Referencing in the Virtual World: A Study

Referencing in the Virtual World: A Study

G. K. Deshmukh (Institute of Management, Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur, India) and Sanskrity Joseph (Institute of Management, Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur, India)
DOI: 10.4018/IJSODIT.2015070102
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Abstract

The fact that ‘Man is a social being' is seen and felt in real as well as in virtual world. The paper discusses the advent of concept of social customer. All customers who use social media to share their experience through their positive or negative comments related with goods and services used as well as those who browse social media for getting reference to arrive at a decision to buy or choose are social customers. In the above backdrop the researchers have tried to highlight following issues: (i) definition of Social Customers, (ii) impact of Social media as a reference group on social customer. The researchers have conducted an empirical study and analyzed the data through Structural equation modeling and provided guidelines to marketers on the impact of social media in general and e-WOM in particular on buying behavior of social customers.
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Introduction

Decisions are masters of individual’s fate. The positive or negative outcomes of decisions determine the journey, destination and performance of individuals in personal and professional lives. Decisions are shaped and altered by external and internal changes brought about by all pervasive forces working in social, economical, political, technological and demographical environment. The effect of these changes can be seen and felt in the lives of customers existing in markets. In today’s world technological advancement highlighted by internet boom, social environment underlined by interactions of customers on the web, economical environment identified by monetary surplus created by virtual markets and positive political environment acknowledged by government policies has created and established new ways and means of buying for customers. Men are not alien to one another due to distance or frequency of meeting. The penetration of land and mobile telephony coupled with continuous internet access has brought individuals together in common platforms facilitating decision making. The concept of reference groups which studied the impact of referencing on buying behavioiur is an expressive phenomenon which has existed in both geographical and virtual markets since long decades. Hayman (1942) describes reference group as a group that influences the attitude of an individuals’ by providing a reference point based on their group norms. A customer makes a decision regarding purchasing a product or service in four well defined stages highlighted by academicians and researchers. Initially a customer identifies a need gap that can be quenched by ownership and usage of products and services which is followed by search for information related with desired product or service which leads to evaluation of available alternatives based on facts which finally leads to a purchase decision. The impact and influence of reference groups can be seen and understood in all successive stages of decision making. Blackwell et al. (2001) opined that referencing can be done by any person or group of people who can significantly influences an individual's decision making process.

The advent of internet in lives of individuals due to penetration of land and mobile telephony in India and abroad has given ways to new means of interacting with people and sharing judgments and opinions. The Hindu (2014) highlighted the fact that India will become the second largest internet market in the world by end of December 2014. Further Internet Live Stats (2014) highlighted that India has registered double digit growth rate of 14% in terms of internet usage in comparison to China which registered a growth rate of 4% and USA which registered a growth rate of 7% respectively. The emphasizing growth of internet has made it essential for marketers to understand the impact of virtual world on customers across the world and especially in India. Widing et al. (2003) opined that reference groups is basically an inclusion of individuals or group of individuals who are referred by customers for taking decisions due to commonly shared beliefs, values and opinions. The growth and penetration of internet has paved way for social media with its full vigor and glamour has facilitated exchange of information between individuals who share some common beliefs, values and opinions. Each customer is different and each customer is valuable as the cost of attraction is high in comparison to cost of retention. Therefore, the marketers are utilizing their market analytical skills, time and money to understand the impact and role of social media for referencing as it ensures the availability of large masses of customers at one place despite geographical boundaries. Park and Lessig, (1977) defined reference group as “an actual or imaginary individual or group conceived of having significant relevance upon an individual’s evaluations, aspirations, or behavior.” It has become interesting and challenging for marketer to identify the actual and imaginary reference sources to devise and draft strategies to understand the cues and motives which can positively instigate a customer in varied stages of buying beginning from need recognition to purchase followed by satisfaction which influences repurchase through a platform more respectively known and titled social media.

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