Post, Eat, Change: The Effect of Food Photo Posting on Consumer’s Dining Experience and Brand Evaluation


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

View graph of relations


Related Research Unit(s)


Awarding Institution
Award date20 Sep 2018


In the social media world, phenomenon of food photography has become pervasive, yet largely unexamined by prior research. Dining experiences are vital to the lives and well-being of people; hence, understanding how and why food photo posting influences dining experience is becoming increasingly important for marketers. However, most prior work has examined how consumers share experience only after the experience is over. We investigate an unexplored aspect of the sharing process: when consumers post photos during an experience and hence can impact the experience itself. A typical example is posting food photos before eating. To capture the complete appearance and beauty of food, consumers usually take pictures and upload them to social media platforms before they start eating. This is a self-expression behavior of consumers. We examine our research questions within the context of food photo posting on social media when dining out in restaurants, which have significant managerial implication for restaurants marketers.

Specifically, we propose that posting food photo before eating will enhance dining experience (H1, main effect) and identify self-expression as an underlying mechanism (H2, mediating effect). We recognize two stages in food photo posting process: in the first stage, consumers share their photo on social media, and the public nature of a post can serve moderating effect between food photo posting and self-expression (H3, moderating effect); in the second stage, the posting attracts interactions, and supportive interactions moderates the relationship between self-expression and dining experience, that is, supportive interaction increase the association between self-expression and dining experience (H4, moderating effect). Moreover, we take the first step to explore the real-time feedback in depth from various aspects, including the number of interaction (H5a), feedback timing (H5b), the percentage of friends that respond (H5c), the valence of the responses (H5d), opportunities to continue interacting during the meal (H5e), congruence between quality of the post and the reactions received (H5f). In addition, we look for contingencies related to match between consumers’ ideal-self and food characteristics and found that the identity consistency is the boundary condition for the effect of both main effect of food photo posting (H6) and moderating effect of supportive interaction (H7). One field study, three lab experiments and a set of archival data from a popular social media Sina Weibo in China (a Chinese Twitter-like service) provide converging evidence in support of the propositions, except H5f.

The extant research demonstrated that taking photos increases enjoyment of experiences and that producing consumer-generated images of food can positively influence consumer outcomes due to a momentary active delay in consumption. However, a recent research reveal that taking photos with intension to share can reduce one’s enjoyment of an experience. Although the number of people who take photos for the sole purpose of sharing them on social media continues to increase, and the differences between taking and posting photos are significant, the existing research only examines the effects of photographing while the effect of posting food photos has never been investigated in the literature. To fill this research gap, this paper builds an integrated theoretical framework of the impact of posting food photos on consumer dining experience and brand evaluation, and the social psychology mechanism behind it by integrating literature on self-expression, social influence, and social media interactions.

The main contributions of this paper to the literature are as following:
Firstly, we applied self-expression theory to the context of social media. Our treatment of self-expression enriches the relevant literature in two ways. The primary contribution is that we find self-expression plays a key role in social media environments where its importance and distribution scope both increase dramatically. In addition, studies on brand personalities reveal that self-expression can reflect the long-term disposition of consumers. However, in social media, self-expression emphasises the importance of communicating how one experiences oneself, which is a psychological state with a transient nature.

Secondly, our study offers a fresh and interesting perspective towards the real-time feedback generated by posting photos during an ongoing experience. The emergence of social media has allowed consumers to interact with a large audience. These real-time interactions appear in the time consumers are most interested in the consumption, and relevant to consumers directly. However, the effect of social media interactions on consumer engagement and marketing outcomes has been mostly examined from the perspective of brands and has been rarely investigated from the perspective of consumers. Similarly, real-time feedback has never been investigated from the perspective of consumers. To fill such gap, this study examines the effect of real-time feedback from various aspects.

Thirdly, this paper also contributes a fresh perspective to public versus private consumption. In the digital age, online consumer self-expression is an emerging and popular form of public consumption. The social impact source of online public consumption is beyond the actual presence of others but extends to online virtual presence of others. The potential of getting more audiences involves higher self-expression. In this case, consumers may concern about the possible perceptions and feedbacks from online virtual presence of others when they make consumption decisions.

Fourthly, this study reveals the importance of the congruence between product characteristics and consumers’ identity. Prior research has established the theory of congruence between brand identity and consumers’ identity, our study extends it to social media context by showing that identity congruence is the boundary condition for both food photos posting and supportive interaction when consumers express their identity on social media.

    Research areas

  • Food photo posting, Social media marketing, Self-expression, Real-time interaction, Dining experiences, Brand evaluation