Understanding the Collapsed Context on Social Media and its Influence on Consumers’ Social Media Word-of-Mouth


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
  • Robert M DAVISON (Supervisor)
  • Paul Benjamin LOWRY (Supervisor)
  • Hefu Liu (External person) (External Supervisor)
Award date2 Oct 2018


Firms increasingly use social media to support their marketing agenda since social media technology has made it easier and faster for firms to marketing to a large number of consumers. However, the success of social media marketing is largely dependent on positive consumer participation. Recent research has indicated that consumers are less willing to post commercial content on their social media compared with traditional offline word-of-mouth. Likewise, practical evidence showed consumers are not only less willing to post positive word-of-mouth on social media, they also actively engage in negative word-of-mouth communication when there is a corporate crisis. Since both existing research and practitioners do not have a good understanding of this situation, this study tries to fill the gap by focusing on the characteristics of social media context and its influence on consumers’ word-of-mouth process on social media.

The fast development of social media has led to people having an increasing number of contacts on a single social media platform. Usually consumers’ information sharing varies depending on the type of target, for example, parents, friends, colleagues and strangers. At the same time, consumers assess the context of interactions in order to decide how they should act, what they should say and how they should present themselves. However, social media differs from previous one-to-one communication channels, such as face-to-face communication in a way people have multiple audience from diverse social circles. Broadcasting to multiple audience members from diverse social circles has led to a collapsed context which refers to the collision of multiple social groups and types of relationships in one context. It is challenging to build and maintain multiple networks since consumers have to manage the tension between impression management and information sharing which complicates the sharing process.

Four studies were conducted and mix methods were used in order to explore the collapsed context and its influence on consumers’ word-of-mouth sharing on social media. Study 1 adopted a qualitative research method to provide a greater understanding of the patterns related to how people share content in a collapsed context on social media. The results showed that all the ten participants can perceive the collapsed context on their frequently-used social media platform where their audience comes from multiple social circles. As to strategies for information sharing in the collapsed context, the results showed that people often selectively post content and have certain levels of self-monitoring before sharing on social media. Study 2 further explored consumers’ selective sharing patterns in terms of social media word-of-mouth using online experiments with a single factor (a collapsed context: high vs. low) between-subject factorial design. Comparing positive and negative, cognitive and emotional social media word-of-mouth, study 2 demonstrated that in strong collapsed contexts consumers were more likely to post cognitive and positive social media word-of-mouth. Based on study 1 and study 2, Study 3 examined what type of firms benefit or suffer from positive and negative social media word-of-mouth using online survey. Since existing research indicated that a good corporate reputation both has a positive influence on consumers’ positive word-of-mouth behaviours and can protect firms from negative word-of-mouth, study 3 used corporate reputation as a representative of corporate characteristics. The results showed that even though people are more likely to broadcast cognitive social media word-of-mouth, firms with a high level of cognitive reputation do not take advantage of positive social media word-of-mouth. Moreover, a high cognitive reputation leads to more negative social media word-of-mouth when firms do not satisfy consumers. Study 4 specially examined consumers’ negative social media word-of-mouth in a crisis context. Considering a product-harm crisis as deviant behaviour of firms and consumers’ negative word-of-mouth working as social control, study 4 proposed that high cognitive reputation leads to high morality violation and then increases the intensity of consumers’ negative social media word-of-mouth in crisis. Likewise, considering consumers as senders and receivers at the same time, study 4 examined the moderating role of consumers’ psychological need to be right and liked and the moderating role of social media opinion climate on the relationship between morality violation and negative word-of-mouth in crisis. A field survey conducted after a real product-harm crisis supported most hypotheses of study 4. Altogether, this research offers a compelling account of social media word-of-mouth broadcasting in a complicated social media context and sheds light on leveraging social media design for information sharing.

    Research areas

  • Social media, Collapsed context, Social media word-of-mouth; Impression management, Crisis communication, Impression management