Influencer Marketing. A Measurement Instrument to determine the Credibility of Influencers

Revealing the Effect of specific Factors on Consumers’ Product Preferences and Buying Decisions

Bachelor Thesis, 2018

77 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Content

Management Summary Key Words

List of Tables and Figures

Table of Abbreviations

1. Introduction
1.1 Background and Motivation
1.2 Relevance of the Research Topic
1.3 Research Question and Objectives
1.4 Structure and Research Strategy

2. Influencer Marketing
2.1 Definition
2.2 Types of Influencers
2.3 Impact Models
2.3.1 SourceCredibility Model
2.3.2 SourceAttractiveness Model
2.3.3 MatchUp Hypothesis
2.3.4 MeaningTransfer Model
2.4 Legal Regulations concerning Sponsored Content on Social Media
2.5 Relationship Management: Grounds for InfluencerConsumer Relationships
2.5.1 Network Coproduction Model
2.5.2 MimicrySocial Relationship
2.5.3 Trust Comparison of Trust Definitions Theories of Trust Conceptualization and Operationalization
2.6 Summary and Consequences for the Research Question
2.7 Conceptual Model
2.8 Further developed Research Question

3. Methodology
3.1 Measurement Instrument and its Method
3.2 Research Design
3.3 Conduction of Questionnaires
3.3.1 PreTests
3.3.2 Process
3.4 Analysis and Results
3.4.1 Exploratory Factor Analysis
3.4.2 Reliability Analysis
3.4.3 Multiple Regression Analysis
3.4.4 Summary of the Results and Relevance for the Research Question.

4. Discussion
4.1 Discussion of Results
4.2 Limitations
4.3 Implications for the Business World


A. Visualization of the Meaning-Transfer Model
B. The Evolution of WOM Theory
C. Sequential & Concurrent Research Designs
D. Overview of reviewed Literature for Pool of Items (N=99)
E. Qualitative Questionnaire
F. Quantitative Questionnaire

List of Tables and Figures

Table 1: Summary of Trust Definitions relevant for IM

Table 2: Dimensions of Trust (Multidimensional Construct)

Table 3: EFA of 27 Items: Final Credibility-Scale 32-

Table 4: Regression Analysis on v

Table 5: Regression Analysis on v

Figure 1: Types of Influencers based on skills

Figure 2: Types of Influencers based on numbers

Figure 3: The Network Coproduction Model

Figure 4: Conceptual Model

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Management Summary

The aim of this thesis is to develop a measurement scale to determine the credibility of influencers in today’s digitalized environment. Thus, an extensive literature review will be conducted to reveal underlying dimensions, concepts and impact models of the social construct credibility. Those examinations will provide a well-founded overview of the current academic research in this field and will guide the author to the subsequent empirical investigation. Aligning with the structure of key sources, the researcher decided on a sequential exploratory research design, consisting of a qualitative questionnaire which serves as reliable foundation of the subsequent quantitative questionnaire. Thereby, the qualitative survey aims to define and refine the items of the credibility scale, select exemplary influencers for the following rating process and give the author a first feel about the respondents’ perception of credibility. In contrast, the purpose of the quantitative survey is to collect an extensive amount of data (n=385) to further select descriptor items that consumers associate with credible influencers and therewith, build a reliable and valid base for further analytical calculations.

Literature agrees on the exploratory factor analysis as appropriate statistical tool to reduce items and reveal latent factors. Consequently, this multivariate procedure was chosen to develop the final measurement scale with the programme SPSS. Furthermore, the underlying factors were used for a subsequent regression analysis on two dependent variables, which are crucial for the success of a company that employs influencers, namely the development of consumers’ product preferences based on influencers and their buying decisions due to influencers. Finally, all results were interpreted and discussed, including limitations of the current research, as well as potential implications for the business world.

Amongst other things, the appendix of this paper includes detailed information about the derivation of descriptor items and therewith, the initial foundation of the current investigation, as well as complete screenshots of both questionnaires.

Key Words

Influencer Marketing

Relationship Management Measuring Credibility Credibility


1. Introduction

Scrolling through well-known social media platforms (SMPs) such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube, consumers will come across individuals who have a large following and promote products or services. Those users are considered to be third party endorsers who are employed by businesses to affect their reputation positively. (Lim, bt Mohd Radzol, Cheah, & Wong, 2017) Companies are paying individuals who seem to have a beneficial reach or market position on a SMP, either with a financial compensation or with the giveaway of their products as well as services. Those modern-day opinion leaders are defined as influencers. But why are businesses paying them to post information about their products or services, instead of investing the compensation in traditional marketing measurements? The answer is simple, but essential: They are paying for the credibility of the individual. (Lee & Koo, 2012) This phenomenon leads to the question: “How can the credibility of influencers be measured and what are the determining factors?”, which is the basis of this academic research paper. The following chapters will provide detailed information about the background and relevance of the current investigation.

1.1 Background and Motivation

With the rise of SMPs as opinion forming media, companies - especially in the beauty, fashion, health and food industry - increasingly count on social media strategies to attract the consumers interest and in the long term, trigger a buying decision. However, this is a challenging goal, as potential customers are overflooded with information on a daily basis. In 2016, around 66,000 photos were uploaded just on the social media platform Instagram within one minute. (Allen, 2017) Besides searching for relevant information in the seemingly endless pool of texts, pictures and videos, today’s highly digitalized world allows consumers to freely share opinions within the online community. This status quo leads to the development of the word-of-mouth (WOM) communication into a new, electronically form (eWOM). (Brady & Lerigo-Jones, 2017) As research indicates, consumers trust each other more than businesses when evaluating the personal value of a product or service. (Lee & Koo, 2012) “Consumers’ reluctance to trust brands has paved the way for consumers to establish themselves as social media personalities, generating a large online following of peers that they can influence through their opinions.” (Brady & Lerigo-Jones, 2017, p. 1) According to Forbes, the top thirty social media influencers within the beauty, fitness and home industries have a combined reach of 250 million people. (O’Connor, 2017) Organizations recognized this phenomenon and since then, try to take advantage from it by integrating influencer marketing (IM) into their promotional strategy.

IM already is and will further sustainably change the way companies promote their products or services on social media, as well as the way consumers will perceive advertisements. (Kar & Chakraborty, 2017; Vollenbroek, de Vries, Constantinides, & Kommers, 2014) The main difference between traditional advertising and IM is the aspect of credibility and as essential part of it, trust. “As an important social concept, trust plays a critical role in users’ decisions, especially when the participants are anonymous and do not engage in direct face-to-face interactions.” (Liu et al., 2015, p. 35) Consequently, companies need to understand the concept and grounds of credibility to ultimately use trustworthy relationships between influencers and consumers to build up a long-lasting, loyal connection with their target audience.

1.2 Relevance of the Research Topic

In the world of research, plenty of investigations were made upon the effect of trust on the consumers’ attitudes towards a certain aspect. (De Veirman, Cauberghe, & Hudders, 2017; Goldsmith, Lafferty, & Newell, 2000; Hasan, Subhani, & Osman, 2012; Shuqair, Cragg, Zaidan, & Mitchell, 2016) Additionally, researchers also focused on developing a measurement instrument to identify effective influencers on social media (Liu et al., 2015; Vollenbroek et al., 2014), whereas others created influencer engagement strategies to set up understandable frameworks for brand managers. (Kar & Chakraborty, 2017) Although plenty of research was done to define and measure trust in general (Arai, 2009; Blomqvist, 1997; Fisman & Khanna, 1999; Hall & McQuay, 2010; Papadopoulou & Martakos, 2008), there is very little information about the difference of trust perception between traditional marketing and IM and the determining factors of influencer credibility. In 1990, the Journal of Advertising published a research paper from Roobina Ohanian that dealt with the “Construction and Validation of a Scale to Measure Celebrity Endorsers Perceived Expertise, Trustworthiness and Attractiveness”. (Ohanian, 1990) However, this academic paper appears to be not applicable to measure the credibility of current influencers, as today’s online environment seems to demand different determining factors than 27 years ago. The existing research in the field of IM (Brady & Lerigo-Jones, 2017; Homrighausen, 2017; Vollenbroek et al., 2014) indicates that there is a huge demand to understand this hyped marketing concept - especially from the side of brands that include social media into their advertising strategy. This perception gets supported by the fact that “today, 75% of marketers are using influencer marketing”. (De Veirman, Cauberghe, & Hudders, 2017, p. 798) Consequently, IM is a current and highly relevant topic for companies, consumers as well as influencers themselves. Hence, the purpose of this study, namely the development of a measurement instrument to determine the credibility of influencers would help businesses that aim to apply IM as promotional tool, to measure the perceived credibility of a specific influencer and therewith, facilitate and accelerate the influencer-selection process. Brands could decide on an appropriate opinion leader based on a well-founded scale, instead of relying solely on basic numbers and the marketers’ personal perceptions.

1.3 Research Question and Objectives

The growing importance of online social networks (OSNs) leads to a changing competitive environment for companies that are partly or even primarily promoting their products and services online. (Liu et al., 2015) Today’s economic environment turns out to be consumer-friendly and increasingly consumer-driven: “Social media applications make markets more transparent since customers exchange product information, advices to others based on personal experiences [...] and product recommendations. Such information affluence and transparency has given customers a lot of power resulting in increasing customer mistrust on corporate communication and product or services claims.” (Vollenbroek et al., 2014, p. 282) To diminish this mistrust, organizations increasingly rely on IM. Consequently, it is essential that companies understand the concept of IM and linked to that, the concept of trustworthy relationships. The primary aim of this thesis is to develop a measurement instrument to determine the credibility of influencers and therewith, provide businesses and marketers with a solid and valid fundament for future marketing decisions. Thus, the overall research question (RQU) that will be answered in this thesis reads as follows:

RQU: How can the credibility of influencers, that are interacting in the current online environment, be measured and what are specific underlying trust factors?

The question which is mentioned above will be divided into three sub-research questions (SRQU) to further clarify the process of investigation which will, in the end, lead to the research goal. To develop the Source-Credibility Scale (SCS), it is crucial to investigate the components, dimensions and items of its primary focus, namely the construct of credibility. Therefore, the first SRQU that will be investigated in the theoretical foundation, is defined as follows:

SRQU1: How do current impact models describe the components and grounds of the social construct of credibility?

As the concept of IM will be examined, the construct of trust (as essential part of credibility) will be a central topic in the thesis. In existing literature, social psychologists developed various definitions and descriptions of trust. (Blomqvist, 1997; Fisman & Khanna, 1999; Ohanian, 1990) These approaches will be compared with each other systematically and put into the context of IM, so that relevant aspects can be combined to a reasonable definition. Hence, the second SRQU that will be answered in the theoretical part (2.5.3) is:

SRQU2: How does current research describe the construct of trust in relationships?

Current legal adaptions concerning sponsored content on social media are significantly shaping and affecting influencer-consumer relationships. (Evans, Phua, Lim, & Jun, 2017) The findings of the latest research on advertising disclosure from influencers will be examined in the theoretical chapter 2.4 to answer the third SRQU. This aspect needs to be included and considered in the context of IM to get a holistic view of today’s online world and to draw attention to possible risks and restrictions that companies need to be aware of:

SRQU3: How are the latest legal regulations in the online environment shaping and limiting trustworthy Influencer-Consumer Relationships (ICR)?

1.4 Structure and Research Strategy

To begin with, the empirical investigation is based on a multi-research strategy which views qualitative and quantitative methods as complementary, rather than rival or conflicting. (Bryman, 2006; Jick, 1979; Kelle, 2017) In this academic work, a qualitative research will define the items of the subsequent quantitative study and therewith serve as a reliable base for further investigation.

However, the extensive literature research from the theoretical part is crucial to acquire in-depth knowledge about the research topic and therewith, to design the qualitative study in the first place. The review on academic literature is separated into two major parts. In the first section, the most important aspects of IM will be covered, including definitions, types of Influencers, impact models as well as legal regulations that affect the disclosure of sponsored content on SMPs. Diverse approaches to define IM and to break down corresponding components, are found in current literature. (Brady & Lerigo-Jones, 2017; Kar & Chakraborty, 2017; Kolo & Borgstedt, 2014; Liu et al., 2015) Thus, the primary value of the literature research will be the comparison of various sources and a concluding definition of IM as well as its underlying dimensions, models and constructs. In the second section of the theoretical foundation, grounds for relationships between influencers and their audience will be examined. Essentially, three pillars were chosen to describe the components of today’s trustful ICRs, one of them being the complex social construct of trust. To provide a holistic overview of trust definitions, theories of trust, as well as the conceptualization and operationalization of trust, multiple sources will be compared and assessed, focusing on the appropriateness of these findings for the field of IM. Consequently, solely definitions of trust that refer to the context of social sciences and psychology will be considered in the literature review. In contrast, definitions in the field of technology, cyberspace, economy, systems and similar areas will be neglected deliberately. (Blomqvist, 1997; Hall & McQuay, 2010; Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt, & Camerer, 1998)

The subsequent methodical part will describe the process of finding a suitable research measurement instrument for the research purpose based on comparable academic sources. Thereby, comparable means not only research in a similar field, but also academic papers that aim to develop a measurement scale within a different context. Additionally, the methodology part will encompass a description of an appropriate research design and aligning with the previous parameters, a suitable process of analyzing the collected data and accordingly, derive valuable findings. Furthermore, the outcomes will be discussed in the end, including a discussion of results with ideas for future research, limitations as well as potential implications of the outcomes for the business world.

Theoretical Foundation - Current State of Research in the Field of IM as Basis for the Development of a Measurement Scale to determine the Credibility of Influencers The theoretical foundation sets a framework to the current state of research in the field of IM as a basis for the development of a measurement instrument to determine the credibility of influencers. The following chapters will give an insight into impact models of IM, legal regulations concerning sponsored content on social media and the grounds for current ICRs as discussed in academic literature.

2. Influencer Marketing

IM has grown from a formerly non-traditional and unconventional marketing method to one of the most effective tools in the marketing mix. (Kar & Chakraborty, 2017) Especially members of the Generation Z - the generation of digital natives that were born between 1995 and 2012 - are highly active on SMPs. According to a study conducted by the National Retail Federation and IBM’s Institute for Business Value, 74% of members from this generation spend their free time online and about as many, use their mobile phone to interact socially. (Shay, 2017) In the following chapters, definitions of IM, types of influencers, impact models as well as legal regulations and grounds of ICRs will be further examined to provide a holistic overview of current research in the field of IM and set the foundation for the empirical study on this topic.

2.1 Definition

By comparing existing literature in the field of advertising, corporate communications and sociological studies (Brady & Lerigo-Jones, 2017; Gladwell, 2000; Liu et al., 2015; Tamblé, 2015), it turned out that multiple definitions of IM were developed, each setting the focus on different aspects of this marketing measure. However, researchers largely agree that influencers are modern-day opinion leaders “with a high online status in an OSN”. (Liu et al., 2015, p. 34) By recommending products or services, they can trigger brand communication in form of eWOM and therewith, affect the commercial success of an organization sustainably. (Brown & Hayes, 2008) Ideally, influencers fulfill three important functions within corporate communications: Primarily, they are producing content which is relevant for their target audience and know the eco-system of various channels, as well as their effects on potential customers. As influencers have access to valuable data from their followers such as demographics, influencers function as multiplicators and are spreading and conveying a company’s message to a specific target group. Lastly, distribution and seeding are two essential aspects in business communication that influencers are covering due to their social skills, such as networking and interacting with the community. (Tamblé, 2015) Accordingly, IM is an eWOM promotional tool that arose with the integration of social media in our daily routine and focuses on influencers rather than the target market. Although influencers are often distributing their content through multiple platforms, such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and YouTube (Forbes, 2017), the more visual and engaging SMPs Instagram and YouTube “have led to the rise of a new generation of influencers that have amassed huge followings on niche subject matters such as fashion, beauty, and food.” (Wong, 2014, p. 1) The beneficial working environment for influencers can be outlined by facts and figures: With more than 500 million daily active users on Instagram and over a billion users on YouTube - which is almost one third of the people on the internet - influencers have the possibility to build up loyal relationships to users in this large pool who are specifically interested in the niche topic. (Press - Instagram, 2016; Presse - YouTube, n.d.) Another approach to define the concept of influencers (referred to as ‘mavens’) which was developed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “The Tipping Point”, can be transferred into the following equation, applicable in the field of IM: Influence = Audience Reach (number of followers) x Brand Affinity (expertise and credibility) x Strength of Relationship with Followers. (Gladwell, 2000; Wong, 2014) Consequently, IM is a form of advertising that uses influencers who - ideally - possess a huge number of followers, sustain a strong relationship to them and have great expertise as well as high credibility. These factors are directly linked and therefore, dependent from each other.

2.2 Types of Influencers

As discussed in the previous chapter, many definitions of IM are existing in current literature, as the phenomenon “influencer” is described very general as a modern-day opinion leader who has “the power to affect a person, thing or course of events.” (Brown & Hayes, 2008, p. 49) Thus, the categorization of influencers into distinctive groups is also approached from various angles and focus points throughout marketing research. (Brown & Hayes, 2008; Kar & Chakraborty, 2017; Liu et al., 2015; Vollenbroek et al., 2014) However, the classification of influencers retrieved from multiple sources can be condensed, with the result that three categories can be identified, as visualized in the following graphic:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Types of Influencers based on skills (adapted from Kolo & Borgstedt, 2014)

Another categorization assumes that influencers are individuals that are active on at least one SMP or blog. Referring to the classification mentioned above, these influencers can be identified as co-consumers with a certain number of followers and accordingly, impact on other consumers. In contrast to the previously explained categorization, it seems to be more common in research to classify influencers based on numbers such as reach and costs per post. This approach is primarily used in the business context. (Vollenbroek et al., 2014) According to the social advertising agency SocialMediaOne, influencers can be categorized in four sections, depending on their reach (SocialMediaOne, n.d.):

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Figure 2: Types of Influencers based on numbers (adapted from SocialMediaOne, n.d.)

2.3 Impact Models

In the following chapter, four theoretical approaches will be examined that demonstrate the effect relationship of IM. These impact models were chosen on grounds of comparing existing literature and analyzing the specific value for the RQU of this thesis. Although various sources use the terminologies “testimonial” or “celebrity” to refer to a publicly well-known figure, the theoretical constructs can be seamlessly transferred to modernday influencers and therewith, IM.

2.3.1 Source-Credibility Model

Advertisements with influencers as testimonials basically pursue the goal to convince potential customers of a product or service and effect the attitude towards the brand positively. (Kolo & Borgstedt, 2014) Consequently, it is essential that the recruited influencer seems to be credible. The Source-Credibility Model was resulted from a landmark study by Hovland and his associates in the 1950s and therewith, built the foundation for future research about testimonials in marketing. According to Hovland et al., not only the content, but also the credibility of the source and therewith the sender of a message is considered to be highly relevant. (Fanderl & Knieper, 2005; Lim et al., 2017) The researchers “analyzed the factors leading to the perceived credibility of the communicator and concluded that two factors namely, expertness and trustworthiness- underscore the concept of source credibility.” (Ohanian, 1990, p. 41) In this specific context, expertness was described as "the extent to which a communicator is perceived to be a source of valid assertions" (Ohanian, 1990, p. 41) and trustworthiness was defined as "the degree of confidence in the communicator's intent to communicate the assertions he considers most valid." (Ohanian, 1990, p. 41) This impact model is contentual very closely connected with the development of a SCS, as it describes two major attributes that are affecting the perceived credibility of an individual. Thus, the author of the current study can involve these aspects into her further investigation. (Lim et al., 2017)

2.3.2 Source-Attractiveness Model

Another impact model was created by McGuire (1985) which has its origins in the social psychological research: The Source-Attractiveness Model. This approach states that physically attractive testimonials (e.g. influencers) can affect consumers’ attitudes and therewith, their buying behavior more effectively, as they are associated with positive attributes such as intelligence and affability.

Consequently, this model contends that the effectiveness of a message is primarily dependent on the following three components of source attractiveness: The source's "familiarity", "likability" as well as " similarity" to the respondent. (Ohanian, 1990) In this model, similarity describes the resemblance between the source and the recipient of the message and is considered to be a crucial characteristic for the sender’s attractiveness. The significance of this factor can be underlined by the phenomenon that “consumes trust one another more than they trust organizations” (Brady & Lerigo-Jones, 2017, p. 1), as peer consumers are more relatable. (Hasan et al., 2012; Lee & Koo, 2012) The affection for a sender due to the physical appearance, behavior or other personal traits is defined as likeability and through repeated or prolonged media exposure, familiarity can be ensured. (Fanderl & Knieper, 2005) Furthermore, multiple academic sources verified the effect of physical attractiveness on an individual’s perceived credibility. (Chaiken, 1979; Homrighausen, 2017; Horai, Naccari, & Fatoullah, 1974; Lim et al., 2017; Ohanian, 1990; Patzer, 1983) Besides the two factors expertness and trustworthiness which were previously mentioned, source-attractiveness seems to be another relevant aspect that is affecting the sender’s credibility and therewith, should be involved in the further process of developing a contemporary SCS.

2.3.3 Match-Up Hypothesis

The previously presented source models define the factors of valuable attributes of influencers - such as credibility, expertise or attractiveness - as well as their construct and impact. However, the Match-Up Hypothesis assumes that the efficiency of IM is depending primarily on the congruence, meaning the fit between opinion leader and the promoted product or service. According to Lynch and Schuler “a match is expected when the general or stereotype image evoked by a product based on its features and the associations it brings to mind is consistent with the type of model featured in an advertisement.” (Lynch & Schuler, 1994, p. 419) Concluding from that, the better the congruence between influencer and brand, the more efficient is the advertisement. This congruence can be created by accordance of the influencer’s image with the verbalized product message. Besides the attractiveness, also the reputation, personality and perceived competences of the model are grounds for an appropriate fit between opinion leader and brand. Overall, the congruence between the influencer’s image and the brand personality can facilitate the mutually image- and respectively, the personality transfer. (Fanderl & Knieper, 2005; Lynch & Schuler, 1994) As explained in the previous chapters, expertness, trustworthiness and physical attractiveness can be transferred into the development of a SCS seamlessly, as they are considered to be descriptor words of credibility themselves. However, the Match-Up Hypothesis can contribute to the structure of the measurement instrument as well. To represent the essential statement of this model, the scale could encompass items such as ‘compatible with the product’ to include this aspect into the overall measurability of credibility. (Lim et al., 2017)

2.3.4 Meaning-Transfer Model

The Meaning-Transfer Model from McCracken (1989) is based on the approaches mentioned above and considers, as well as integrates the interdependencies of the source models and the statements of the Match-Up Hypothesis. The model conveys that the totality of meanings that the influencer or celebrity brings into the endorsement process is affecting the efficiency of the advertisement. These meanings that the recipient is associating with the influencer and which can vary in their number and diversity are transferred accordingly to the advertised product or service. In this scenario, the item of the brand should benefit from the (preferably only positive) meanings, the transferring opinion leader is associated with. “Distinction of status, class, gender and age, as well as personality and lifestyle types, are represented in the pool of available celebrities, putting an extraordinarily various and subtle pallet of meanings at the disposal of the marketing system.” (McCracken, 1989, p. 312) Testimonials such as influencers are activated with the goal to transfer their appreciation and attention from the public to the promoted item or service.

McCracken describes this process of meaning-transfer in a three-step model. Thus, meanings are developed in a “culturally constituted world”. (McCracken, 1989, p. 314) At step one of the model, media forms the reputation of a public personality and therewith, allocates various meanings to him or her, which the celebrity or influencer is - in turn - representing in advertisements. Through the interplay of products or services and a popular testimonial, the represented meanings are transferred to the branded item in step two. In the third and last step, it is assumed that consumers don’t only purchase an offer by virtue of the functional value, but due to their pursuit of strengthening a certain self- concept. “Celebrities have done in stage one what the consumer is now laboring to do in stage three of the meaning transfer process. Or, to put this another way, consumers are all laboring to perform their own stage one construction of the self, out of the meanings supplied by previous and present roles [...].” (McCracken, 1989, p. 317) For further clarification, a visualization of this impact model can be found in appendix A. The Meaning-Transfer Model doesn’t contribute directly to the SCS in form of logically derived descriptor items, however, it underlines the significance of the research purpose, as a reliable credibility scale could ensure brands that the employed influencer is perceived as credible and therewith, transfers the various, related meanings on the advertised product or service. On grounds of the consumers’ desire to strengthen a certain self-concept, they are more likely to purchase a branded item, if the product itself is loaded with positive associations due to the influencer.

2.4 Legal Regulations concerning Sponsored Content on Social Media

In Germany, the Rundfunkstaatsvertrag clarifies the rules and regulations concerning advertisement, sponsoring, TV-alike media and price games (§58 RStV). According to these regulations, advertisements need to be labeled explicitly as such, in a way that an average consumer can easily recognize the commercial objective behind them. (58 RStV, 2017; Heidrich, 2017) This law affects IM directly, as sponsored content has to be disclosed appropriately - not only in Germany - but in most developed countries such as America (controlled by the FTC) and the United Kingdom (controlled by the ASA).

(Brady & Lerigo-Jones, 2017) Thus, sponsored content on social media either must be disclosed with hashtags such as #advertisement, #ad and #sponsored or the influencer must explain the commercial intention in a short descriptive text. However, the disclosure needs to stand visibly in the beginning at the post and not in the middle of various hashtags, so that consumers are able to see the sponsoring easily. (Heidrich, 2017) But how is the disclosure of sponsored content affecting the credibility of the sender? Brady and Lerigo-Jones (2017) compared existing empirical studies on this subject and stated that “varied findings from the literature on consumer attitudes towards sponsored blog content” (Brady & Lerigo-Jones, 2017, p. 4) show, that more research on the interplay between sponsorship disclosure, credibility and finally purchase intentions needs to be conducted to determine more consistent conclusions. The authors referred to multiple sources which either found out that sponsorship disclosure has a negative impact on individual’s recall of the brand and the attitude towards it, e.g. Campbell et al. (2013) and Boerman et al. (2017), or that the wording of the sponsorship disclosure is an essential factor of credibility, for instance Hwang and Jeong’s (2016). Additionally, other sources such as Lu et al.’s (2014) and Ballantine and Au Yeung’s (2015) stated that the disclosure haven’t had any significant effect on the consumer attitudes towards the sponsored content. (Brady & Lerigo-Jones, 2017) Although no unambiguous conclusion could be derived on whether the disclosure of sponsored content on social media affects the credibility of the sender and therewith, the consumer’s purchase intention, the legal regulations set up a framework that influencers must comply with. Thus, the measurement scale needs to include at least one descriptor item that refers to those rules, for instance ‘revealing sponsored content’ to ensure that legal standards are met. Even if the study shows that this descriptor phrase doesn’t significantly affect the credibility of influencers, they have to fulfil it anyway, as it is a mandatory legal requirement.

2.5 Relationship Management: Grounds for Influencer-Consumer Relationships

In a saturated market with a vast quantity of messages, is it crucial for organizations to develop a communication strategy, specifically tailored to the target audience and to focus intensely on sustainable relationship management. To build up those ongoing relationships with consumers, businesses increasingly implement subliminal advertising strategies that dissociate from the previously very common push communication - where consumers are solely approached as passive recipient - towards an engaging pull communication strategy. (Homrighausen, 2017) Sustainable relationships with consumers can be realizable with promotions through influencer engagement, as these are not perceived as a sales pitch, but as genuine recommendation. (Kar & Chakraborty, 2017) The following chapter examines three essential grounds for effective ICRs.

2.5.1 Network Coproduction Model

Parallel to market changes, marketing theories need to be adapted accordingly. The Network Coproduction Model is the result of the evolution of two previous WOM theories - namely the Organic Interconsumer Influence Model and the Linear Marketer Influence Model (appendix B). The most recent model recognizes the importance of the internet, but is not limited to it and implies that marketers use “new tactics and metrics to deliberately and directly target and influence the consumer or opinion”. (Kozinets, de Valck, Wojnicki, & Wilner, 2010, p. 72) Additionally, it acknowledges that communication processes “do not flow unidirectionally but rather are exchanged among members of the consumer network.” (Kozinets et al., 2010, p. 73)

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Figure 3: The Network Coproduction Model (adapted from Kozinets et al., 2010)

The visualization of the Network Coproduction Model developed by Kozinets et al. (2010) further clarifies the interplay between consumers, marketers of a brand, the various marketing-mix elements (e.g. Kotler’s four P’s: product, price, place and promotion) and a co-consumer who is directly influenced by the marketer, e.g. a reach-wide influencer. (Homrighausen, 2017; Kozinets et al., 2010) This approach is the most relevant one for IM, as it is focusing on relationships rather than transactions, “with increasing importance placed on the role of consumer networks, groups, and communities.” (Kozinets et al., 2010, p. 72) The Network Coproduction Model encompasses various aspects that can be transferred as descriptor items into the measurement scale, e.g. it underlines the contemporary social setting in today’s digitalized world and shows, that co-consumers as influencers usually have a large following and are interacting with their audience. Additionally, technical-related items could be derived from this model, as the influencer can communicate marketing messages and meanings solely when she/he is familiar with the latest technology. Otherwise, a both-sided network interaction between opinion leader and followers wouldn’t be possible. Overall, the author can derive multiple traceable items for the SCS from the construct of the Network Coproduction Model.

2.5.2 Mimicry-Social Relationship

Influencers and their followers are interacting via digital devices within their social relationship construct. However, the ICR is not considered to be a mutual connection, as influencers only start engaging with the audience due to their own personal advantage as primary motivation. Influencers are aware that they can’t communicate with every individual separately, that reacts to their content and are - initially - not aiming at genuinely interacting socially with the audience. To describe this feigned social relationship between influencers and their followers, Homrighausen choses the term “Mimicry-Social Relationship”. (Homrighausen, 2017, p. 85) This definition derives from the biological phenomenon mimicry, which is described as “the close external resemblance of an animal or plant (or part of one) to another animal, plant, or inanimate object.” (“mimicry | Oxford Dictionaries,” n.d.) In the context of ICRs, this means that influencers are trying to feign a genuine social relationship with their audience to obtain a competitive advantage towards other opinion leaders in the same environment. Ideally, the recipients of the feigned signals are deceived from the Mimicry-Social Relationship, perceive the connection as truly social and consider influencers as trustful acquaintances. (Homrighausen, 2017) Thus, the primary relevance of this construct for the final SCS is the derivation of essential descriptor items. The fact that individuals who can relate to another and feel that the counterpart is similar to oneself, perceive the other person as more credible, leads to “friendship”-items such as ‘relatable’ or ‘loyal’.

2.5.3 Trust

Besides the two grounds explained above, trust is another factor which is playing a crucial role for modern ICRs, as the Source-Credibility Model (2.3.1) underlines as well. In the following chapter, definitions, levels and the operationalization of trust will be examined. Comparison of Trust Definitions

As social psychological literature shows, the social construct “trust” has no unmitigated definition but is situation-specific. Although we face trust and therewith also trust issues in our everyday lives, it is difficult to define. The construct can include different facets and dimensions depending on the field of discussion, e.g. trust in the web, management systems, technology, social sciences, philosophy, economics, contract law, market research and other contexts. (Blomqvist, 1997; Fisman & Khanna, 1999; Hall & McQuay, 2010) However, trust in the field of IM can be described with approaches from social psychological research, as it is a marketing discipline and primarily deals with social interactions, consumer behavior and psychological grounds linked to behavior changes. (Liu et al., 2015) “Trusting behavior as seen in social psychology implies allowing oneself to be in a potentially vulnerable position relative to another, while possessing some knowledge of the other that inspire trust in his goodwill, i.e. in his good intentions.” (Blomqvist, 1997, p. 272) This description of trust can be applied to IM seamlessly, as consumers are taking the risk of being vulnerable and trust information a certain influencer has distributed on grounds of goodwill. Accordingly, “some information about the potentially trusted person” (Blomqvist, 1997, p. 272), as well as a certain degree of risk are essential conditions for the existence of trust. To provide a reasonable overview of trust definitions in social psychological research, a table of trust summaries was developed on the next page. It leans on the table “summary of the definitions of trust by the social psychologists” by Blomqvist (1997), but solely includes definitions which are particularly relevant for IM. Although there exist various, more recent academic sources that dealt with the challenge to define the social concept of trust (Castelfranchi & Falcone, 2010; Hall & McQuay, 2010; McKnight & Chervany, 2000; Watson, 2005), the summary of definitions (table 1) is still considered to be relevant. The primary essence remained nearly equal throughout the years and the descriptions in the table of summary are fitting well within the context of IM. Thus, the author decided to include older definitions of trust that explain comprehensible, which aspects this construct encompasses.

Table 1: Summary of Trust Definitions relevant for IM (adapted from Blomqvist, 1997)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Stepping back from the definitions of trust, why is this construct relevant for ICRs and therewith, IM? Although ICRs are considered to be Mimicry-Social Relationships (2.2.2), it is crucial that influencers are showing commitment to the bond and build up an enduring connection by communicating with their followers to gradually build up trust. (Homrighausen, 2017) Consumers evaluate the influencer’s present as well as previous behavior and decide on these grounds, whether the information provided can be trusted and whether the influencer is perceived as reliable. As the table shows, trust in the social psychological context was either described as a personal trait, e.g. Rotter and Schlenker et al. or as result of social interaction and observation, e.g. Blau and Good. (Blomqvist, 1997) Nevertheless, research indicates that the self-enforcing nature of trust is evident: “Trust tends to evoke trust and distrust to evoke distrust.” (Blomqvist, 199, p. 272) Theories of Trust

Although multiple sources (Humphrey & Schmitz, 2007; Sung & Kang, 2012) divide the construct trust into three different levels - namely the impersonal macro-, the sectoral meso- and the personalized micro-level - this approach is primarily applied in the context of inter-firm relationships. Reading through existing research from social scientists, another approach to categorize the diverse dimensions of trust could be found - which seems to be more relevant for ICRs than the approach in a business-to-business (B2B)


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Influencer Marketing. A Measurement Instrument to determine the Credibility of Influencers
Revealing the Effect of specific Factors on Consumers’ Product Preferences and Buying Decisions
University of Applied Sciences München
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influencer marketing
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Christin Smuda (Author), 2018, Influencer Marketing. A Measurement Instrument to determine the Credibility of Influencers, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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