Will Social Media and Its Consumption Converge or Diverge Global Consumer Culture?

Will Social Media and Its Consumption Converge or Diverge Global Consumer Culture?

Yowei Kang, Kenneth C. C. Yang
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4718-2.ch005
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Social media have been claimed to homogenize human and consumer behaviors around the world – in other words, to make people think, feel, and act alike regardless of national borders. Scholars often debate this claim from either a convergence or a divergence perspective from the marketing and consumer behavior literature. The theoretical foundation will be based on the convergence-divergence debates that postulate universal consumption patterns and values are made possible, due to the industrialization, modernization, technology, and wealth accumulation. The authors use perceptions of online privacy among users of privacy-invasive technologies as an example to discuss why people will think the same about their own privacy could be a myth for the failure to consider the unique socio-cultural characteristics of each nation. This study begins with a global consumption analysis of social media around the world. Then, they examine how privacy concerns may help account for the homogenization or heterogenization trend of global consumer culture. Discussions and implications are provided.
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The Rise of Social Media Ecosystem

Advances in contemporary Information-Communication Technologies (ICTs) are predicted to increase connectivity among consumers and lead to their spending behaviors (Ozturk & Cavusgil, 2019). The term, ICTs, often refer to technologies such as the Internet, World Wide Web, mobile technologies, even smart TV that have included social shaping and consequences (Dutton, 2001; Irion & Helberg, 2017). Recently, the popular Chinese mobile app, Tiktok, has been said to collect users’ location, social media contacts, age, and phone contact information (Luna, 2020). These technological developments have led to the rise of a global market where consumers are exposed to similar lifestyles (Frith & Mueller, 2003 cited in Choi & Ferle, 2004; We Are Social, 2020). Social media, like many of these contemporary technological innovations, has been claimed to affect consumer behaviors (Voramontri & Klieb, 2019). In a similar vein, social media are likely to homogenize global human and consumer behaviors around the world--- in other words, to make people think, feel, and act alike regardless of national borders (De Mooij, 2019). This claim is in line with what many media and communication scholars have proposed to emphasize the role of media on the emergence and homogenization of global culture (Mustapha, Azeez, & Wok, 2005).

According to Statista (2018, May), the number of social media users around the world has grown from 0.97 billion in 2010, 2.14 billion in 2015, to 2.96 billion in 2020. The number is expected to grow to 3.09 billion in 2021 (Statista, 2018, May). The average worldwide penetration rate of social media has reached 49% (We Are Social, 2020) to generate potential and widespread impacts on society. We Are Social (2020) has also reported the global Internet users have surpassed over 4.5 billion, while the number of social media users around the world is 3.8 billion, suggesting the rapid rise of social media to influence human society to the extent that the Internet has created. The social media ecosystem is composed of various interconnected applications, including blogs, consumer opinion platforms, micro-blogging sites, social networking sites (Han et al., 2019). The rapid development of social media ecosystem has led some industry pundits to observe the homogenization among social media companies that offer overlapping features in their respective applications (Morgan, 2016).

According to We Are Social (2020), the most popular social platform is Facebook, with its global users of 2,449 million users, followed by YouTube (2,000 millions), WhatApps (1,640 millions), Facebook Messenger (1,300 millions), Weibo/WeChat (1,151 millions), Instagram (1,000 millions), Douyin/Tiktok (800 millions), and QQ (from China) (731 millions). A report by eBizMBA (2017) observes that the top five most popular social media platforms, on the basis of estimated unique monthly visitors, are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkenIn (cited in Koohang, Paliszkiewicz, & Goluchowski, 2018).

The growing importance of social media as part of contemporary human experiences is also attributed to their widespread applications in many marketing activities (Burton, Mueller, Gollins, & Walls, 2017; Grewal, Stephen, & Coleman, 2019; Ham, Leee, Hayes, & Bae, 2018). These scholars have observed that social media have played an essential role as part of the integrated marketing communication platforms to foster relationships with consumers by providing entertaining and informative contents (Burton et al., 2017). For example, Grewal et al. (2019) employ five experiments to examine whether product postings on social media can reveal consumers’ own identity to help marketers increase their subsequent purchase intention. Other marketing researchers have also explored the underlying motivations that consumers simulcast branded contents across different social media platforms (Ham et al., 2018). Their study attempts to examine whether pre-existing social relationships can account for consumers’ sharing behaviors (Han et al., 2018).

The rapid diffusion of social media has become a global phenomenon (Kolb, 2008) and is likely to influence the behaviors of their global users. Social media giants such as Facebook has 37.2% of its users from Asia, 18.8% from Latin America and Caribbean, 17.4% from Europe, 13.3% from North America, 8.0% from Africa, 4.4% from Middle East, and 1.0% from Australia and Oceania (Internet World Stats, 2017). Another popular social media platform, Twitter, aims to become “a global town square” for its 300 million monthly global active users in 2014 (Leetaru, 2015). As of January 2020, the top three countries with the most Twitter users are the U.S. (59.35 million), Japan (47.75 million), and the U.K. (16.7 million) (Statista, 2020, January). Other countries with Twitter presence include Saudi Arabia (14.35 million), Russia (9.46 million), and Malaysia (3.86 million). The global presence of these social media platforms evidently has suggested a globalization and convergence trend. Nevertheless, China has presented a strong case of divergence because its own version of Sina Weibo (similar to Twitter) (Duan & Dholokia, 2015), Youku or Tencent (from China) (similar to YouTube), WeChat (from China) (similar to Facebook), DouYin (from China) (similar to Tiktok) (Kantar China, 2018).

Despite the technology-enhanced convergence or divergence trends around the world, various factors may contribute these developments (Ozturk & Cavusgil, 2019). For example, Ozturk and Cavusgil (2019) observe that technological influence is likely to contribute to the convergence of consumer behaviors while sociocultural factors (such as cultural diversity) may inhibit the convergence trend. The dynamic between these factors is important to caution scholars not to fall into the technology-deterministic prediction. This study will focuses on one of the socio-cultural factors (i.e., the perceptions of privacy) and explain this variable may be used to account for the convergence or divergence trend in the marketing and consumer behavior literature (De Mooij, 2003; Ozturk & Cavusgil, 2019). Specifically, research questions to guide this study are below:

  • RQ1: What is global social media consumption trend?

  • RQ2: What is the definition of social media privacy concerns?

  • RQ3: What is the relationship between global consumers’ privacy concerns and their social media usage behaviors?

  • RQ4: How will this study help explain the convergence vs. divergence trend in terms of global social media usage behaviors?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Convergence: A term that is originally introduced by Marieke de Mooij into the discussion of consumer behavior research in early 2000s. The main thesis of this concept is that, as global consumer income increases across national borders, consumer values and behaviors will become the same (or homogenized) as a result of converging technology development.

Social media: A group of Internet or mobile-delivered social networking service applications that allow people to share personal information and connect with others to establish and maintain interpersonal relationships. Popular social media include Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.

Primary Research Methods: A group of research methods that are planned and executed by researchers or their equivalents to collect first-hand data to answer research questions or problems. Primary research methods usually include in-depth interview, surveys, experiments, focus group, observation, ethnographic, social listening, and text mining methods.

Secondary Research Methods: A research method that relies on existing or already published documents to generate insights into an object of research. The technique refers to a synthesis of existing data, a meta-analysis of published journal articles, or a comparison of past studies. The term is often used in comparison with primary research methods that rely on a researcher’s original investigation of a phenomenon.

KPMG: A global conglomerate made up different individual firms that offers advisory, financial auditing, and tax services. As one of the four largest auditing firms in the world, KPMG is made of a network of companies in 147 countries and employs over 219,000 employees.

Ecosystem: A biological term that describes a community of living organisms, and by extension, of different entities. The term has been stretched to study different operators/players/companies in a specific industry to describe the arrangement of major and minor players in the industry.

Privacy Concerns: A term that refers to an emotional state of consumers when they are worried about the potential infringement on their rights to be let alone, or their freedom from outside interference or intrusion without their prior consent.

Divergence: A concept that postulates the globalization of international trade and the convergence of information-communication technologies, on the contrary, will lead to the differentiation and heterogenization of consumer values and behaviors across national borders.

Crossvergence: A term used in the convergence-divergence-crossvergence (CDC) framework and refers to a different perspective (from the convengence and divergence).

Consumer Behavior: Refers to the study of the decision-making process (at individual, group, organizational, societal, or national levels) to purchase, consumption, and disposal of a product or a service. The field emerges in 1940s and 1950s as a sub-field in the marketing research.

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