© Media Watch 10 (S) 5-18, 2019
ISSN 0976-0911 e-ISSN 2249-8818
The Impact of Social Media Communication on Indian Consumers Travel Decisions
Jay Trivedi & Mitali Rozia
MICA, Ahmedabad, India
In today’s digital era, social media communications have a significant impact on the consumer decision-making process. This new age phenomenon also impacts the tourism industry in India. Indian consumers (here travelers) surf through multiple social media platforms for finding travel related information before making a destination choice. Hence, a deeper understanding of the dimensions of social media communication and its impact on the consumer (traveler’s) behavior needs to be developed from an emerging market perspective. Here, the researchers observe the comparative effect of user-generated content; the firm generated content and social media advertising on consumers’ message involvement, the formation of an attitude towards the travel destination, and finally the destination choice. The descriptive research design was used to conduct the study. Responses were collected from 208 respondents using a well-designed survey instrument. Statistical tools like Cronbach’s alpha, factor analysis, and regression were conducted to arrive at empirical results. The results established the importance of user-generated content towards creating consumer involvement, further resulting in the formation of a positive attitude towards the travel destination and finally leading to destination choice. The mediating role of message process involvement and attitude is also evident between the independent variables and destination choice.
Keywords: User-generated content, firm generated content, social media advertisements,
message process involvement, attitude towards the destination, destination choice
India’s travel industry is worth US$ 71.53 billion in value (Indian Brand equity foundation report, 2017). Like all other industries, the travel industry is also being disrupted by the digital revolution occurring across the globe. In India also, Internet penetration and data speed are growing at a rapid rate (e-Marketer, 2016). Searching travel information online has become an essential practice in destination choice (Jacobsen & Munar, 2012), which has, in turn, influenced the entire tourism ecosystem (Leung, Law, Van Hoof, & Buhalis, 2013; Xiang & Gretzel, 2010). In this study, the researchers have observed the impact of social media communications on Indian traveler’s message involvement, attitude towards the destination, and destination choice. Once the dimension which influences consumer behavior the most is unraveled, marketers’ may want to channelize dollars accordingly.
Traditionally, the marketing communications of the tourism products were dominated by traditional media platforms like TV, Newspapers, and Radio to name a few (Johnson & Kaye, 2016). Although these mediums delivered the desired results, they continue to perturb the marketers owing to their high cost. However, with the advent of web 2.0, marketers saw an opportunity to reach out to potential consumers using digital mediums like social media platforms. Social media platforms have a wide acceptance among travelers to search, plan and share their travel stories through blogs and visuals (Leung et al., 2013). It was posited that social media is more effective in adding to the travelers’ knowledge of a tourism destination (Xiang & Gretzel, 2010). The firm generated content (FGC), and user-generated content (UGC) are two different components of social media communication (Godes & Mayzlin, 2009). Besides, firms also invest in advertising on social media platforms (SMADS) to achieve the desired goals. Hence FGC, UGC, and SMADS are the three critical components of social media communications (SMC).
User-generated content (UGC) constitutes the real experience and the actual comments which are considered to be more realistic (Wang, 2012). As a result, consumers generally make sure to read such user-generated content before making the final decision on their destination choice (Tsao et al., 2015). Further web 2.0 redefined consumers’ adoption of e-tourism. Web 2.0 is defined as “a wide array of electronic applications (e.g., social networks, review websites, blogs, interactive websites and photo- and video-sharing platforms), which facilitate interactions among individuals and companies and users” (Herrero et al., 2015). Through two-way communication through Web 2.0, consumers can create communities of members who share similar interests related to travel in a structured set of social relationships (Zhu et al., 2016). Thus, through an exchange of photos, comments, and reviews, consumers started sharing their experiences regarding tourism products and services in public (Ho & Lee, 2015).
The firm generated content (FGC) is under the control of the organizations and can be strategized to influence the desired consumer action (Kumar et al., 2016). Similarly, advertisements are designed by the firm and act as stimuli to induce the desired consumer action. Godes and Mayzlin (2009) posited that firms update their content on social media platforms with their latest developments, new product announcements and endorsement messages by brand ambassadors. Such updates help interested travelers’ stay abreast with the latest inputs from the firm promoting the travel destination.
Advertisements on social media platforms (SMADS) are a popular marketing practice. Multiple researchers have established the efficacy of advertising on social media platforms on important marketing variables like purchase intention, attitude towards the ad, and brand attitude. The results obtained established a significant influence of advertising on social media platforms on the said variables (Yang, 1996; Tan, Wei Jia; Kwek, Choon Ling; Li, Zhongwei, 2013; Trivedi, 2015).
This research attempts to study the impact of these three components of social media communications on consumer’s involvement with the message and the resulting destination choice. This researchis important because travel is a fast developing industry in India and marketers are exploring various digital platforms for grabbing the consumer’s attention. Moreover, although social media communications are a widely accepted practice in the travel industry, little is known about the strategy and tactics, and more research is needed to unravel the potential of the platform (Leung et al., 2013).
Facebook and Instagram are the most popular social media platforms globally in terms of numbers of users (Parsons and Hannah, 2017). It was also established that about 47% of users are attracted to visit certain places based on their friends’ social media posts on these platforms (Khlat, 2014). Hence, the current research focuses on these two platforms only.
The flow of the report is as follows: literature review helped draw the independent and dependent variables from the related theoretical concepts. These variables were projected in a proposed model reflecting the research objectives. The section on methodology draws out the research design implemented. It also highlights the statistical tools and software used for the data analysis. The data analysis section exhibits the tests for the hypothesis and compares the results with extant literature. The contribution to theory and practice highlights the proposed addition to the knowledge in the area. Future scope and limitations pave the way for additional research in this area.
Literature review, encompassing the extant research from the area of social media communications, advertising value, message process involvement, and the theory of reasoned action, was done to design a proposed model reflecting the research objectives and propose the hypothesis.
Social Media Communications (SMC)
Internet plays a significant role in shaping people’s travel plans and consumption (Buhalis & Law, 2008; Volo, 2010). Online search and social media websites (sites) are two major forces that have emerged on the internet disrupting traditional travel practices (Xiang & Gretzel, 2010). Barnes et al. (2012) explained social networking sites as an online location where the users can create their profiles and establish a peer-to-peer connections, thus creating their network. Hence a two-way online communication was made possible due to web 2.0. This interactivity enabled peer to peer and consumer to the company (known as user-generated content) along with company to consumer (known as firm- generated content) interaction which was not possible with web 1.0.
Organization for economic development and cooperation (2007) defined user-generated content as “content that is publicly available over the internet reflecting a certain amount of creative input and created outside the professional routines and practices.” Berthon et al. (2008) added to this by positing that consumers contribute to content creation owing to their motivation to change other users’ perception, self – promotion, and also due to the enjoyment. Godes and Mayzlin (2009) explained firm generated content as a “fusion between traditional advertising and consumer word of mouth, characterized as firm initiated but consumer implemented.” Todi (2008) suggested that as social media is a high involvement platform for the user, marketers leverage its wide reach, cost efficiency, and targeted advertising to communicate marketing messages to their consumers using this platform. Ducoffe (1995) explored the factors creating value for advertising among consumers. The results opined that informativeness and entertainment exhibit a positive and significant influence on consumers’ perceived value. Entertainment was defined as “enjoyment associated with the message.” Informativeness was explained as “the ability of the advertisements to inform consumers’ of the product proposition so that the purchase can get the utmost satisfaction.” The impact of entertaining and informative advertising on the creation of advertising value has been empirically established over a period of time (Rotzoll et al., 1989; Ducoffe, 1995; Tsang et al., 2004; Palka et al., 2009; Blanco et al., 2010; Trivedi 2017). An important contribution to this area of research was made by Pavlou et al. (2000) as they added credibility as a key dimension influencing value. Credibility was defined as “consumers’ perception about the truthfulness of the ads.” Various research outputs have then supported credibility as an antecedent of value (Choy et al. 2008; Trivedi, 2015).
The above discussion helps us establish that user-generated content, firm-generated content and advertising are the three essential tools used by marketers to influence consumer behavior on social media sites.
From the perspective of tourism, Gretzel et al. (2008) studied the impact of social media on an individual’s travel choice. The paper established that social media acts as a communication platform enabling peer to peer travel related information sharing, thus helping a consumer make a travel decision. Adding to this, research by Buhalis and Law (2008), established social media communication to be an effective way to enable tourists to share knowledge and information about the destinations. The tourists posted reviews about their experience with a tourism property or destination. Vermeulen and Seegers (2009) studied the impact of online reviews on destination choice of consumers’ and established that reviews posted by users (user-generated content) not only exhibited a significant influence on the travel choice and intentions but also helped the service provider manage customer relations. Hur, Kim, Karatepe and Lee (2017) established that social media has a significant impact on the tourism industry. This impact comes from social sites’ ability to share information, entertain and establish relations with stakeholders. The above studies help establish the importance of user-generated content.
Godes and Mayzlin (2009) differentiated user-generated content from firm generated content. Kumar et al. (2016) furthered this differentiation by explaining firm-generated content as communication controlled by the firm’s management and user-generated content as communication out of thefirm’s control. However, Price and Starkov (2006) had argued that some hotel companies encourage visitors to write comments on their hotel blogs with rewards such as discounts and vouchers. This research attempts to study the impact of UGC, FGC, and ads on social media platforms on the consumers’ message process involvement. The social media platforms chosen for the study were Facebook and Instagram owing to their popularity.
From the travel industry perspective, an advertisement exhibiting attractive images of a destination has a significant influence on a consumer’s intent to travel to that location (Molina & Esteban, 2006). However, the impact of such campaigns gets a boost if these ads match with the content of a travel article (Mendelson & Darling-Wolf, 2009). Hur et al. (2017) also established that communication regarding tourism should have the necessary stimuli to interest the audience on social media.
Message Process Involvement (MPI)
Literature is yet to arrive at a mutually agreeable definition of “involvement” (Andrews et al., 1990). However, there is a consensus that involvement should be associated with a domain like advertising involvement or product involvement. Greenwald et al. (1984) posited that if the marketers are successful in involving the audience in the advertising message, it leads to formation of positive brand attitude among that audience. The formation of positive attitude can be attributed to the consumers processing of the information in great detail. From the travel perspective, the internet provides detailed information related to travel at a little cost. Companies obtain real-time service quality feedback from customers due to the internet, and social media platforms like Facebook also provides advertising options to travel companies (Yacouel & Fleisher, 2012). Hanaysha (2016) studied the effectiveness of social media advertising by restaurants on consumers’ perceived brand equity, brand image, brand loyalty, and brand leadership. The results established a significant relationship between these variables. Kamal (2013) conducted comparative research on Arab and American consumers and established that Arab consumers have a more positive attitude towards ads on social media. Gururaja (2015) established that social media advertisements helped travel companies cut marketing costs owing to its broad but targeted reach at lower costs compared to traditional media platforms. The ads on social media proved useful over traditional platforms and helped the travel organization achieve desired results. Chernova, Tretyakova, and Vlasov (2018) established the importance of UGC on social media platforms as one of its key strengths. The research established that since the users get an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and experience about a particular product with their peer group, it leads to an increase in credibility and visibility for the brand.
However, none of these studies explore the type of ads that have the most significant influence on consumer’s involvement nor do they compare the efficacy of UGC, FGC and social media ads on consumers’ involvement. This paper studies not only studies the impact of UGC, FGC, and ads on consumer’s involvement but also measures the comparative efficacy of these variables on involvement.
The above discussion establishes that social media communication constitutes UGC, FGC, and advertisements on social media. This paper intends to study their comparative efficacy on message process involvement leading to the formation of the below hypothesis:
H1: Firm generated content has a significant influence on the individual‘s MPI
H2: User-generated content has a significant influence on the individual’s MPI
H3: Advertisements on social media has a significant influence on the MPI
Attitude and Purchase Intention
Attitude towards Destination and Travel Destination Choice
Ajzen (1989) described attitude as an individual’s positive or negative mental response to stimuli. The theory of reasoned action proposed by Ajzen and Fishbein (1975) proposed that behavioral intentions are shaped by an individual’s attitude towards the behavior and subjective norms. Attitude plays a very crucial role while studying online user behavior (Cheung & Vogel, 2013; Huang et al., 2012; Lee et al., 2006; Yoon, Duff, & Ryu, 2013). Huang, Hsu, Basu, and Huang (2009) established a significant relationship between attitude and intention regarding travel information search by tourists on social media platforms. In this study, the researchers are looking at behavioral intention as an intent to make a travel destination choice.
Purchase intention is defined as “the likely hood of an individual’s choice towards the final purchase decision towards the brand in the future.” Such a purchase decision on the internet is the most rapidly growing form of purchase today in the market (Levy & Weitz, 2012). It is essential to study the purchase intention to explore consumer behavior on the internet, as the online travel search intentions can be the predictor of online purchasing intention. It has been argued that information on the internet might be the only functional element to the intent to purchase via interest (Shim, 2011). This leads for the need to understand how various elements of online information search and review influence traveler’s behavior (Vermeulen & Seegers, 2009), especially the readiness to book a hotel room or the willingness to book where a potential consumer forms a view that the hotel can be trusted or not. In this study, the researcher has looked at purchase intentions from the perspective of travel destination choice (TDC). The above literature helps the researchers establish the following hypotheses:
H4: MPI has a significant impact on attitude towards a travel destination
H5: Attitude towards the travel destination has a significant impact on the destination choice.
The hypotheses in the model form are presented below:
The researchers wanted to observe the mediating role of message process involvement and attitude towards the brand between the independent variables and destination choice. Hence, the following hypothesis was proposed:
H6: Message process involvement and attitude towards the destination mediate the relationship between UGC, FGC, SMADS, and TDC.
The literature review helped the researchers identify the variables which are structured to form a model reflecting the research objective. UGC, FGC, and SMADS were identified as the independent variables (IV) and MPI, attitude towards the destination, and destination choice were the dependent variables (DV) identified. Observing the mediating role of MPI and brand attitude is also crucial as it tells the marketers if the social media communication activities can have a direct impact on consumers’ choice or the involvement and destination attitude are necessary antecedents to consumers’ travel choice. The researchers intended to observe the comparative effect of the IV on DV as exhibited in the below Figure 1.
This study is particularly important as extant research in this area is yet to conduct a comparative analysis of the efficacy of UGC, FGC, and social media ads on essential variables like consumers’ involvement, destination attitude, and travel choice. The result will add to the existing theoretical framework in the area of the role played by social media communication and consumers’ tourism decisions.
Figure 1. Hypothesis with the proposed relationship between the variables
Data and Sample
The research was conducted by using the survey method. A structured questionnaire was created and administered online (Google forms) among the respondents falling in the age group of 18 to 40 years. This demographic was chosen because of their highest affinity towards travel related information on social media (Ogg, 2017). To ensure that the responses are obtained from the apt audience, a demographic based filter questions was inculcated at the beginning of the questionnaire. A gender wise grouping of respondents was not done as it was not the research objective. The respondents hailed from different parts of the country. The respondents were given sufficient time to provide their feedback. The researchers received 208 responses, of which, eight forms were not filled thus leaving the researchers with 200 forms for data analysis. The Data was collected in March 2018.
The measures for the survey questionnaire were adapted from existing scales. The user-generated content, firm generated content and social media ads were the independent variables, while message process involvement, brand attitude, and travel destination choice were the dependent variables. The scale used to measure user-generated content and firm generated content was adapted from Schivinski and Dabrowski (2013). The scale used to measure social media ads was adapted from the work done by Ducoffe (1995). These scales were seven-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Message process involvement was measured by adapting a scale used earlier by Muehling et al. (1988). Attitude towards the brand was measured by employing a semantic differential scale used earlier by Biehal, Stephens, and Curio (1992). TDC was measured by an existing scale used earlier by Bauer, Reichardt, Barnes, and Neumann (2005). The scale measuring TDC was again a seven-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” SPSS, AMOS, and MS-Excel were the software used for conducting the statistical analysis. Cronbach’s alpha, factor analysis, and regression were carried out to test the hypothesis. The mediation effect by MPI and brand attitude was observed by employing the Process method suggested by Hayes (2009).
Reliability and Validity
Cronbach’s alpha was conducted for testing the scale reliability. Cronbach alpha values for each item were above 0.70 and hence appropriate (Nunnally, 1978). KMO and Bartlett’s test was conducted to observe the need for conducting factor analysis. The KMO value was 0.923 and Bartlett’s test of sphericity was significant at a p-value of 0.000. The KMO and Bartlett test justified the need for conducting factor analysis. Exploratory factor analysis was conducted to assess scale validity. The factor loadings for each item of the variables were above 0.60 and hence acceptable (Hair et al., 2006). The results for Cronbach’s alpha and factor loading values are exhibited in Table1. To test for multicollinearity among the variables, variance inflation factor values (VIF) were observed. The maximum VIF value observed was 2.27, indicating no issues of multicollinearity.
Common Method Bias (CMB)
The researchers used a structured questionnaire, as the only tool for conducting the research. Hence the researchers intended to ensure the absence of the common method bias. This was done by conducting Harman’s single factor test. All items used in the questionnaire were loaded on a single factor without rotation in an exploratory factor analysis. The one factor accounted for 23% of the variance, negating the possibility of CMB.
Multiple Regression Analysis
Multiple regression analysis was carried out to test the hypothesis. The dimensions of social media advertising viz. credibility, entertainment, and informativeness were item-parceled into one factor as social media advertisements (SMADS). Then the first regression was carried out by observing the impact of SMADS, FGC, and UGC on the dependent variable- MPI. Further, the influence of SMADS, FGC, UGC, and MPI was observed on AB. In the final step, the influence of SMADS, FGC, UGC, MPI, and AB was observed on TDC. The results of these regression models with their R-squared values are exhibited in Table 2.
The researchers intended to observe if MPI and AB mediated the relationship between the independent variables viz. SMADS, FGC, UGC, and the dependent variable TDC. The researchers employed Hayes (2009) Process tool (Model 6) to observe the mediation effect of MPI and AB between the independent variables SMADS, FGC, UGC, and the dependent variable TDC. The results of the analysis demonstrate that none of SMADS, FGC, and UGC has a significant and positive direct impact on TDC.
The direct effect of SMADS on TDC was not significant (ß=0.010, p=0.198). However, the indirect effect of SMADS on TDC was significant (ß=0.340, p=0.000). The absence of zero value between lower-level confidence interval LLCI (0.158) and upper-level confidence interval ULCI (0.228) confirmed the mediation effect.
The direct effect of FGC on TDC was not significant (ß=0.035, p=0.138). However, the indirect effect of FGC on TDC was significant (ß=0.363, p=0.000). The absence of zero value between the bootstrapped LLCI (0.288) and ULCI bootstrapped (0.439) confirmed the mediation effect.
The direct effect of UGC on TDC was not significant (ß=0.047, p=0.310). However, the indirect effect of UGC on TDC was significant (ß=0.484, p=0.000). The absence of zero value between the bootstrapped LLCI (0.391) and bootstrapped ULCI (0.576) confirmed the mediation effect.
Hypotheses 1, 2 and 3 tested the influence of UGC, FGC and social media advertisements on MPI. The results establish that all three dimensions have a significant impact on MPI, validating H1, H2, and H3. The beta values obtained, establish UGC as the most significant factor influencing MPI. This result is similar to the one obtained by Buhalis and Law (2008) and Vermeulen and Seegers (2009). However, these researchers studied the impact of UGC on destination choice and not on message process involvement, making the current study, a unique contribution.
Further, message process involvement had a significant impact on attitude towards the travel destination, thus validating H4. This result is similar to the results obtained by Greenwald et al. (1984), which emphasized on the level of involvement leading to the formation of attitude. Attitude towards the destination had a significant impact on destination choice, thus validating H5. This is similar to the result obtained by Huang et al. (2009). However, it is noteworthy that no similar attempt has been made in the Indian context, making this a unique contribution. Hypothesis 6 was tested to observe the mediating effect of MPI and AB between the independent and dependent variables. The mediation test was conducted using the Hayes (2009) Process tool. The results established complete mediation by MPI and AB between SMADS, FGC, UGC, and the dependent variable TDC. This result helps to validate H6.
Contribution to Theory
This research compares the influence of UGC, FGC and social media advertisements on MPI, which further influences attitude towards the brand resulting in the formation of destination choice. Few researchers in India have conducted a similar study for the travel industry. The results establish that UGC has a more significant impact on MPI, as compared to FGC and travel-related advertisements on social media. The result helps establish the importance of UGC among Indian travelers. Adding to the previous research, this study focused on the Gen Y respondents on the two most popular social media platforms, i.e., Facebook and Instagram only. The results, thus help unravel travel related behavior of Indian Gen Y.
Further, the mediating role of MPI and AB was also established. This result establishes the crucial role played by involvement and attitude towards the formation of destination choice. The fact that social media ads, FGC, and UGC did not have a direct influence on TDC, establishes that unless social media communications is not able to involve its audience, it will not have a conative effect in the consumer, i.e., the consumer will not be motivated to take the intended action which here is, to make a travel decision.
Contribution to Practice
The results help travel company marketers understand travel-related consumer behavior on Facebook and Instagram. The results indicate that compared to FGC and social media advertisements, consumers find UGC to be more involving, leading to a positive attitude towards the destination and further destination choice. Hence marketers should focus on motivating travelers to share their experiences. Of course, advertisements and FGC also influence consumers’ message involvement, but UGC has a far stronger impact on the involvement. This finding helps marketers channelize their spending on social media accordingly. Some marketers have incentivized their consumers to share their experience on social media platforms. Incentivizing appears to be an appropriate strategy, taking a cue from the results obtained here. It is necessary to invest in advertisements and FGC (like Influencer marketing), but Indian travelers appear to involve more with UGC like peer reviews. Thus drawing from this research, marketers may want to invest in motivating travelers to share their experiences by writing reviews and rating the experience on travel portals.
Limitations and Future Scope: This research has several limitations — the current study involved respondents from the Gen Y cohort, across India. However, as social media usage cuts across age groups, its impact on other age groups calls for further research. Moving further, the difference in consumer perceptions by gender can be observed. This research focused on the two most popular platforms viz. Facebook and Instagram. The impact of other emerging social media platforms like Pinterest, Snapchat, and Foursquare should also be studied separately as they are a different form of social media platform. Only cross-sectional data were collected for this study. The same research can be repeated after some time to observe the long-term impact of social media communications.
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Table 1. Cronbach Alpha values and factor loadings
Table 2. Multiple regression analysis
Jay Trivedi (Ph.D., Gujarat University, 2010) is an Associate Professor in the area of Digital Platform and Strategies at MICA, Ahmedabad, India. He holds a total of sixteen years of experience of which. a decade long experience is with India’s leading media companies like HT Media Ltd, Radio One Ltd and The Indian Express. Dr. Trivedi is an IAMAI and Google certified digital marketing professional.
Mitali Rozia holds a Master’s Degree in Journalisms and Mass communication from MSU- Baroda. She currently serves as a Research Associate at MICA–Ahmedabad for online programs. She has also worked with leading print and digital Media organizations in India and Spain. Her research interest includes studying relation of humanitarian technology and policy building around it.
Correspondence to: Jay Trivedi, MICA-The School of Ideas, Telav -Ghuma Road, Shela, Ahmedabad-380 058, India.