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Social Media’s Influence on Brand, Trust, and Loyalty

Recently I was doing some online research regarding social media’s influence on brand loyalty.  I ran across a University of Texas at Austin graduate student’s thesis*.  The student had devised three hypotheses:

H1 Social media use has a significant impact on brand affect.

H2 Social media use has a significant impact on brand trust.

H3 Social media use has a significant impact on brand loyalty.

Let’s play a little game (I often do this when I see any hypothesis).  Which one(s) will be supported?  Well, let’s think about social media.  The thesis’ author shared that “Mashable, an independent news source that focuses on social media, was established in 2005 to help keep up with the shift in communication in the digital world (Mashable, 2011). Articles such as “Following Brands on Twitter Increases Purchase Intent” have been published to give insight into social media and its functions (Swallow, 2011). In that article, it is stated that people who follow brands on Twitter tend to be more prone to buy and recommend those brands’ products (Swallow, 2011). This and a number of other articles lean to showing a relationship between social media use and interaction with brands; yet, there is little to no theoretical backing to those studies nor rigorous research to confirm these are statistically significant relationships.”

Well, I may be easy to convince, but the Mashable information sold me.  Yes, social media could definitely help a brand.  Who doesn’t love free advertising?  I was ready to put my vote on all three hypotheses being supported.

The results of the paper, though, were not what I expected.  Let me first acknowledge what the author did as well:  there were limitations to the study:  low base size, convenience sampling, and no specific retail focus brand to name a few.  However, the findings are interesting.  The first and third hypotheses were unsupported – there were no significant impact found from social media on brand affect or brand loyalty.  However, there was a significant impact on social media on brand trust —but get this, it was negative

Negative?  What?!  After my initial surprise, I guess that result is definitely within the realm of possibilities.  With social media there is opportunity for both negative and positive comments about a brand.  An individual using social media will likely be exposed to both negative and positive brand comments.  Conversely, an individual not using social media is much more likely to be more often exposed to positive brand comments (those intentionally solicited as advertising).  It is interesting that this student’s study highlighted the negative impact on trust. 

As I stated in a recent blog, “trust” is sometimes omitted from customer experience surveys.  I think this thesis highlights another reason, why gauging customer trust could be beneficial.

*”Social Media’s Role in Branding:  A Study of Social Media Use and the Cultivation of Brand Affect, Trust, and Loyalty”, Nea Shanea North, 2011.  Graduate School of the University of Texas at Austin.

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