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Understanding everyday internet experiences: Applications to social marketing theory and practice

Previte, Josephine (2005) Understanding everyday internet experiences: Applications to social marketing theory and practice. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

Abstract

Recently Alan Andreasen (2003) argued that social marketing is in the 'growth phase' of development following four decades of research and practice. During this same time period, marketing has also witnessed new theoretical ideas and practices that have evolved from the influence of new interactive technologies such as the internet. Only limited scholarly work however has been undertaken to draw these marketing sub-disciplinary areas together. The research undertaken in this thesis bridges this gap and explores the role of the internet as means to further extend social marketing theory and practice. Three research questions informed the study. The first of these questions focused on how internet users describe their experiences of the internet as an everyday technology. The second question investigated the different profiles of internet users' opinions, attitudes and actions, and the third question examined how social marketing can be more responsive to internet user behaviour.

To address these research questions the research design used both qualitative methods of focus groups and in-depth interviews together with Q methodology to quantitatively represent the structure and form of individual users' subjective disposition towards the internet. Although Q methodology is relatively absent from marketing literature, it was a useful method for identifying types of people with similar experiences and views of the advantages and disadvantages of internet interactions and relationships. The research process in the study was operationalised using a three-study design. The first study drew on sixteen interviews and two focus groups with internet users, the second study involved Q sorting with thirty-two internet users, and the third study engaged interviews with twenty social change agents.

This study of internet users is embedded in a particular theoretical and epistemological position. Three issues are relevant. First, a social constructionist epistemology is engaged. This emphasises that technology is a social process, patterned by the condition of its creation and use, and informed by human choices and actions. Second, the research is situated across disciplinary boundaries. Marketing practitioners initially adopted a commercial, albeit simplistic, lens when considering the value of social aspects, such as virtual communities and the social networks of connection that link internet users into longer term relationships and exchanges of knowledge, emotion and shared confidences online. However, the intangible non-material resources shared between customers, organisations and other users online are of import to understanding the value of the internet for social marketing strategy. This required looking beyond the social marketing theory and research, to the literature on the sociology of technology. The third way in which this research is different epistemologically and theoretically is in its interpretive focus. Accordingly, the thesis contributes to the shift in academic focus towards critical marketing, which Hastings and Saren (2003) argue provides a more detailed critique and understanding of social marketing processes and outcomes.

The main contribution of this thesis is the development of a strategy map for online social marketing. The map is derived from findings from the three studies. Study 1 explained that the internet is a social and personal technology which has been incorporated into users' everyday lives and activities. Study 2 identified different profiles of internet user opinions, attitudes and actions and interpreted these as internet user segments described as: the Internet Communitarian, the Information Networker and the Individualised Networker. Study 3 delineated the findings from the downstream users' perspective and presented a strategy map derived from the experiences of upstream internet users. Three principles inform this strategy map. First, social marketers need to adopt customer-centric marketing. Secondly, they should apply an exchange continuum that embraces a relational perspective. Thirdly, social marketers using the internet should plan online strategies that focus on the internet as a recombinant technology that can be "remade" by individual users' needs and desires.

Several identified limitations of the study should be considered when reviewing this study. Firstly, the study's interpretive methodological focus precludes quantification and generalisablity to larger populations. Secondly, sample bias in terms of age and gender demographics was evident. Thirdly, a further limitation of the study is the nature of the technology under investigation in this thesis: the recency, and hence the salience of the findings, are mitigated by the fact that the internet is a dynamic technology. Finally, the generalised rather than particularised perspective on social issues and problems adopted in this study as a means of discussing social marketing, may also be seen as a limitation.

This research is of significance to both an academic and practitioner audience. In terms of scholarly significance, the study is important theoretically and methodologically. Social marketing theory has a well established view of the customer as an operand resource. This thesis is significant as it demonstrates the need to conceptualise customers as more than simply 'targets' of social marketing campaigns. It illustrates how social change customers become operant resources who produce effects, based on their sharing behaviours, and make online contributions to behaviour-change processes that give target audiences (operand resources) a sense that they can enact the behaviour. As well, the evolving customer roles -- user, social actor, co-creator, resource -- theorised from the study findings inform a shifting exchange continuum involving 'transactions' to 'relationships'. Finally, this research is of theoretical significance in elucidating the conceptualisation of the continuous-process perspective which reveals that exchanges are not just the discrete, 'transactional' variety, but rather are long in duration and reflect an ongoing relationship-development process.

Methodologically, the study has also demonstrated the potential value of Q methodology as a means of revealing subjective experiences and perspectives, which are the foundation of social products regularly dealt with by social marketers. For social marketing practitioners the study also demonstrates the need for engaging a more holistic view of the internet and its customers to facilitate social change campaigns. This, however, does not negate the fact that there may be potential challenges and unintended consequences facing social marketers in engaging the internet.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 16136
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Hearn, Gregory& Dann, Susan
Keywords: social marketing, internet marketing, internet technology, interpretivism, Q methodology
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Advertising, Marketing & Public Relations
Department: Faculty of Business
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Josephine Previte
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 13:57
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2011 05:43

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