Fashion Consumption & Social Media

     “Analysis Of Fashion Consumers’ Motives To Engage In Electronic Word-Of-Mouth Communication Through Social Media Platforms” by Julia Wolny and Claudia Mueller questions what motivates consumers to engage in brand-related communications online.  The authors discuss the concepts of eWOM (electronic word-of-mouth) and viral marketing with a focus on the fashion consumer and brand commitment.  They conducted their research using a self-administered Internet-based questionnaire where there were likely to be responses from people who have had experience engaging with fashion brands online.  The two main findings were that social networking sites are being used by consumers to connect with one another and connect consumers with brands, and that high brand commitment and fashion involvement motivate people to engage in talking about and interacting with fashion brands.

     The three key terms that the authors discuss in the article are high involvement products, viral marketing and eWOM.  Fashion has been ranked as high involvement, which refers to ‘products that are either expensive, rarely bought, linked to personal identity, or carry high risks.  These products are known to attract a lot of conversation online because of evaluation of their social value.  Viral marketing is defined as ‘any strategy that encourages individuals to propagate a message, thus, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence.’  EWOM falls under the category of viral marketing and is defined as ‘the positive or negative statement made by a potential, actual or former consumer about a product or a company, which is made available to a multitude of people and institutions on the Internet.’  This includes non-textual communication such as ‘liking’ a brand on Facebook or ‘retweeting’ a story on Twitter.  General consumer traits, such as loyalty, and context-specific motivations, such as product satisfaction, influence engagement in WOM.  These groups of consumer-related motives are analyzed in this study in relation to fashion and social media contexts.

     The four major motivations for WOM are product involvement, self-involvement, other involvement and message involvement. Product involvement is the level of personal relevance a consumer sees in a product.  The authors’ hypothesis is that people with high product involvement engage in fashion brand-related eWOM more frequently.  Self-involvement is a motive for engagement in WOM behavior and self-enhancement by sharing positive consumption experiences.  The hypothesis is that people who are motivated by self-involvement engage in fashion brand-related eWOM more frequently.  Other involvement (concern for others) is a need to help others or do something for others without expecting anything in return.  The hypothesis is that people who are motivated by other involvement engage in fashion brand-related eWOM more frequently.  Message involvement is simply an external motivator for eWOM engagement that was not fully analyzed in this study.  However, the two main consumer traits analyzed in the study are fashion involvement and brand involvement.  Fashion involvement provides a measure of enduring involvement in which the individual relates the product to his self-image.  People who score high in fashion involvement are likely to be heavy clothing buyers and be interested in fashion.  The hypothesis is that people with high fashion involvement are more likely to engage in fashion brand-related eWOM.  Brand involvement ‘is described as positive feelings of attachment to a brand, and is characterized by a tendency to withstand changes’ (566).  Brand commitment may predict members’ behaviors in an online community.  This hypothesis is that people who exhibit high brand commitment to fashion brands are more likely to engage in eWOM about those brands.  The last two discrete motivators are advice-seeking and the need for social interaction.  Advice seeking is when a consumer is genuinely interested in other consumers’ opinions and advice, and can take form of ‘sharing’ a product or company link on social media.  The need for social interaction refers to consumers talking about products and services simply to make conversation, such as posting comments on social media in order to receive social benefits from being a part of a virtual community

     The methodology used was instrument development where the hypothesized predictors of engagement in fashion brand-related eWOM were measured with a questionnaire.  The predictors were measured with five-point Likert scales and eWOM engagement was measured with a binary (yes/no) and frequency measure.  There were 192 usable responses with 65% females and 51.1% in their twenties. For fashion-related surveys it is pretty common that the sample was skewed towards females and younger consumers, and is “reflective of the target population of fashion-oriented social network users” (571).

     One example that illustrates the variables being studied is found on Old Navy’s Facebook page. This post and the comments that follow show that a consumer with brand commitment is more likely to participate in eWOM. The advertisement posted to the Old Navy Facebook page is a facetious advertisement designed specifically for April Fool’s. Facebook user Kristin St Martin says in her comment “Saw this in my email today…Had to come say GOOD JOB! Now I’m giggling AND I want to go shopping”. Her referencing an email indicates that she has either signed up for Old Navy’s mailing list or has already made a purchase and was automatically added to their email list. Both show a prior association with the brand that ultimately motivated her to discuss it on Facebook. Not only does the user express a desire to buy their product, but also compliments their advertising campaign.

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     Another example that elucidates Wolny and Mueller’s study is the Twitter account of a fashion blogger named Wendy Nguyen. Nguyen is a very successful blogger with hundreds of thousands of followers across various social media sites. Her passion for fashion is visible scrolling through her Twitter page, as most of her tweets reference her fashion style and industry news. She also often refers to specific brands and products. Nguyen’s account shows us that someone who exemplifies fashion involvement and sees fashion as a central part of constructing an identity and self-image, is more likely to discuss it online.

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     The examples discussed are evidence of the study’s larger findings. Wolny and Mueller conclude that fashion involvement and brand involvement are the primary motivators for eWOM engagement as it relates to fashion brands. This contradicts the conclusion of prior research that customer satisfaction was the primary motivator. Rather, an affinity for a brand is more predictive of whether a consumer will take part in discussions about it online. Their research was not definitive enough to regard product involvement as a predictor of eWOM engagement, because product involvement is transitory by nature, but their findings did suggest that further research might show temporary engagement with a product increasing consumer engagement. Both self-involvement and the need for social interaction were shown to impact the frequency of eWOM. Concern for others and advice-seeking were variables that Wolny and Mueller concluded to be unimportant in affecting eWOM engagement. Another important conclusion involves attitude and subjective norm. In this study attitude concerns perceived consequences associated with a certain behavior while subjective norm reflects one’s belief that the opinions of others are important. Because these concepts are theoretical and more difficult to measure, their conclusions about these variables are more suggestive than definitive. However, they propose that these psychological and sociological factors may influence motivation, which will, in turn, influence eWOM engagement.

     When it comes to learning information about a product or brand, consumers today often look to their peers rather than disconnected “authority figures” like fashion magazines or designers. Advertisers have recognized this and thus need to encourage consumers not only to buy their products, but also discuss them. While face-to-face interaction is positive this is especially important on social media, which has the ability to reach a much larger number of potential consumers. This study provides evidence for what motivates this electronically mediated discussion. The study discussed in this paper did not yield any shocking findings – in fact, most of their hypotheses were confirmed. But the study does serve as tangible proof that there is great value in targeted marketing. This is not only important for fashion brands, but for companies across an array of industries. People who already had an attachment to a brand or product were more likely to converse about it on social media. This seems like it would serve as great motivation for companies of all kinds to continue conducting and collecting research on users – with or without their permission. Furthermore, it may lead advertisers to minimize advertising to the general public on larger platforms. Targeted advertising can become controversial as people are concerned about a loss of privacy, but this study provides confirmation that targeted advertising is effective in encouraging conversation about your product.

Wolny, Julia, and Claudia Mueller. “Analysis of Fashion Consumers’ Motives To Engage In Electronic Word-Of-Mouth Communication Through Social Media Platforms.” Journal of Marketing Management 29.5/6 (2013): 562-583. Business Source Complete. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.

– Alexis D. & Megan G.

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