screenshots of selected blogs)3.5.3. Method of data collection and rationaleIn order to reach a large population that reads blogs regularly the most effective methodwas running an online survey and invite the visitors of these particular interest groups to fillout the form. This was a ‘self-administered questionnaire’ consisting of questions thatindividual respondents completed by themselves (Fink, 2003). The questionnaire wasselected as a research tool, while it is “the most obvious, easily adaptable tool for use inInternet-mediated research and certainly the most widely used to date” (Hewson et.al,2003). – 35 –
  36. 36. For this study an online survey has been designed, coded, placed on a web site andadministered by the researcher. The questionnaire has been coded using ASP (ActiveServer Pages). Data has been accumulated in a MS Access database. Since a highnumber of participants (over 300) were aimed, the collection of data on an electronicplatform made the research process shorter and transferring data into analysis tools(SPSS and Excel) easier.“Survey design is a way of arranging the environment which survey takes place” (Fink,2003). Since this was an online survey and the questionnaire was filled by the participanthimself or herself in front of a computer, the only administration possibility was managingthe page design, content and interactive controls (Please see Attachment 2 for Screenshots of online survey). User friendly, simple and clear interactive form functionality aimedwhen designing HTML pages for the questionnaire. Visitors were informed about thecontent and the length of the questionnaire at the beginning. The questionnaire wasdivided into 3 pages in order to increase download speed of pages and make fill outprocess easier. Since the majority of participants expected to be less tech-savvy, formcontrols and buttons were named clearly, every next step has been defined and on everystep participant informed.In summary, this method enabled this study to collect data from a high number ofparticipants in short term. In addition to that because this study related to blog usage,using an online questionnaire and inviting only blog users to answer the questionnairewould enable this study to reach right consumer groups as participants. There are somelimitations as a result of the usage of self reporting online survey and they will beexplained in section 3.5.6.3.5.4. The Questionnaire DesignPunch states, “that a quantitative survey related variables begins with its objectives andresearch questions” (2003, p.22). Three methods have been advised for the analysis ofsource credibility by Wanten and Burkell (2002): Check direct measures: Ask respondentsto indicate if information source believable and check proxy measures: Knowledge changecheck or attitude or behavior change. This advice has been taken into consideration whiledesigning the questionnaire. – 36 –

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