This study examined variables that predict college students' use of Facebook as well as their motives to fan companies on Facebook. Also of interest were variables that contribute to students' decisions to fan, how students who fan differ from those who do not, and variables that predict outcomes of college students' decisions to fan. Data were collected from 343 students. Expression identity and market mavenism emerged as predictors of motives to use Facebook and motives to fan consumer goods companies on Facebook. Market mavenism also predicted college students' decisions to fan (or not fan) as well as the outcomes of their decisions to fan. Utilitarian motives also were strong predictors of both the product/brand consumption and company association (fanning) outcomes.
Keywords: Facebook, fanning, identity, market mavenism
It is estimated that between 66%-96% of consumer goods companies have adopted social media, including Facebook, to connect with consumers and have done so for a variety of reasons, including the capacity to "tell a story" about brand identity or product development, to provide transparency about business practices, to establish connections with consumers, and to transform loyal customers into passionate advocates for the brand/business (Burson-Marsteller, 2010; "Marketers Engage," 2009; Swedowsky, 2009; Wong, 2009). Social media also offer consumers a way to provide or obtain opinions to/from others during the purchase process (Swedowsky, 2009), thereby amplifying the power of the consumer to exert influence through electronic word of mouth (EWOM) communication (Mangold & Faulds, 2009). Young consumers, in particular, may play an important role in EWOM brand communications, partaking in the social diffusion of both positive and negative opinions about products and services (Needham, 2008). In turn, these opinions provide companies with valuable data that can be used to meet consumers' preferences and expectations (McKeefery, 2008). Further, it seems plausible that these opinions may impact consumer purchase intentions, as it has been suggested that consumers may perceive information shared among one another via social media to be more trustworthy than information generated and shared by companies (Lempert, 2006; Mangold & Faulds, 2009).
As a form of social media, Facebook, in particular, has been readily adopted by consumer goods companies for marketing purposes because it offers flexible utilities and a rich user environment through which to disseminate information about products and services, to build brand awareness, and to establish relationships with consumers. Facebook's "fanning (1)" feature allows consumer goods companies to engage consumers as "fans" and thereby to establish a connection with consumers by creating a virtual link between the company's brand profile page and the consumers' user profiles. In turn, this link affords the company an opportunity to target updates and communications toward a self-selected group of current and future consumers who have demonstrated interest and potential involvement with the company's product and brand. It also affords consumers the opportunity to gain knowledge of product attributes and sales promotions and share experiences relative to product satisfaction/dissatisfaction.
The purpose of the present study was to explore college students' use of Facebook to connect with friends and family as well as consumer goods companies. Specifically, this study was undertaken to examine variables that predict college students' motives to use Facebook as well as their motives to fan companies on Facebook. Also of interest were the variables that contribute to students' decisions to fan (or not fan), the differences between students who fan and those who do not, and the variables that predict the outcomes (i.e., attitudes and behaviors) of college students' decisions to fan.
In 2004, Facebook was founded as an online platform to facilitate interpersonal communications among college students. Since that time, Facebook has evolved into a multidimensional computer-mediated environment that supports both interpersonal and commercial interactions among known and unknown others. Currently, Facebook has more than 500 million active users (Facebook, 2010a). According to Facebook statistics, 50% of active users log on to Facebook daily. Additionally, the average user has 130 friends and is connected to 80 community pages, groups, and events (Facebook, 2010b, p. 1). Facebook use is highest among individuals aged 18 to 25, and, across all age groups, female users outnumber male users (Eldon, 2010; Smith, 2010).
A relatively limited number of studies have explored companies' use of social media, such as Facebook, to build consumer-brand relationships (e.g., Hennig-Thurau et al., 2010; Zhang, 2010). In a recent article, Hennig-Thurau et al. (2010) proposed a framework suggesting a multidirectional flow of information supported by traditional media as well as social media and the consumer interactions that take place within that environment, which may, in turn, produce various customer-brand relationship outcomes (e.g., purchases, customer retention). Further, based upon his content analysis of company's brand profile pages, Zhang (2010) concluded that companies sometimes use indirect means to encourage EWOM communications among consumers (e.g., offering rewards for doing so). Zhang also suggested that by providing more opportunities for users to convey their identities or affiliations with a company, businesses could more effectively employ Facebook to strengthen customer-brand relationships.
Constructing Identity in Nonymous Online Environments
Identity can be thought of as "any aspect of the self about which individuals can through symbolic means communicate to others" (Davis, 1985, pp. 23-24). An emerging area of research examines identity construction activities that occur within "nonymous" online environments, such as Facebook (e.g., Tong, Van Der Heide, Langwell, & Walther, 2008; Utz, 2010). Nonymous online environments allow for communication between individuals who may or may not know each other off-line, but who can confirm and disseminate one another's personal information within the online environment (Marx, 1999; Zhao, 2006). People may vary in the extent to which they are aware that content posted in nonymous environments such as Facebook may be interpreted by onlookers as announcements of identity (DiMicco & Millen, 2007). Zhao, Grasmuck, and Martin (2008) have argued, however, that nonymous online environments are unique contexts for impression management in that they may empower people to express "hoped-for-possible selves" that cannot be readily established in face-to-face encounters (p. 1819).
Based upon their content analysis of undergraduate students' Facebook accounts, Zhao et al. (2008) concluded that individuals actively engage in identity constructions in the nonymous online context, emphasizing socially desirable characteristics that may not be easily recognizable in offline encounters and hiding or deemphasizing socially undesirable aspects of the self. Additionally, these authors found that undergraduate students may (a) tailor their online self-presentations to particular audiences (see also DiMicco & Millen, 2007), (b) stake identity claims implicitly rather than explicitly by "showing" through the display of visual materials rather than "telling" through the use of text to describe the self, and (c) emphasize group and consumer identities …