Beyond the 'Like' Button: The Impact of Mere Virtual Presence on Brand Evaluations and Purchase Intentions in Social Media Settings
Journal of Marketing. Accepted May 2012; Forthcoming, November 2012
52 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2012
Date Written: June 5, 2012
By 2011, approximately 83% of Fortune 500 companies were using some form of social media to connect with consumers (Hameed 2011). Further, surveys suggest that consumers are increasingly relying on social media to learn about unfamiliar brands. However, best practices regarding the use of social media to bolster brand evaluations in such situations remain undefined. This research focuses on one practice in this domain: the decision to hide or reveal the demographic characteristics of a brand’s online supporters. Results from four studies indicate that even when the presence of these supporters is only passively experienced and virtual (a situation we term “mere virtual presence”), their demographic characteristics can influence a target consumer’s brand evaluations and purchase intentions. Findings suggest a framework for brand managers to use when deciding whether to reveal the identities of their online supporters or to retain ambiguity based on: (1) the composition of existing supporters relative to targeted new supporters and (2) whether the brand is likely to be evaluated singly or in combination with competing brands.
Keywords: Social Influence, Mere Presence, Social Media, Social Networks, Ambiguity
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