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You ‘like’ what you like or you ‘like’ what your friends like?

Social networking sites like Facebook are more popular than ever all over the globe. This offers a great potential for advertisers and brand managers, but also comes with challenges. Successful social media content is viewed, shared, and liked; sometimes consumers even create their own brand-related content. But why do people view a Pepsi clip on YouTube, share a Dove ad on Facebook, or post photos of their new Nike sneakers on Instagram?

Research in this area shows that there are six main categories of motivation: Information seeking, Entertainment, Empowerment, Remuneration, Personal identity, and Social integration. However, this stream of earlier research has mostly focused on Western consumers. Thinking of, for instance, Asian countries you may ask whether these findings are applicable to these countries and cultures? And are there any other motives for consumers’ online brand-related activities?

So in the first study of my PhD project, we aimed to answer these questions. We held in-depth interviews with Facebook users living in Eastern cultures (South Korea, Thailand) and Western cultures (the Netherlands, the United States). One important finding from this study was that we found a new motivational aspect: Purchase intention - the need to try or purchase a product. For example, an interviewee (male, 35) who shared a brand-related post said “I would like to buy them (Yacht items) if I make some money in the future and that’s why this post attracted me”. For Eastern consumers, this has a social aspect: They like to tag their friends’ names in a comment or in brand-related posts. For example, one Korean respondent (female, 24) mentioned that she made a comment referring to her friend after she saw the post of OST (a South Korean fashion brand) because “I wish to have one with my friends”. The expression to purchase or try a product with friends reflects how cultural collectivism plays an important role in the purchase decision process.

This seems to be different in Western cultures, where consumers are more individualistic. Their acts of ‘liking’, commenting on, sharing, and posting brand-related content on Facebook are driven by economic incentives or potential benefits. For instance, one American interviewee (female, 23) said, “I won an 80 USD gift card from this restaurant that just opened up in the Arboretum (Austin, Texas), and all I did was commenting on their post.”

To cope with these differences, social media marketers could make use of these motivational patterns and employ a targeted brand-related content strategy. For example, the content advertised across Western markets could stress individually beneficial outcomes (e.g. economic incentives) and the content promoted across Eastern consumers may emphasize the benefits for social relations (e.g. values of friendship).

Besides these – 'stereotypical' differences, Eastern and Western consumers also have one thing in common. Both like to share and post brand-related content to present themselves in a positive light. Therefore, global marketers may need to prompt consumers to see how their brands can bolster consumers’ positive image and ideal identity construction.

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