Toward Developing a Social Network Site-Based Model for Knowledge Sharing in the Travel Industry

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Social network sites (SNSs), an increasingly important media for internet marketing and tourism promotion in the travel industry (Litvin et al., 2008), enable people to participate in virtual commonality of interests and have changed the nature of communication among travelers. Recently, Hargittai (2008) clarifies SNSs as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. Bernoff and Li (2008) note that "people are connecting with one another in increasing numbers, thanks to blogs, social networking sites like MySpace and countless communities across the Web" (p. 36). In essence, SNSs offer a powerful collaborative communication channel for developing content-specific online documents. Travelers and tourism managers, as well as government agents responsible for checking the tourism facility standards, would all find SNSs useful to some extent in expanding community involvement in their subjects and interests.

A number of popular SNSs are available using a simple Google key word search. For example, internet users can share their travel experience with others via tripadvisor.com. This site is touted by the company as "the largest travel community in the world, ... featuring real advice from real travelers, ... with more than 25 million monthly visitors, six million registered members and 15 million reviews and opinions" (Tripadvisor.com website. Retrieved on July 28, 2008). However, despite great social influences and likely monetary returns (Bernoff & Li, 2008), it takes substantial effort to start and maintain an "active" social network site, which needs interested online surfers to update the content on a frequent basis.

Surprisingly, to the best knowledge of the authors, little empirical research has gone into examining the facilitating factors associated with people's intention to be involved in the SNSs. Thus, to address this research gap, the technology acceptance model (TAM), one of the most widely used behavior models in explaining the adoption of a new technology, is employed to explore the main determinants of SNSs acceptance. TAM was originally developed by Davis (1986) to illustrate computer-usage behavior and it posits that perceived usefulness (PU) and users' attitudes (ATTI) have a direct effect on behavioral intentions (BI), while perceived ease of use (PEOU) has both a direct effect and an indirect effect on behavioral intentions through perceived usefulness (Davis, 1989). Notably, TAM is grounded in social psychology theory in general and the theory of reasoned action (TRA) in particular (Fishbein & Azjen, 1975). A key purpose of TAM is to provide a basis for tracing the impact of external variables on internal beliefs, attitudes and intentions.

An extensive body of TAM literature has accumulated in the past two decades, and the basic TAM framework has been validated as a powerful and parsimonious model to explain users' adoption of information technology (Venkatesh et al., 2000). Though PU and PEOU are two key factors explaining end-users' adoption behavior toward a technological innovation, existing empirical findings on TAM point out some inconsistency related to these two factors' level of importance in a TAM framework. It has been suggested that PEOU would play a more important role in new and complex technologies (Schepers & Wetzels, 2007). Castaneda et al. (2007) review 66 studies examining Internet user acceptance and find that 18% centered on the acceptance of the Internet as medium, 45% on the acceptance of e-commerce and e-commerce sites, 12% on e-mail, 12% on e-learning, and 8% on other Internet-mediated services. Less than 5% of the examined studies centered on free-content websites. Interestingly, Castaneda et al. …