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  This article was downloaded by: [Michigan State University]On: 26 February 2015, At: 22:39Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Journal of Global Marketing Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: Electronic Word-of-Mouth in Social Networking Sites: ACross-Cultural Study of the United States and China Shu-Chuan Chu a  & Sejung Marina Choi ba  College of Communication , DePaul University , Chicago, Illinois, USA b  School of Journalism and Mass Communications , Korea University , Seoul, KoreaPublished online: 11 Aug 2011. To cite this article:  Shu-Chuan Chu & Sejung Marina Choi (2011) Electronic Word-of-Mouth in Social NetworkingSites: A Cross-Cultural Study of the United States and China, Journal of Global Marketing, 24:3, 263-281, DOI:10.1080/08911762.2011.592461 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the “Content”) containedin the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of theContent. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, andare not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon andshould be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable forany losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoeveror howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at   Journal of Global Marketing , 24:263–281, 2011Copyright  c  Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 0891-1762 print / 1528-6975 onlineDOI: 10.1080/08911762.2011.592461 Electronic Word-of-Mouth in Social Networking Sites:A Cross-Cultural Study of the United States and China Shu-Chuan ChuSejung Marina Choi ABSTRACT. Understanding electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) in social networking sites (SNSs) iscrucial as consumers have potential to reach global audiences quickly and easily. This article presentsthe first cross-cultural study on eWOM in SNSs by examining social relationship variables between theUnited States and China. Specifically, social capital, tie strength, trust, and interpersonal influence wereexamined as potential predictors of eWOM communication in the emerging online social channels.The results suggest that national culture plays a significant factor that affects consumers’ engagementin eWOM in SNSs in the two countries. Theoretical and managerial implications for global Internetmarketers were presented and discussed. KEYWORDS.  eWOM, cross-cultural, social networking sites, social relationship, China  INTRODUCTION  The impact of word-of-mouth (WOM) onthe Web 2.0 on consumer purchase decisionshas been an emerging topic of importance tobusiness and marketing researchers (Jansen,Zhang, Sobel, & Chowdury, 2009; Riegner,2007). Among the many new Web 2.0 applica-tions, social networking sites (SNSs) such asFacebook, LinkedIn, and CyWorld have re-cently become one of the most popular socialcommunication channels, attracting millions of consumers across the globe (Nielsen Online,2009). As SNSs have become a global phe-nomenon and enjoyed mounting popularityworldwide (Raacke & Bonds-Raacke, 2008),networking, conversation, and collaborationtherein present immense opportunities forconsumers to actively engage in peer-to-peer Shu-Chuan Chu, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the College of Communication at DePaul University,Chicago, Illinois, USA. Sejung Marina Choi, PhD, is Associate Professor of Advertising in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Korea University, Seoul, Korea.Address correspondence to Shu-Chuan Chu, PhD, College of Communication, DePaul University, 1 E.Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60604, USA. E-mail: product recommendations and electronicword-of-mouth (eWOM; Chu & Kim, 2011).Accordingly, global marketers increasingly em-ploy product-focused eWOM strategies in orderto develop strong relationships and enhanceconsumer engagement with their brands (Smith,Coyle, Lightfoot, & Scott, 2007).With its orientation toward social exchangeand engagement, SNSs have transformed theways consumers interact with their peers, ob-tain product-related information, and make pur-chase decisions. Consumer activities in SNSsrange from socializing with existing friends andmakingnewonestoexchanginginformationandexperiences regarding brands. Because contactsin SNSs are embedded in consumers’ personalnetwork, they tend to be perceived as more cred-ible and trustworthy than marketers or unknownsources that often have a vested interest (Chu 263    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   M   i  c   h   i  g  a  n   S   t  a   t  e   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   ]  a   t   2   2  :   3   9   2   6   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   5   264 JOURNAL OF GLOBAL MARKETING & Kim, 2011). It is no wonder that more andmore marketers invest considerable resources inencouraging positive eWOM in the online so-cial venue by setting up their brand profile pagesand engaging consumers to  make friends withor become followers  of the brand (Jansen et al.,2009).Given that social engagement is the primaryfunction of SNSs and social interactions amongthe users do not occur in a cultural vacuum,a question arises as to whether cultural valuesaffect eWOM in this online social environment.Many suggest that social relationships andcommunications depend in part on the dominantcultural orientation of a given society (Singelis,1994). Indeed, a few studies suggested thatconsumer behavior online is culturally shaped,reflecting the prevailing values of the culturein which individual consumers belong (Fong& Burton, 2006; Pfeil, Zaphiris, & Ang, 2006;Sun & Wang, 2010). Lewis and George (2008),for instance, found cross-cultural differencesin deception in SNSs and face-to-face commu-nication. Choi, Kim, Sung, and Sohn (2011)observed that motivations for using SNSs andthe nature of relationships formed and main-tained via these sites were different between theUnitedStatesandKorea,reflectingthedominantcultural values in the respective countries. Al-though these studies provide initial insights intocultural influences in online environments, ourtheoretical knowledge of consumer behavior intheemergingsocialmedia,SNSs,isstilllimited.Further empirical investigation is timely andnecessary to enhance our understanding of howculture influences social activities and eWOMin SNSs, the seemingly universal phenomenon.Given the global growth and the highly socialnature of SNSs, variations in cultural orienta-tions of SNS users might be reflected in theirsocial relationships and eWOM via the medium.The objective of this study was, therefore, tounderstand the status of eWOM as well ascharacteristics of social relationships in SNSsand identify the potential predictors of eWOM,with cultural contextuality. China, the world’slargest Internet population with huge marketingopportunities, presents an ideal context for thisinvestigation with its fast-growing economicpotential and sharp cultural contrast with theUnited States. In the emerging Chinese market,online social networking has gained hugepopularity and SNSs such as QQ,,and have recently emerged as themost influential online channels (Eaton, 2009).By applying the horizontal and vertical in-dividualism and collectivism (HVIC) typologyof culture (Traindis, 1995), differences betweenChina and the United States in four social rela-tionship variables— social capital ,  tie strength , trust  , and  interpersonal influence —and theirinfluence on eWOM in SNSs were examined.Since SNSs are specifically designed to fa-cilitate social navigability and cultivate socialexchange, eWOM within SNSs should be underthe influence of social relationships the usershold therein. From a cultural perspective, thenature of and guiding principles for socialrelationships vary from culture to culture andare still reflected in the mediated environment.In this light, close examination of socialrelationship–related variables should provideuseful insight to eWOM among SNS usersacrosscultures.Findingsofthisstudycontributeto the literature on cross-cultural research andglobal marketing by delving into the cultural in-fluenceonsocialrelationshipsandeWOMintheup-and-coming online social networking envi-ronmentwithafinertheoreticallens.Knowledgeof how social relationships development andeWOM varies between the United States andChina, culturally diverse two nations of notableimportance in the global economy, sheds lighton the development and implementation of effective global marketing strategies. CONCEPTUAL BACKGROUNDeWOM in Social Networking Sites WOM refers to information exchange behav-ior among consumers and is a powerful forcein influencing consumers’ attitudes and behav-iors (Brown & Reingen, 1987; Gilly, Graham,Wolfinbarger, & Yale, 1998) as well as brandawareness, product knowledge, and perceivedvalue (Wang, Li, & Wei, 2010). As new me-dia technologies continue to evolve, the na-ture and effect of WOM taking place within    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   M   i  c   h   i  g  a  n   S   t  a   t  e   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   ]  a   t   2   2  :   3   9   2   6   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   5  Shu-Chuan Chu and Sejung Marina Choi 265 online environments, known as eWOM, havegainedrisingattentionfromresearchersinrecentyears (e.g., Dwyer, 2007; Gruen, Osmonbekov,&Czaplewski,2006).Hennig-Thurau,Gwinner,Walsh, and Gremler (2004) defined eWOM as“any positive or negative statement made by po-tential,actual,orformercustomersaboutaprod-uct or company, which is made available to amultitudeofpeopleandinstitutionsviatheInter-net” (p. 39). While WOM is often considered toinclude spoken, person-to-person interpersonalcommunication (Arndt, 1967; Rogers, 1995),eWOM is made available to simultaneouslyreach many other consumers and institutions viathe Internet (Hennig-Thurau et al.). In addition,eWOMcantakeplacethroughavarietyofformsand means like blogs, review sites, and emailsand the Internet’s freedom from geographic andtime constraints allows eWOM communicationto spread globally and quickly (Hennig-Thurauet al.). Unlike traditional WOM, both identi-fied and unidentified sources may coexist whenconsumers use product-focused eWOM as asource of information online (Flanagin & Met-zger, 2007). Previous research, for example, hasfound that eWOM impacts online customer per-ceptions of product value (Gruen et al.), sales(Chevalier & Mayzlin, 2006), and consumercommunities(Dwyer,2007).Asaresult,eWOMis recognized as an important marketing tech-nique in branding online.The mounting use of SNSs provides con-sumers with another social venue to searchfor unbiased product information and at thesame time allows consumers to give their ownconsumption-related advice by engaging ineWOM. SNSs are defined as an effective, pow-erful channel for consumers to create a visiblepersonal profile, build a personal network, anddisplay interpersonal commentaries publicly(Boyd&Ellison,2007).Regardlessofgeograph-ical and temporal constraints, consumers caneasily and quickly exchange brand-related in-formation with their personal contacts (Graham& Havlena, 2007) and have potential to reachglobal audiences who share common interestsin a product or brand via a multitude of commu-nication modes readily available in the onlineenvironment. Because contacts within SNSsare generally members of focal users’ personalnetworks and are perceived as more credibleand trustworthy, SNSs may serve as an effectivevehicle for eWOM and an important source of product information among consumers.Traditionally, WOM communication is oper-ated by two parties: opinion leaders and opin-ion seekers (Gilly et al., 1998). Opinion leadersare the information generators or providers inWOM, whereas opinion seekers are those whodesire to obtain advice or opinions from othersthathelpthemevaluateproductsandservicesfortheir purchases (Feick, Price, & Higie, 1986).Accordingly, opinion leadership refers to an in-dividual’s ability and motivation to share infor-mation, whereas opinion seeking is related toan individual searching out advice and informa-tion from others (Flynn, Goldsmith, & Eastman,1996; Goldsmith & Clark, 2008). In the SNScontext, the unique applications of SNSs en-able users to forward and pass-along useful in-formation to their personal contacts with easeand celerity. Thus, pass-along behavior is con-ceptualized as another important component of eWOMinSNSs.Thus, opinionleadership , opin-ion seeking , and  pass-along behavior   are threeimportant aspects of information exchange thattogether constitute eWOM behavior in SNSs. Social Relationships in Social NetworkingSites Given the unique social character of com-munications in SNSs, understanding the poten-tial influence of social relationships developedthereinonbrandcommunicationscouldadvanceour knowledge of the underlying process of eWOM. Indeed, a few studies have applied con-cepts pertaining to social relationships to under-stand traditional WOM referral behavior in theoffline environment (Brown & Reingen, 1987;Gilly et al., 1998; Reingen & Kernan, 1986).For example, Stephen and Lehmann (2008) sug-gested that social capital plays an important rolein the process of WOM transmission by an indi-vidual’s use of existing social capital or attemptto build new social capital. Brown and Reingen(1987) examined the effect of social tie strengthon the referral flows and found that weak tiesdisplayed a significant bridging function in fa-cilitatingWOMreferralstreams,whereasstrong    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   M   i  c   h   i  g  a  n   S   t  a   t  e   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   ]  a   t   2   2  :   3   9   2   6   F  e   b  r  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   5
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