Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research

What Drives Consumers to Pass along Marketer-Generated eWOM in Social Network Games? Social and Game Factors in Play

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research

What Drives Consumers to Pass along Marketer-Generated eWOM in Social Network Games? Social and Game Factors in Play

Article excerpt

Abstract

Social network games (SNGs) are part of the highly evolving marketing and e-commerce channel of social network sites (SNSs). Marketers in SNGs offer economic incentives of game currency or virtual goods in exchange for consumer interactions with ads, often encouraging consumers to forward marketer-generated messages broadly to social networks. This study investigates factors that lead consumers to engage in these marketer-generated electronic word of mouth (eWOM) behaviors. Social factors, and game factors with intrinsic and extrinsic benefits, are studied within extensions of the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM). Survey data from 158 participants who play games on Facebook were analyzed using structural equation modeling. Normative influence positively impacted eWOM behaviors of opinion passing, or forwarding the message, and opinion giving, which is a persuasion attempt. Game enjoyment negatively influenced opinion passing, and economic incentive positively impacted both eWOM behaviors. Opinion passing significantly enhanced attitudes toward advertising, which in turn, positively influenced brand attitudes. Outcomes suggest marketers may increase brand awareness among eWOM senders through campaigns in SNGs, resulting from enhanced positive attitudes toward SNG advertising. However, applicable to SNGs and other games with advertising, marketers must balance appeal of economic incentives with low disruption to play experiences.

Keywords: Social network games, eWOM, Marketing, Social network sites, Technology acceptance model

1 Introduction

Social network games (SNGs), played on social network sites (SNSs) like Facebook, engage millions of global consumers on computer desktops and mobile devices. In 2010, 53 million Americans or 24% of the U.S. online population played SNGs [77]. National advertisers like 7-Eleven, General Mills, and Kia Motors America [25], [62] aid the SNG free-to-play revenue model for consumers, who also commonly purchase SNG currency and virtual goods to advance in play.

SNGs have evolved in the gaming and SNS arenas, providing a unique media platform for advertisers who are projected to spend $672.2 million to reach SNG consumers by 2014 [2]. Unlike traditional online games, SNGs are played within a consumer's broader social network. SNGs may include built-in status updates for consumers to inform networks about game activities, and rewards for inviting friends to join. Advertiser campaigns for Best Buy, McDonalds, and Bing integrate engagement ads into play and advancement, rewarding consumers with SNG currency or virtual goods after taking a survey, watching a video, or engaging in another activity [38]. Following the engagement ad, a consumer may be encouraged to pass along an advertiser's message as a status update to his or her broader social network. Built-in methods for consumers to share such updates are a form of marketer-generated electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) or "exogenous WOM" [33] p. 723.

This study, via a survey of consumers who play Facebook games, explores what drives consumers to engage in these forms of marketer-generated eWOM and resulting implications for attitudes toward advertisements and brands. About 65% of online adults use SNSs [55], with Facebook drawing 73% of adult SNS use [49]. The popular Farmville is among hundreds of SNGs, like Mafia Wars and Cityville, for which new titles are released regularly and vary in popularity. Facebook SNGs are highly played and include marketer-generated eWOM mechanisms that allow easy and immediate communication with a consumer's social network.

This study is theoretically significant as one of the first attempts to investigate the role of eWOM in SNGs, where advertisements encourage consumers to spread marketer-generated messages to broader social networks with a simple click. For example, in observational SNG play for this study, a researcher interacted with an ATT engagement ad - to watch and rate marketing videos in exchange for game currency - and then was asked to post an ATTcrafted message to her Facebook wall. …

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