The widespread adoption of social media is transforming the consumer-brand relationship. Social media is allowing consumers connect with other users, create, consume and control access to content (Hoffman and Novak, 2012). Research suggests that social media increases brand relationship depth and loyalty, and generates incremental purchase behaviour (Laroche et al., 2012; Kim and Ko, 2012; Pooja et al., 2012). It is not surprising therefore that commentators suggest that marketers should target social media users who are more likely to exert an influence on their network in order to facilitate brand recommendations (Iyengar, Han, & Gupta, 2009). But who are these influentials? Goldenberg et al. (2009) suggest that there are only two types of influential that impact information diffusion – innovators and followers.
Our study looks at early users or in Goldenberg at al.’s terminology, innovators, of two social networking sites, Twitter and Google+, and the effects of personality and mode of information sharing on social influence scoring. Specifically, we look at:
1. How does (i) extraversion, (ii) openness and (iii) conscientiousness influence:
- Information sharing behaviour
- Rumour sharing behavior
2. How does (i) information sharing behaviour and (ii) rumour sharing behaviour impact social network site influence scores?
Early Twitter users were identified through a public list and through the joining date listed on user public profiles. As the study occurred during the Google+ closed field test, all users were deemed early users. Two discrete survey instruments were designed, one for Twitter and one for Google+ to provide for different SNS validation checks. To assess the personality traits of respondents, we tested extraversion, openness and conscientiousness with the scale of Gosling et al. (2003) while information and rumour sharing scale were extracted from Marett and Joshi (2009). The SNS score was the independent variable in our model and this was measured using two commercial SNS influence score providers, PeerIndex and Klout.
Our study hypothesized that that Extraversion and Openness were two personality traits that should positively influence both Information and Rumor sharing behavior (H1 and H2), while Conscientiousness would have a reverse effect on Information (+) and Rumor (-) sharing behavior (H3 and H4). We also hypothesized that both Information and Rumor sharing behavior should positively influence social network influence scoring. A structural equation model using AMOS was used to test these hypotheses.
Results of Structured Equation Model – Standardised Regression Weights and Summary Findings
The model suggests:
- Early users of social network sites who are more extrovert or more open or more conscientious are more likely to share information
- Information sharing and rumor sharing should be treated as two distinct constructs in the discussion of social network influence.
- All three traits were negatively related to rumor sharing. Only the effects of extroversion and conscientiousness were significant.
- Both information sharing and rumor sharing impacted positively and significantly on social network site influence scores.
While previous literature has suggested that it is difficult to identify market mavens (Goldsmith et al., 2006), early users of social media can be identified easily and conveniently. This may provide firms with the opportunity to target potential innovators and early adopters much more efficiently and thus accelerate diffusion of marketing messages. Our study suggests filtering these adopters by messaging behaviour may also be of assistance with a greater of emphasis of resources being placed on those social network users who share information rather than rumor. While identifying these potential influencers would seem to be more efficient than identifying mavens, further research is required to understand the most effective way and time to engage with them. Finally, it would seem social network influence scores provide useful signals for identifying social media users likely to share information. Social media users characterised by a combination of high influence scores and propensity for information sharing are powerful assets for firms, particularly if they have relatively large social networks. Engaging with these influencers represents a relatively low cost mechanism for indirectly reaching target markets through word of mouth on social networks.
The research was conducted by Dr Theo Lynn (DCU Business School), Dr Laurent Muzellec (UCD), Dr Barbara Caemerrer (ESSCA), Prof. Darach Turley (DCU Business School) and Bettina Wuerdinger (DCU Business School).