College of Communication > Faculty & Staff > Faculty Focus > When Culture Meets Social Media

When Culture Meets Social Media

On Jan. 29, the College of Communication hosted Dimensions o​f Communication, an opportunity for faculty members to share their latest research in an engaging manner. The event was “powered by PechaKucha” (say pe-chahk’-cha), a presentation style created in 2003 by a group of Tokyo architectural designers as a concise way to showcase work among peers. During a PechaKucha event, presenters speak on a particular subject while showing 20 images for 20 seconds each.

Five faculty members entertained the audience as they discussed their research subjects and interest areas. Kelly Chu is an assistant professor in our Public Relations and Advertising program. Her presentation, When Culture Meets Social Media, gives a window into her experience as an individual practicing cross-cultural communication, its implications, and its challenges when looked at through a model that seeks to engage consumers through the use of social media.

Good evening, everyone! Thanks for coming to the PechaKucha night. My name is Kelly Chu. Today, I would like to share my research on culture and social media. Before I talk about my research, here is a little background about me.

I’m originally from Taiwan, one of the countries in East Asia. I grew up in Taipei. Anyone been to Taipei? It’s the capital city of Taiwan, with lots of things going on.

I have a bachelor's degree in advertising. I also received my master’s and PhD degrees in advertising from the University of Texas at Austin. So I never change my majors! I worked for an advertising agency as an account executive and I also worked for the client side. These are the logos for the companies I worked for.

My research has been informed by my personal background and professional work. An overarching goal of my research is to understand consumers’ information processing and exchange in digital environments (particularly in social media) and the relationships between cultural values and consumer behavior.

Any one is on social media? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? Using social media has become a popular activity of the Internet population around the world. While social media were originated in the U.S., Internet users in China have quickly joined the crowd in the online hangout place.

China is the second-largest global advertising market, only behind the U.S. Meanwhile, China represents the largest Internet population worldwide. For example, there are over 900 million users of microblogging sites in China such as Weibo.

It’s important to note that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are blocked in China due to government censorship. They have developed their domestic versions of social platforms such as RenRen, Weibo, and Youku.

I’m very curious if there are cross-cultural differences in the use of social media between China and the U.S.? This is an example of profile page on Qzone, one of China’s popular social networking sites.

Social media allow consumers to exchange information and opinions about a product or service with their personal contacts. It has emerged as a new vehicle of electronic word-of-mouth. For example, consumers can join a conversation on Starbucks’ Facebook page.

Consumers can also talk about how they hate a brand on social media. Here is a consumer-created Facebook page called “To Hell with Dell.” Electronic word-of-mouth on social media can be positive or negative.

In China’s popular microblogging site, Weibo, companies also create brand profile pages to build relationships with their consumers and encourage positive word-of-mouth communication.

Based on this background information, there are three objectives of this study: 1) to understand the degree and nature of eWOM occurring within social media, 2) to identify the factors influencing young generations’ engagement in eWOM via social media, and 3) to examine the potential cross-cultural similarities and differences between the U.S. and China.

I used Hofstede’s cultural framework of individualism versus collectivism to study these research questions. This cultural framework has been widely used in cross-cultural consumer research and can help examine social media usage and eWOM in a global context.

Based on this framework, U.S. is considered as an individualistic culture, focusing on independence, self-reliance, and competition. American social media users may be more likely to use the platforms for self-promotion and impression management, compared to Chinese users who focus more on relationship building.

China is typically considered as a collectivistic culture. Chinese people tend to view themselves in terms of their group memberships and relationships with others in the society, and emphasize family and social norms.

Previous studies also found that word-of-mouth differs across cultures in both online and off-line environments. It is generally found that Chinese consumers tend to search for more information and rely more heavily on personal sources of information than do American consumers who tend to rely on their internal knowledge.

In this study, I proposed that social media usage, attitudes toward social media, and perceived information credibility on social media are three potential factors that influence eWOM in these social platforms.

I conducted an online survey with college students in both the U.S. and China. A college student sample was used because this group comprises the largest segment of the social media user population in both countries.

Findings suggest that use of social media differs across cultures. Chinese young generations spend much more time on social media than do American counterparts. I also found that offline WOM behavior can be extended to online social media and mirror the respective prevalent cultural orientations. More importantly, I found perceived information credibility on social media is an important factor influencing eWOM in the U.S. and China.

This study provides evidence that cultural orientations are associated with young generations’ experiences in social media. Social media marketers should develop culturally meaningful global marketing campaigns to target consumers with different cultural backgrounds.