• An Investigation into the Influence of Social Media Message Context on Retailer-Consumer Interaction: A Case Study from the Lens of a UK Retailer

      Ashford, Ruth; Manning, Paul; Smith, Philip (University of Chester, 2018-07-13)
      This thesis investigates social media and retailer-consumer interaction with a research site of a well-established medium sized specialist retailer within the outdoor activities sector (the case organisation), selling goods and services online, and offline from physical retail stores across the United Kingdom (UK). The research investigates the case organisation’s response to the development of social media channels, with the purpose of developing understanding of the influence of content posted by the retailer on Twitter and Facebook platforms. The ease of access of these social media communications allowed the researcher to freely view the context of the case organisation’s activity and helped shape the questioning of research participants in their face-to-face semi-structured interview. The research aimed to develop understanding, and therefore qualitative methods were most appropriate. The philosophical assumptions were for a subjectivist ontology and interpretivist epistemology. The theoretical framework of uses and gratification theory (UGT), provided a priori themes to identify the retailer’s postings into social, entertainment or information value to the consumer. This study demonstrates that the case organisation’s posting activity on its primary Twitter and Facebook accounts, were predominantly of information value to the consumer, whereas users appeared to interact more with postings that were of social or entertainment value. The apparent under resourcing of the specialist product sub-community accounts (S1 and S2) appears to be suppressing social media activity, and thereby interaction with community members. But by reassigning management of S1 and S2 activity to generalists within the social media team, these research findings indicate that the case organisation is putting the close ingroup interaction that these sub-communities serve at risk. The one store-based subcommunity Facebook account (S3) was achieving a more balanced mix of user interaction than the case organisation’s primary account; indicating that local staff involvement was a motivating factor in consumer interaction. These research findings indicate that by re-evaluating the context of messages posted on its primary Twitter and Facebook accounts, and the involvement of local store account activity, consumer interaction on these channels will increase. Furthermore, the research findings suggest that by developing a transparent corporate social media strategy, that includes clear policy and operating procedures, those actors on the periphery of social media activity will benefit from the resultant clarity of understanding. And the call for training in managing social media activity for business by these actors can be addressed and delivered within the framework of a robust social media strategy. While there are inherent limitations in researching a single-case organisation, the generous access granted to the researcher provided a unique opportunity to investigate the research aim and objectives in a real-world setting. Moreover, this indepth study of Twitter and Facebook activity at the case organisation contributes to theory and practice by providing new insights and understanding on the influence of message context on consumer interaction from the lens of a specialist retailer.