A FUTURE MARKETING PERSPECTIVE
The phenomenon of blogs is growing rapidly and is expected to increase even in a more rapid pace (Technorati, 2006, November 6). As Wright (2006) discuss; blogs provides a new way of communicating with customers, as customers want to be talked with, not to. Companies have newly started to pay attention to this and as a result, the concept of Blog marketing has been born. The use of blogs as a communication tool has the huge importance for companies to understand how consumers use blogs in their decision making. The purpose of this paper is to understand and explore how and why consumers use blogs in their decision making process. Interview technique was used on young adults, as research suggests that this population use blogs the most (Tremayne, 2007).
It was identified that consumers use blogs throughout their decision making. Within the consumers' decision making, collaborative blogs was mostly used as the consumers because it cover specific topic of interest for the consumers. Consumers were found mainly writing in the blogs when they had knowledge to contribute with or when they needed information that they could not otherwise find in the blogs.
It was identified that consumers turned to groups they belonged to, so called normative group, or they turned to groups that they did not belong to, so called comparative groups. These groups influenced the consumer by providing them with knowledge and by giving them positive and negative confirmation on their choice of purchase. However normative groups also persuaded the consumer to buy products in order to belong to the group.
Besides this, a pattern of characteristics of the individuals that the consumer blogged with were noticed. Consumers wanted user experiences and thus the vast majority of these individuals they turned to, seemed to be consumers themselves, with relevant product experiences. The consumers also seem to blog more with certain individuals, whose opinions were valued more. These individuals often shared the latest information on products.
Lastly it was also identified that consumers seemed to be selective when reading blog posts. The blog posts needed to contain detailed- and up-to-date information. Moreover, consumers wanted blog post to be written by other consumers because they saw them as more credible then companies. The consumers also chose to read blog posts that show similarities between the consumer and the blogger in terms of either usage pattern of product or preference for product choices.
Ever since the internet was introduced for the general public during the 1990s, people have used it as a source of information. Majority of the population in India use internet in order to get information regarding products and services. However most statistics available does not tell how the consumers use the internet and what kind of information they search for. There are many different sources of information online, for example company web pages, communities, blogs etc. The concept of blogs and blogging is a relatively new phenomenon in today's society and it has not really been explored before. Nevertheless, magazines are today filled with articles on the importance for companies to start blogging and join the communication of the future, if they do not want to loose ground to their competitors (Lindstedt, 2005, November).
The major blog search engine, Technorati, shows some interesting facts on the number of blogs and its growth. In October, 2006, Technorati counted 57 million blogs and a growth rate of one hundred thousand new blogs per day. This number is expected to keep growing and double every eight month (Technorati, 2006, November 6). However, when it comes to the number of blogs in India, there is uncertainty.
Different articles talk about a wide interval of blogs, starting at around 18,000 (Lindstedt, 2005, August) and counting up to more then hundred thousands (Johansson, 2007). The reason to this wide span is due to the lack of a clear definition on what a blog is and also the fact that the figures are 18 months apart from each other. But the fact is that the tremendous growth of blogs worldwide also is true for India. India contains actors like Twitter, Facebook and MSN spaces whom all contain blogs and allow for a creation of your own blog. As a result of this growth, blog marketing has emerged as a new innovative way to create closer relationship with customers. It has also given the consumers the possibility to discuss amongst each other. Blog marketing allows marketers to establish closer relationships with its segment.
Today limited research has been made within the concept of blog marketing. Furthermore, all research that has been conducted has had the focus on how companies can use blogs in order to interact with consumers. Something that has not been considered, and has been taken for granted, is the issue of how consumers use blogs in their decision making. Moreover, how consumers consider the information that is being transmitted on the blog has not yet been explored. The truth could be that consumers use blogs in a way that companies have not thought about. The existing use of blog marketing could thus miss its objectives if companies do not know how their audience perceives it.
The paper focuses on consumer decision making process and tried to explore how consumers use blogs in this process. As there is not so much work done on the area, this increases the importance to conduct such study. Blogs provides a new way of communicating with customers (Wright, 2006). In order to use this communication tool, it is of big importance for companies to understand how consumers use blogs in their decision making.
The focus on the consumer decision making process in the context of blog is of importance for several reasons. It is today unclear how and in what stages consumers use blogs in their decision making process. An overview of the literature shows that not much research has been done within this subject. Traditional marketing tools such as advertising, sales promotion etc have different impact in the different stages of the consumer decision making process. But it is unclear what impact blogging has in those stages.
By mapping out this information, companies can learn how to use their marketing in a new and innovative way to appeal consumers. Moreover, whatever research is conducted is from company perspective. To be successful in blog marketing, activities needs to be shaped in accordance to consumers' blog usage. If companies learn how blogs are used, they can benefit in several ways like - they can engage in the viral marketing on the blogs to create knowledge of their products, or can listen on why consumers prefer competitor's products.
What is Blog?
A blog is a web page that contains regularly posted inlays that are archived and arranged in reversed chronological order (Wright 2006). They are user-friendly, inexpensive, self-publication of content for a potentially vast audience on the web. The entries in the blogs are called blog posts. Blogs are more flexible and interactive than previous publication print and digital formats. They contain numerous hyperlinks that are often accompanied by comments regarding the destination of the link. Blogs are designed to be a part of a network where they are connected to each other through links, which are generally related to the content. The readers then have the possibility to comment on the blog posts. Blogosphere is the term used to describe the global network of blog postings. Blogs can be thought of as a gateway to vast sources of information where users may respond to a blogger by sending comments and links to additional information. In this sense, it is fulfilling many needs (Tremayne, 2007).
Type of Blogs
Diary blog - A diary blog is a web based tool that gives the author the possibility to post information for consumption for others. Also, diary blogs gives the reader the possibility to add comments regarding its content; however, this is not applicable for all diary blogs. The authors that are writing on a diary blog all have different opinions regarding things and express their view of whatever they are writing about. This is a demonstration to the personal and dynamic capacity of a diary blog according to Searles and Sifry (2002). Pomerantz and Stutzman, (2006) describes diary blogs as web pages that arranges discrete posts that contains chunks of information that may contain images, multimedia and text. According to Lamshed, Berry and Armstrong (2002) diary blogs are very personal and if the reader does not like the author and his/her opinion, it may not interest them enough to return. The blogger can use the diary blog for personal enjoyment and archive the happenings in their lives.
Collaborative blog - It contains information that is posted by several individuals not just one author. In collaborative blogs, readers have the possibility to contribute with links or posts comments, in order to participate with their opinions, answers and questions. Most collaborative blogs focus on a specific topic, and the authors can be both regular people as well as experts within the topic (Holtz and Demopoulos, 2006). The collaborative blogs are an online group created by the bloggers in the blogosphere. These groups have focus on certain topics in order to encourage readers to correspond to each other, which is similar to a normal discussion group. The purpose, according to Lamshed et al. (2002), is to break down the barriers between people and to extend the blog to more than just one author, in order to create a discussion among its members. Collaborative blogs have standard rules about participation in order to avoid development of poor quality content, which do not encourage new and current readers to come back on a regular basis.
Company blog - It include two types of blogs, product and customer service blog. Product blogs can consist of different approaches. One approach is to provide updates about the product so customers can receive the latest information. A second approach is to provide customers with insights and information directly from those who are responsible for the products. A product blog that keeps customers updated can build loyalty to the product and the brand/company. The customer service blog is rather similar to product blogs, but customer service blogs focus completely on issues on the already purchased products. The customer service blogs is a channel in order to address the issues on the products to the customers that have purchased the product (Holtz and Demopoulos, 2006).
When the first blogs appeared in the late 1990s, they were primary web pages that contained many links, offering mostly “personal information” and easy to update. The blogosphere has been expanding rapidly over the last few years. According to the New York Times and Pew Research, nearly one blog per second is created (Tremayne, 2007).
The Current Scenario
People have blogged long before the term was coined, but the trend gained force with the introduction of automated published systems, especially Blogger at blogger.com. Thousands of people use services such as Blogger to simplify and increase the publishing process. People started using the blogs because they wanted to express themselves about mentioned events. Blogging about events has attracted the attention of the mainstream news media, further contributing to the popularisation and adoption of this new phenomenon of computer mediated communication. Today the blogging in the blogosphere concerns business, for example about markets, customer service, product etc. (Tremayne, 2007).
According to the search engine Technorati (2006, November 6) there were more than 57 million blogs available on the internet as of the end of October 2006. Approximately 12% of those blogs had posted comments or links. Research by the Pew Internet and American Life Project presented by Tremayne (2007) also indicates that blog readers today are similar to the early adopters of the internet and other new communication technologies. The bloggers are young, well-educated and more likely to be males. According to Tremayne (2007) the development of blogs seems to follow the traditionally diffusion path of successful new communication technologies and users with great interest in technology. The final step to become a part of the broader public of the internet community is then to shift to the general internet users.
The new stage of the development of blogs is the business sector. Business has become a new phase of the communications that appears on the blogosphere today. Bloggers communicate and share information to each other since blogs are the new ways for customers to reach out to the companies. This scenario has made the companies more alert to listen to their customers' demands through the blogosphere. Enterprises now have the opportunity to gain new knowledge from the customer and to gain an idea about what the customers are saying about them (Tremayne, 2007).
Observations have been done on why internet users connect to blogs. Blogs seem to encourage a sense of community, especially for those who seek more in-depth information than what is available through traditional media. Blog content generally reflects the bias of the blogger, who tends to take one side of an issue. Furthermore it contains a sense of belonging to a group of like-minded individuals. Information seeking is also a reason for accessing blogs. Bloggers provide the latest news and analysis by experts and other with inside knowledge, some of which is glossed over or omitted by the traditional channels. Blog users can also frequently use one certain blog due to they follow a story for a longer period of time than that they would be able to do if the story came from traditional media (Tremayne, 2007).
Blog as mode of Communication
In business, companies are required to communicate with their customer and have a strategy for the implementation of the chosen approach (Kotler et al. 2005). Communication with customer can take many forms, such as advertising, mailed brochures, sales promotion and personal selling etc. The marketers are often those who conduct this communication. They are often perceived as people with something to sell; they express what is good, great and irresistible with the product/service (Varey 2002).
Blog enjoys characteristics of different types of flow of communication like:
It enjoys characteristics of One-step flow of communication as:
- Flow of information from company to the target audience (Fill 1999, Harrell et al 1999, Ottesen 2001).
- It is non-personal communication since the message is carried without personal involvement by Kotler et al. (2005).
- All consumers are exposed to the same message at the very same time.
- It follows the principle of Mass Communication (Fill 1999).
It enjoys characteristics of Two-step flow of communication as:
- In this information goes from the sender to certain receivers, that in turn reach the target audience through interpersonal networks (Fill 1999).
- Mass communication reaches the target audience, opinion leaders and opinion formers are there to strengthen the influence of the message (Blackwell 2001). Blogs helps the opinion formers and leaders in reaching targets that were missed by the traditional mass communication.
It enjoys characteristics of Multiple-step flow of communication as:
- It overcomes the problem of two-step flow of information that neither allow the information to flow between individuals in the target audience, nor it includes the communication between the original senders, via a consumer, to the opinion leader and then passed on to other consumers.
- It adds the function of gatekeepers, who are people in a position able to decide whether or not the target audience will be able to take part of the message.
Relationship between Blog and Word of mouth (WOM)
WOM is defined by (Blackwell et al 2001 p.404) as “the informal transmission of ideas, comments, opinions, and information between two people, neither one of which is a marketer”. According to them, both the sender and the receiver gains from WOM, which is supported by Fill (1999), who also argues for the above. The benefits for the receiver are rather straight-forward; as they gain lots of information they would not be able to obtain otherwise. The benefits for the sender can be a little vaguer at first glance, but according to both Blackwell et al (2001) and Fill (1999) people like to talk about the purchases for a number of reasons, such as confirmation, satisfaction, status etc; which is what the purpose of blogs. According to Blackwell et al (2001) the affect of WOM has increased rapidly due to Internet. Consumers of today are able to spread the word of something faster and further than ever before.
Schindler and Bickart (2005) discuss that the traditional WOM and online WOM differs in the strength of ties between consumers when they are exchanging information between each other. Granovetter (1973) previously argued that the strength of ties between two individuals is a function of the amount of time spent together, the emotional intensity and degree of intimacy in the relationship. Following this discussion, online WOM is characterized by weak ties. Weak ties then provide three possible benefits for the consumer. Friedkin (1982) argues that it first provides a potential input for a decision. Second, consumer information should be more diverse then that coming from stronger ties. Thirdly, it also gives consumers the opportunity to gain access to expertise which they normally would not get access to (Constant, Sproull and Kiesler, 1997). One downside is however, that consumers do not know the motives of the person that provides the online WOM. It can be difficult to access the informant's background and expertise in the topic (Schindler and Bickart, 2005).
Consumer Decision Making Process
The consumer decision making process provides a general description on how a purchase decision is made. Consumers does not necessarily go through all the stages for all the kinds of decisions they make, and neither do they always go through the stages in the very specific order that is presented below (Blackwell et al 2001). The process consists of mainly five steps (need recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase and the post-purchase process) according to most researchers within the field (Blackwell et al. 2001, Statt 1997, Kotler et al. 2005), but there are number of factors that affects the consumer in their purchasing process. Consumer are affected by individual determinants (Blackwell et al., 2001) and physical factors (Harell & Frazier, 1999) because they are different, have different experiences and motivations, therefore, they will interpret things differently. Also consumers differ in available resources and knowledge which will further affect their decision.
Another aspect that affects the consumers is the environmental influences (Blackwell et al., 2001) and societal and social factors (Harell et al., 1999). Here the authors talk about external factors that affect consumer, such as culture, social class and reference groups, but also the influence of the family and other individuals by whom the consumer is affected because every individual strive to some extent “fit in” heavily affect consumers. Also the information provided by these groups tend to have high credibility, depending on the consumers need to belong.
Lastly, consumers are also affected by their degree of involvement (Harell et al. 1999). Involvement is the degree to which the consumers perceive the purchase to be of importance to them, and how complex they find the purchase situation (Blackwell et al 2001). The more complex the purchase, the more effort will be needed from the consumer in order to make a good decision. The involvement in turn affects the way in which consumes will learn about the products. Since a low involvement purchase is fairly routine consumers do not engage in a very extensive information search on the product, they mainly gather their information passively. A high-involvement purchase will demand more from the consumer and they will be more motivated to actively search for information.
Bickart & Schindler (2001) investigated the WOM in online forums on the Internet. They assigned students to look at either corporate web pages or consumer forums about specific products. They found that after one semester, there was a higher interest in the product category for those who used the online discussion forum. They then suggested that a reason for this was because the content posts in the online discussion forums are thought to be more credible and more relevant but also having more empathy among its readers.
In another study, Bickart & Schindler (2005) tried to explore the consumer use of online WOM. They found three motives for using online WOM - a) To gain information on purchase decisions, in which consumer reviews and negative information was of most interest; b) To get support from decision already made in which positive was used most for confirmation of that the right choice have been made; and c) Whether information was searched for fun or not. Another theme they discovered was the evaluation of the content of information in online WOM. They identified, corporate web pages are more biased and untrustworthy. Independent web pages free from corporate marketing, in which detailed information and authentic first person experience was viewed more credible and reliable. A consensus of agreement among consumers in the online WOM also tended to increase the credibility. Finally, they found online WOM disperse more information in all stages of consumer decision-making process. During the need recognition, when product was mentioned, it sometimes stimulated interest or problem recognition for the consumer. Other consumers sometimes provide ideas that lead for alternative product to be included, or removed, in the consumer consideration set.
Online WOM also suggested important attributes that could influence the criteria of which alternatives are compared. Information from consumers on how alternative rate on those criteria was also of importance when comparing alternatives. After purchase was done, online WOM information could increase the consumer's satisfaction of the purchase through positive information. They also discovered that their informants were selective in their information gathering process. This was done to simplify the information but also to help them absorb the information with amount of consumer information about a large area of different products. They continue and suggest that future research should look deeper into what characterise the content in those online WOM consumers choose to read.
Bernhad, Bjurling and Åhrén (2006) did another study on un-addressed consumer complaints through blogs. They found that the blog is used as a way to express dissatisfaction on companies and their products and services. It is used when the consumer do not get enough amendments from the companies. Blogs then works as a complement to complaints through friends and family, and it is an easy way to ease the consumer's experiences and reduce the stress of a distasteful treatment from companies. The consumers have then used blog to warn other consumers on products and companies but also to tell their own story regarding the complaint. Bernhad et al. (2006) discuss that the technical development has reduced the barriers to complain and this had led to increased likelihood to present complains for products of less value. Wallstén (2005) then comes to the conclusion that the collaborative blogs increase the learning process in which people can learn from each other by reading blog post. It also gives a shared knowledge base for the participants. In another study by Constant, et al. (1997) weak-tie sources were found to make it harder for consumers to assess the quality of the WOM information they received. Schindler and Bickart (2005) then discuss that the reason for this may be that the consumer do not know the motives of the informant and it may also sometimes be hard to assess the background and expertise in the topic of the informant.
As the purpose of study is to understand how consumers perceive their own experiences and behaviour which can be best analysed through inductive approach. As this approach allows researcher to have more flexible structure that will permit alternative explanations of the phenomena. This approach is qualitative in nature that begins with data. It develops an empirical generalisation that describes patterns of that data and it seeks to identify or develop a theoretical proposition that is consistent with those patterns (Schutt, 1996).
Putting emphasis on the inductive approach, research strategy of the paper is built on an exploratory study, though it also includes a cross-sectional study as interviews were held over a short period of time (Saunders et al. 2003). As the paper does not allow for sufficient time for conducting a longitudinal study and it is not intended to study the effects of change and development of the blogging phenomena on the consumers' decision making process, a cross-sectional study is more appropriate.
As the purpose of paper is from the consumer's perspective, qualitative research method will enable us to get information from the informants and will allow us to understand the meaning that the informants' attach to their experiences of blogging. Description is based on the meanings that informants' express through words. A qualitative approach will allow getting this non-standardised data without being locked into a standardised set of questions. This is because the nature of the questions will need to be flexible and open-ended in order to explore what emerges during the interview. Furthermore, to get a rich description of this non-standardised data and to get into the thoughts of our informants', the interviews will need to allow a long length of time.
The sample selection consists of young educated adults; as previous research suggests they use blogs the most. The sample size consisted of nine people within the ages of 21 to 28. Of those nine people, three are females and six are males. Judgement sampling technique was used for identifying the informants who had rich experiences of blogging. The low number of informants can be justified by this as it allows getting a richer description of the phenomena studied.
This primary data has been collected through interviews which are qualitative (semi-structured and in-depth) in nature. Limited research that exists and relates to our study has been used as secondary data. To check the effectiveness of semi-structured interview, two pilot studies were conducted. First semi-structured interview uses too much theoretical jargons that fail in retrieving the information. The second test then avoided the theoretical jargon and explanations. To get a rich description, informants were briefed two days prior on the themes to be covered in the interview. It was ensured that each informant had read the information letter before the interview took place. The informants were interviewed in two different ways -a) 6 informants were interviewed face-to-face in quiet rooms and conversations were recorded; and b) remaining 3 informants were interviewed through Skype because of distance and conversations were again recorded.
However, attempt was made to conduct all interviews face-to-face as it enables to establish personal contact which is also important as Saunders et al (2003) argue; qualitative data favours the establishment of personal contact. It was also judged that the face-to-face contact would increase the likelihood of describing and identifying our informants accurately. In all cases, focus was on recording the findings from the interview as the findings emerged naturally. To really understand the informants' meanings to their experiences and actions, flexible approach was used within the semi-structured interview. Although questions were bound to the themes, questions were flexible to allow an understanding of the participant.
DATA PRESENTATION AND ANALYSIS
Data is presented through sectioning each interview individually. Collected raw data was put into categories and themes that emerged from the interview as need is to have a close understanding to our informants. Information collected and compiled under each category will be compared with other categories. This helps in identifying relationships; in discovering key themes, and recognising patterns and trends. Later on, theoretical framework will be applied on those patterns in order to understand it in a new way. Quotes will be made to simplify the meaning and in drawing conclusions.
a) Interview with Reema Sharma: Reema, 25 years old, was interviewed at her office in Jammu and studying at Jammu University. She uses blogs when she wants to buy something new or wants to find out different type of products available. She also uses blogs for reading travel diaries for fun and to be in touch with people she knows. When it comes to blogging about a future purchase, she reads blogs by people who are in the same situation as her and that have experience from the things she is interested in. She blogs travels but sometimes for electronics products and hiking. She has never used blogs actively, she only reads them. The kind of blogs she uses is mainly product blogs, and collaborative blogs, where she can read and learn more. She does not really read the blogs from companies. Rarely she reads a blog and completely changes her mind. The blog can instead make her choose a different brand.
Relationship with bloggers: For her, the blogger is just someone whose blog she happens to find. Reema trusts all the information that is written in the blogs, but she explains that the more detailed description on how the product has been used, the more she relies on the inlay. People whose blogs she reads most often posses greater knowledge then her, within the subject.
Need and awareness discovered with blogs:Reema agrees that she discovers a lot of new kinds of products, but this has never actually evolved to a need. This has occurred, for example, when she has blogged about hiking gear, she has learned about many new products and the advantaged with those products, but as she is not very experienced in the area, many of those products are just too complicated. However, the blogs she reads regarding travels could actually create a need sometimes. From these blogs she learns more about possible places to travel to which she might visit later in her life she explains.
Blogging for information and evaluation of potential purchase: Reema searches for information about experience from others consumers and their opinions. She looks for new things and assesses which of the product will give most value for her money. For her, price is often one of the most important factors affecting her decision. The reason to why she chooses to collect the information from blogs is because she feels that this is the only place where she can learn about peoples' experiences and opinions, and also since this information is more neutral then if it would be from a company. When it comes to evaluating products, she mainly uses collaborative blogs in where many people can express their opinions on things. While evaluating the products she mainly stick within one price category that will offer her maximum value of her money.
Blogging for purchase decision: Important thing what she finds in the blogs is from where she should buy products and whether if she should look online or in a store as there are many brands, which several times are rather similar, she feels it is important to learn where she can buy it, and who has the best brand. An example of this is when she wanted to buy a sleeping bag, and since she thinks they are all pretty much the same, the blog played an important role in her decision on where to purchase. The information she looks w.r.t. how and where to buy are more hard facts instead of people's opinion and experience. That is because she looks for who offers the best price and this can always be controlled.
Blogging for evaluation of the purchase: She has never actively participated in a blog and has never evaluated and searched for confirmation by writing. The opinions she reads at the blog can actually make her change her mind regarding the product and to become more positive. If she already has an opinion, a blog post can never make her dissatisfied about it. Further she sometimes uses the blog after the purchase to evaluate and decide whether or not to keep it.
b) Interview with Ashish Pratap Singh: Ashish Pratap Singh is 22 years old, and studied at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University. The interview took place at University in a group room. He uses blogs more or less everyday, mostly within the areas of sport and music, but also uses blogs when he needs to buy electronics. For music, he uses different kinds of blogs - one of which is his own blog where he recommends and comments on music. He also read blogs from writers and music critics to be able to learn more about new artists. Finally he also reads blogs about certain artist which he finds through Google. For sports, he mainly goes through the latest news about his favourite teams and rumours about players and other teams. For electronic products, he reads more collaborative blogs where he can get opinions from more people as he does not think he knows enough to write in the blogs. He is more actively involved in blogging when he knows more about something - like music. He uses blogs on daily basis mostly for pleasure and to keep himself up-to-date in his interest area.
Relationship with bloggers: Ashish relationship with the bloggers depends on the situation in which he uses blogs, whether it is music or about products. For music - he usually reads the same blogs and he knows about the bloggers from previous encounters and can himself with the other bloggers. Same goes for sports goods as he meet there likeminded ones. For consumer electronics, he does not really know the ones he is blogging with, as he mainly just blogs in order to get more information.
Need and awareness discovered with blogs: While blogging about sports, he feels that there are not really any needs that can be discovered. However, when he blogs about music he can learn a lot about new music and new artists that he actually develop a need for. When it comes to consumer electronics, he does not really have a need for the products, he just reads as he knows he is not able to afford it. For consumer electronics it is mainly about getting awareness and scanning the market for a potentially future purchase.
Blogging for information and evaluation of potential purchase: Heblogs to get more information before doing a purchase and on subjects that interest him. Before purchasing the consumer electronics, he looks for experiences of others after purchasing the electronics products. For example: when he bought a new iPod, he wanted to know how others felt about their iPods, and what possible problems that could occur. He thinks, producer information on web is not enough and wants to get more honest picture by reading opinions from previous customers. For music, he continuously scans blogs in order to keep up-to-date with news, such as new artists and albums in the music industry. He also blogs about purchases he might do in the future, just to scan the market and to see what options that is available for him. Since he is using blogs on a regular basis, he learns a lot from the blogs and he retrieves lots of information which he sometimes is able to use later on. When he feels he can identify himself with the bloggers, his need for more diverse information from different bloggers decrease. This happens quite often when he blogs about music, where he often meet likeminded people. When it comes to the credibility of the source of information, he relies more on the people who provide more information about themselves and how they had experienced the product. For evaluating the products and music he mostly uses collaborative blogs but also reads blog written by experts in the subject as he wants to know if the product gives value for the money and the different kind of problems that have been experienced with the product. Person to whom he listens depends on the value of the product. The more expensive the product is, the more knowledgeable he demands the writer to be before he trust the opinion; and also as the price increases, he shift focus from opinions to more hard facts. When deciding on a product, he only blogs about products within in the same cost interval, since he already has a pre-determined idea of how much money he wants to spend.
Blogging for purchase decision: When he uses blogs to read about customer opinions he also learn what they think about the company. He checks information such as delivery and customer support. He looks for a good price and place of availability of product other then searching for customer opinions as these are the most important factor in his decision making process. When he decides to purchase something, he wants the support from many bloggers in a collaborative blog, that is; he wants to read many positive inlays about what he is buying, since this makes him more comfortable.
Blogging for evaluation of the purchase: Heuses blogs to some degree in the post-purchase stage, especially when it comes to music. Here he gives feedback on different albums and artist. When it comes to consumer electronics he does not write as often. By reading collaborative blogs, he learns about things that occurred to other users and avoid ending up in the same situation and tried to resolve the problem. He can also get confirmation from other users on products he has purchased, which makes him more confident with his decision. However, he is not necessarily affected by negative information that is written about something he has bought and already likes.
c) Interview withAjay Mehra: Ajay is a 21 year old student who is currently studying at Jammu University. He was interview in a quiet room. Ajay uses blogs rather extensively, both in purchasing situations and in his everyday life, just for fun. He uses blogs quite a lot, mainly about comics. While blogging, he generally read and post inlays and comments. He reads the advertisements available on blogs to learn more about the subject he is blogging about, from different companies. The kinds of blogs he mainly uses are collaborative blogs, where he discusses comics, but also he uses product blogs when he wants to learn more about a certain product. He blogs because he finds it hard to get the information otherwise, this is true when it comes to comics.
Relationship with bloggers: While blogging for comics, he knows the blogger from previous online encounters, thus they have some kind of history. Ajay also knows what to expect from the blogs and if he can or cannot trust the bloggers opinion. Due to their mutual interest, he can identify himself with the ones who he is blogging with. When it comes to electronic products which he blogs less, he is a bit more sceptical to the bloggers opinion. Therefore he does not pay as much attention to their personal opinions, but try to focus on their experiences, comments and facts that they write about. Within these areas, he prefers to turn to experts before other consumers.
Need and awareness discovered with blogs: Ajay discovers new things both when he blog about comics and consumer electronics. He spends much time blogging about comics, which he later ends up buying or downloading. For consumer electronics, he mainly learns about new products and a need is not immediately developed. He admits, reading blogs on iPod for a long time actually ended him up buying it later on. At this stage, what really affected him are the opinions of other users of electronic products and readers of comics to know their experiences.
Blogging for information and evaluation of potential purchase:Ajay has not only used blogs a lot in searching for information and evaluating alternatives, especially in comics, but also when buying electronics products. For comics, he usually searches for certain characters and story outlines that fit his interests. He explains that the information should come from someone with similar taste for comics before giving due consideration to the information. For electronic products, he looks for expert information, therefore he visit product blogs or turns to magazines and blog about articles. He specifically asks the expert to evaluate / confirm the product he intends to buy as he trusts experts more then consumers when it comes to consumer electronics because he feels that consumers uses the products wrongly and therefore have bad experiences. He even not trust sellers and trust only experts as he believes sellers often provide more biased information. He looks for and compares different functions and quality parameters of the products, together with the bloggers experience of the products; as long as the products are in the same price range. It is also important for him to find support for his specific product by many bloggers as he thinks the more comments the better. He pays attention more to negative comments as he admits that negative posts make more impression because he already have so much positive information from commercials of product. He adds - information needs to be as objective as possible as he not pay any attention to people who are extremely negative and whose opinions and experiences are not based on facts. He uses blogs more extensively to make better decision as his previous purchase experience has lead him disappointed with the product, mainly because he did not know enough about the product. He seeks information by posting questions and initiating the discussions about the product he is interested in. Finally what he reads in the blogs at this stage can potentially make him change his mind, and make him choose something else.
Blogging for purchase decision: At this stage, he does not use blog much. The only use Ajay has of blogs when deciding on how and from where he should purchase. Once decided, he blogs to get the other customers experiences on company's offers, delivery, best price and customer service etc.
Blogging for evaluation of the purchase: After his purchase he always tries to share his information and experiences with the people who helped him. Further, he admits that he has a strong urge to evaluate when he have had a negative experience, since he thinks all positive information already is being promoted by the companies, and he think consumers should know both sides. Sometimes he uses blogs in order to confirm his experience of the product, and to strengthen his satisfaction. He blogs (write and read) even for possible upgrades and possibility to resell his used product.
d) Interview withRashi Taggar: Rashi is 23 years old and was interviewed at her home in Jammu. Rashi blogs when she sits idle at home. Her biggest interest area is nutrition because she herself has food allergies and also thinks area is exciting and interesting. She read blogs about celebrity's gossips and television shows. While blogging, she only reads and never writes in.
Relationship with bloggers: Rashi reads blogs that dietician writes who can answer diet questions concerning allergies or similar things. She also reads blogs on people who also have allergic problems or that have the same interest as of her as she can easily relate to those with allergic problems because they have gone through the same things as she has and can offer her advice. She also reads blogs written by people as experience sharing that have seen movies she might be interested. She does not know any people that she blogs with in real life.
Need discovery in blogs: She reads blog on celebrity gossip, and comments on movies. Sometimes she thought of renting those movies depending on if the bloggers have written good comments. She added, the opinions of these bloggers play quite an important role in her decision making process. She goes on and says that if she has missed a show on TV and other bloggers writes that it is a good show, she wants to see it. Another thing that Rashi discovers a need for, in the blogs, is new products that can ease her allergy. She discovers those products when bloggers shares experiences and recommends them.
Blogging for information and evaluation of potential purchase:Rashi reads blogs about diet related subjects because, it is one of her biggest interests, as she herself has allergies, but also learns from others. She usually reads blogs from other regular people with allergies that writes about the subject and also from educated dieticians. It involves seeking advices on allergic reactions or others have experienced, on medicines. Those advices are sometimes used when purchasing her food. She explains that she basically takes in information from everything that is related to special diets and food allergies. She often reads on how people with allergies experience certain food or pills and how their special diets worked out for them. She avoid taking food that other bloggers, with similar allergies, has claimed to be unhealthy. Rashi has problem with her stomach and she reads about other bloggers that have experienced this kind of problem and seek advices on food - what to eat and avoid. She even blog for information on television program she have missed and want to know opinion of others bloggers on the show - worth seeing it or not. She even blog for movies and read comments on what other people think and how they felt about it.
Blogging for purchase decision: Rashi has never used blogs for deciding on how, when and where to purchase the things that she blog about. However, it has affected her how much to buy of certain food and medicine used in her diets.
Blogging on evaluation of products: Rashi explains that she sometimes reads about diets and medicine that she tried and discovers those who do as well to check their experiences.
e) Interview with Pabitra Kumar Jena: Pabitra, 24 years old, and due to long distance, was interviewed through Skype. He was alone at home in Kathua, and was not doing anything else at the moment of the interview. He has finished his education and works today as a Programmer. One of the biggest interests in his life is playing computer games. He therefore blogs in so called clan sites, which is a closed blog for players in the same team/clan, but he also reads blogs about consumer electronics. He blogs for hobby and as pass time. He points out that need is to follow the development of technology components in order to be in elite of the computer game that he plays.
Relationship with bloggers: He read blogs on games other plays on the same game level that he is. At the beginning it was just virtual contacts but later he has met them in real life. They often have contact when playing game trough microphones. Other than that, he blogs only with those people who have more or less the same interest or with product experiences that he is looking for.
Need discovery in blogs: Recently, he blogged much about plasma and LCD TV devices and read for certain models. He checks the comments of other people about these certain models which informs him about what other people thinks on improvements in latest technology, and how these models are improving. He wants to learn about their experience. Other situation where he discovers need is when he searches for tips and tricks on the latest technology and accessories within the clan site on the game that he plays in order maintain his position as a top player. Though Pabitra mostly read blogs, but he writes comments on clan sites for gaming. He writes expressing his agreement or disagreement on what people has written. He never starts a discussion.
Blogging for information and evaluation of potential purchase: Pabitra uses blogs to search for new information within his interest or to solve specific problems. He looked in the blog and found the solution. From that day he started to use blogs to seek support for his computer because he realised that all information more or less available on blogs. The blogs that he uses are written by expert users within computers and technology. He also read blogs about consumer electronics (plasma and LCD TV) as he wants to purchase. He checks on experiences of people and wants to learn about both technologies (plasma and LCD TV). He used blogs for searching information on computer components (memory cards, graphic cards and many more) to build a computer for his father, recently. He has used blogs several times to search information on graphic cards in other situations. He sometimes looks for information to compare his existing graphic cards with those that he intends to buy and inferred the one he uses today is the most suitable. He even looks for blogs on what other people thought of the performance who used the graphic cards. He admitted, all information related to graphic cards cannot be found on the manufacturers' website. On reeding blogs, he came to know how the product works in practice. For him, experiences of people matters a lot. He underlines, that he cannot get certain types of experiences that other people have because as you are often not allowed to test products in the store. He reads both positive and critics because they are more detailed.
Blogging for purchase decision: He often read blogs to know what other people thinks of supplier and uses this information sometimes for deciding from where to purchase. He does not check for prices on blogs because he feels that having a reliable supplier is more important for him. If people recommends him, he can visits retailer online to purchase consumer electronics.
Blogging on evaluation of products: Pabitra recalls a situation when he bought a graphic card and later discovered that several users in the blog did not recommend it because it was too noisy. This bothered him and was bit upset. However, he did not take any action by writing anything on blog, but told his real life friends about the experience he had and warned them not to buy the same.
f) Interview with Ritesh Tiwari: Heis 23 years old and studying at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University. The interview with him took place in a quiet room at his university. He blogs everyday, and in most of the time, keeps reading. He writes on blog when he feels that he has something to add or need to answer. He blogs on sports, games and photography as profession. He blogs for fun, as pass time and to keep himself updated.
Relationship with bloggers: He values users' experiences in the blogs more, then going on to Sony's home page to read about mobile phones. He admits, many bloggers have great knowledge concerning certain topics. He thinks that they are honest and the information provided is unbiased. He trusts bloggers because they are ordinary users like himself thus he can relate to them. He find himself helpless for not using all information provided on blog by experts, as it is often too complicated to match his usage. He trusts the information in specific topic blogs, whereas, he is more uncertain about information in general blogs. He has contacts with bloggers that he blog with and plays online, however not in real life. Those bloggers are mainly from India he says, but he also had some international contacts from the rest of the world.
Need and awareness discovered in blogs: Throughout the interview, he does not discuss any need or awareness that he has discovered by using blogs. He says that he always had a need in the product that he blogs about before he goes into the blogs.
Blogging for information and evaluation of potential purchase:He found lots of information in the blogs whenhe was looking for mobile phones. Bloggers had written about models and recommended certain of them. Blogs he used contain information about everything, not just mobile phones. He claims, while searching a mobile phone on blog, he got interested in a model and brand. He got lots of information on that model as well as knowledge on people experiences after reading collaborative blog. As mobile phones are important for him, he reads other users' opinion. He blogs on how to become a better photographer as his interest was discovered through blogs. Blogs provided him information on specific camera that he had in mind. He used blog in seeking advice on his potential purchase and received answers in favour of his intended model. Although he adds, he would have bought it anyway. He seeks advices types of cameras and different functions before purchasing it by writing on blog as he is beginner. The bloggers he turned to was mainly written by people whom he thought used the product. He himself had compared different cameras when he blogged and read comments from other users. He even looks for those models and tips while searching for camera online which he receives from other bloggers. However, he bought the one he was intended to. His questions also concerned the price limit that he was willing to pay. He responded, most of the bloggers listened to him and helped. He even blogged for computer that he intended to buy. Though he read the comments of different bloggers but in the end, he did not follow their tips though he had used their advices in his decision making. He bought another computer from the store. Blog had helped him a lot as he does not have technical expertise. He sometimes has blogged about his travels that he is going to make. He then reads blogs about what one can do on the travels, what is good and when the activities are able in the travel.
Blogging for purchase decision: He got tips several times from bloggers on where to make the purchase, if he should use an online store or a regular retailer depending who could be trusted. Price is the most important factor for him which steers him where to purchase. He blogs about travels he is going to make. The most recent case was a trip to watch a cricket world cup match. He visited a blog where he got tips to purchase tickets online.
Blogging for evaluation of the purchase: After his trip, he shared his experiences on blog. Moreover, if he finds any negative comments about his purchase with which he disagrees, he wrote comment stating his disagreement. If he receives information which he had not noticed before making purchase, bothers him and depending on the nature of information on fault, he will not buy the model or brand again.
g) Interview with Ritu Jaiswal: Ritu is 22 years old and student at Jammu University. The interview took place at University. She is an experienced blogger and owns a blog which she updates approximately once a week, and reads other blogs a couple of times a week. Her own blog is only for people she knows - it is thus kind of a limited online diary where she tends to write more when she is upset about something. She blogs mainly about her feelings and experiences about everyday life; however, this also includes products and services. She reads diary blogs continuously that deals with consumer electronics, books, and things that she might be interested in future. She blogs just for fun and loves both reading and writing comments. Another important factor in her blogging is that she wants the blogs to be well written and be written in a humoristic way. She says that she often end up in different blogs due to clicking on track-backs that other bloggers have visited and linked to.
Relationship with bloggers: She knows all her readers since she decides who can read it, done through invitations. Sometimes, she followed the writer for quite a while on other blogs and got to know the person behind the blog. She reads the blogs if she is interested in buying something even if she does not know the bloggers' behind the opinions. She admitted that when she looks at things that are very subjective, such as clothing and fashion, it is important that the blogger is rather similar to her, as otherwise the information will not be valid for her. She also tells us that the bloggers, with whom she can identify due to their common interest, can actually be more important then real life acquaintances, mainly since they share a common interest.
Need and awareness discovered with blogs: Since she blog much reading other bloggers life, she knows a lot about different products and services. Some of these products and services develop a need later on. When she reads and learns about other bloggers' experiences, for example on laptops, she realise how good it is and how much this could add to her life. She even searches for more positive blog posts telling about the advantages with computers, thus strengthening her need even more. At this stage it was however, more general information about laptops and no specific brands. Other things she has discovered and developed a need for in blogs are consumer electronics, shoes and clothing. This also came from reading blogs about the bloggers' life and their latest purchases. She has discovered needs for books on reading critics as well as bloggers opinion.
Blogging for information and evaluation of potential purchase: She mainly uses blogs when it comes to more expensive clothing and she really have to put effort into making the right product choice, it is very important that she can identify herself with the blogger, since clothing is a very subjective area, according to her. The same applies when she reads about books. The intensity to identify her with the blogger is a little less important for her when it comes to consumer electronics, as she feels this subject is less subjective; however, the blogger has used the product more or less in the same way she will use it. She also wants to know experiences and how long they had used the product before posting feedback. Another thing she mentions is that she put more trust to a well written blog post. She also uses the blogs in order to learn about possible accessories to the original product. The most important for her is that the product has a good overall image and that the price corresponds to quality. While evaluating her options, she likes to compare the information from the company/seller, with the information provided from the bloggers in this way she get both biased information from the company as well as neutral information from the users. An important determinant here is that she wants to have the best value for her money, and thus she want to know what the other users have felt about the product. While considering the information (both positive and negative), it matters to her how the information is written, not if it is positive or negative. She added, if both are well written then she has a tendency to believe in negative comments and need more positive blog posts to confirm the positive experiences. When evaluating, she mainly reads on blogs, sometimes she writes about those things in her own blogs as well, but since her blog is only for her friends she cannot get any feedback, and also, she prefers to discuss things face-to-face.
Blogging for purchase decision: In deciding on how to purchase, she gets influence from blogger about different companies. She wants to find people in the same situation as herself, and learns about their experiences with seller. She also looks for information regarding prices and best deal offered by companies, and even on if it is available online or if she need to go to a physical store.
Blogging for evaluation of the purchase: She mainly writes in her own blog, what she thinks and feels about the product she has purchased. For books, she buys and reads and often do a brief review. For consumer electronics, she just makes small comments. She shares her experiences with those who helped her in purchase about expensive things on collaborative blogs. She has never used blogs in order to confirm her opinion about things, but when she reads something negative about a product that she likes, she wants to tell her opinion as well. However, she does not pay any attention to negative information once she had made purchases as it will make her more aware of possible problems.
h) Interview withMohit Mahajan: He is 28 years old and works as a sales representative in Kashmir. Due to long distance the interview with him was made through Skype. He uses blogs regularly, mainly diary blogs, but also product blogs and collaborative blogs, when he wants to learn more about a certain thing. He uses blogs just for fun and to socialize with people. He blogs about products when he needs something or wants to buy anything and even to keep himself updated with the latest news in technology. He uses several blogs that discuss the same thing in order to get even more opinions. He blog even because this keep him in touch with his friends and he thinks it is very convenient medium to get all information from one source.
Relationship with bloggers: While readingdiary blogs, he knows the blogger before; but he is not familiar to bloggers in purchasing situations. He admits that he does not trust these people 100%, and says that they could actually be company people, doing commercial. He still identifies himself with some of the bloggers he reads, since they have the same interest. Eric wants the bloggers to write more about their experiences because he believes more the detailed description they give of the situation, the more credibility he has in them. He pays more attention to negative information than positive, and demands more details description from a positive post.
Need and awareness discovered with blogs: He has not really discovered any need for products or services while blogging as most of the time he is already aware of what he will buy. He just needs the blog to decide on the model or brand etc. Since he is reading diary blogs, he is in touch with many new things; although, he does not develop a need from blogging. He added, the more he reads about products and experiences, more tempted to purchase.
Blogging for information and evaluation of potential purchase: Searching for information about a future purchase is what he mostly uses the blogs for, in order to learn more about his options, when it comes to consumer electronics, such as computers, cell phones etc. He does not have a certain page he turns to; instead he searches online to find relevant blogs. The information he wants from the bloggers are partly the technical aspects, but also other users' experiences. He tells us that since he does not have the product and he wants to “try” it before he buys it, the bloggers are his eyes and ears. When it then comes to evaluating alternatives he trust the user experiences the most. Other aspects he looks at when evaluating is price information, which is the most important factor, but also he looks at the seller. But since all these things can be doublechecked, he finds the user experience as the most important function in the blog. When comparing products he wants to be able to identify himself with the user; especially when it comes to how he will use the product and how the blogger used it, there have to be a match. For example, when he looked for a mobile phone, he wanted one that was good for music, and thus searched for bloggers who used their phones as mp3's. If he finds some one who is using the product like he will use it he knows exactly what to expect, and this makes his search for more information from other users decrease. Finally, Eric admits that the more expensive the product is, the higher demands he has on the blogger, who is sharing the information
Blogging for purchase decision: He blogs to decide where to purchase, since the blogs often discuss where he can find the best price with quality products. If he is indented to buy cheap products, the decision on where to buy is not affected; whereas, when he intended to buy more expensive products he is more careful. At this stage, he keeps reading blogs. Blog does influence his decisions on when and how much to buy.
Blogging for evaluation of the purchase: Once he had purchased, he rarely uses blogs to evaluate the product or discuss it. He sometimes uses the blogs to share his experiences but that is mainly when he has some negative critics to the product. However, Eric says that although he does not always evaluate immediately, he always remember his opinion about the purchase, and he is not sure whether or not he might express it later on.
i) Interview withRooplal Sharma: Heis 24 years old and works as manager with a security company. Telephonic interview was conducted with him due to the long distance. He is very experienced blogger; he spends at least one hour throughout the day checking his favourite blogs. He visits many kinds of blogs - diary blogs, collaborative blogs and even blogs written by companies. He mainly blogs about cars since this is his big interests. He uses blogs when he is about to purchase something, such as consumer electronics, videogames, movies and books. He blogs to learn tips related to maintenance of his car. When it comes to other products he mainly blogs for the reason of getting more concrete information, price and functions, on a product he intends to buy. As a blogger, he sticks to reading other people's comments and posts; sometimes he writes comments in collaborative blogs.
Relationship with bloggers: He constantly visits the same kind of blogs where he interacts with many likeminded people having interest in cars as well. While blogging, he started trusting a guy when it comes to advices. Apart from this blogger, he put more confidence to blogger who dare to be critical and honest about their purchases. He believes, the more information they shares, the more if affects him. He admitted that blogging played an vital role in purchasing a car. Much of the time, he blogs with people who also does repair work on their cars. However, when it comes to blogging in areas where he is less interested, such as in order to get more information regarding an upcoming purchase, he has no personal relations to anyone of the bloggers.
Need and awareness discovered with blogs: As he reads a lot about the subject of cars and what other people do with their cars, he actually discovers quite many needs when he is blogging. If someone bought a new part to their car, he gets curious and starts thinking about maybe upgrading his car. Reading blogs about this new product in initial stages sometimes develops a need; and as more he reads about it, more he realises that he needs it. He discovers most of his needs and awareness for products in collaborative blogs, where people write about their life and cars. Another reason to why he intended to purchase by reading blogs is could be that all his friends in the blogosphere have upgraded their cars with the same product, so he actually feels forced to upgrade to be able to participate in the blog.
Blogging for information and evaluation of potential purchase: He uses blogs frequently to search information regarding possible future purchases. He searches both in the long run aspect, when it comes to things regarding cars, but also in the short run, just in order to be able to make a better purchase decision. If he knows exactly what product he wants, a specific mobile phone for example, he tries to gather as much user experience as possible. If he only knows that he needs a new product, but not exactly which, he browses the blogs in order to find something that can match his needs. Generally he seeks opinions from blogs and wants them confirmed by a large number of bloggers. He does not really trust only one individual. However, if he finds well written information from someone who is using the product, he can trust this blogger's opinion and his information search then tends to decrease. He looks mainly about price information, product attributes and experiences. Bloggers can even, in certain cases, be more important then people from his surroundings, even if he does not know the blogger but he trust him because of his expert - knowledge in the field. This depends mainly on how well the information is written and how well the bloggers can explain and evaluate the product. He also searches for people with complaints and negative experiences about the product because he wants to be aware of all possible problems that could occur. He also believes that dissatisfied consumers are more credible then people who only have positive comments. He thinks that people finds it harder to complain on things they spent money on and always try to make them better than they actually are just to look good and not lose their face.
Blogging for purchase decision:Blogs has affected him when it comes to how and from where to purchase. The blogs give him information not only on place and best price, but also on from which sellers he needs to trust. Blogs affects him also on quantity part also like how many new parts he should buy for his car. Blog enlightened him about different complements he can add to his car. Blog affects him even through advertisements placed within the blog. These advertisements are placed in direct connection to the blog posts and the products, thus assist him in decision making w.r.t. from where to buy.
Blogging for evaluation of the purchase: He blogs mainly to discuss problems with his product (i.e. mobile phone). He uses blogs to find out whether he is able to solve the problem himself, based on how other people have done or not. He has also used blogs in order to get his opinion confirmed by other owners of the same product, especially when it comes to cars. He wanted to know how other people felt about their car. Lately, he has also used the blog in order to answer other bloggers' questions. If bloggers have some negative experiences with type of products he already has purchased, he is not affected. He needs more negative information if he has to change his mind.
Stage I: Here below we will present the different stages of Decision making process and explains how consumers have used blogs.
Step 1: Need Identification
Many of our informants agreed to have developed needs for new products while blogging. The main reason for this is that they found up-to-date information about products in blogs which created a change in the informant's desired state, and thus widen the gap between the informant's current position and desired state. Statt (2001) argues, a need is developed when the consumers have enough motivation to close this gap and; information that was otherwise hard to collect. As there was information that only could be found through blogs this information was highly valued in need recognition. In cases when a need was not developed the informants were not motivated enough to close the above mentioned gap. The most notable reason was their limited amount of money. Few informants were very target oriented in their blogging; they only searched to fulfil the need they had discovered elsewhere, thus excluding all other products and complements. Moreover, blogs were mainly used for interacting with friends. Normally, this had not created a new need since it was more concerned about everyday happenings in their friend's lives.
Once the need was developed, two types of blogs were used:
- Collaborative blogs:It was used most often by informants. This suggests that collaborative blogs should provide more exposure of information, related to the consumers' field of interest, thus making it more influential in need recognition.
- Diary blogs: Only few of informants used diary blogs when developing a need as information comes only from one author, the informants should be exposed to less information within their field of interest. This might explain why diary blogs seemed to have a weaker ability to create need for the informants.
Informants had not used any other types of blogs at this stage thus ruling out blogs such as product blogs, company blogs etc. This confirms Bickart & Schindler (2001) research who found that corporate web pages had a poor ability to develop consumer interest in products. An important behaviour noticed amongst our informants is that - on discovering the need, they only read other's blog posts more than reading comments on their own blog posts. Thus when developing a need they were very passive as bloggers.
Step2: Information search
All of our informants used blogs to search for up-to-date information on products. Majority of the informants used blogs both in I) ongoing search and II) pre-purchase search:
- Ongoing search wasdone when the informants blogged continuously within their main interest. This was in order to constantly keep up-to-date with what is happening in interest area and also to gather knowledge on a potential future purchase. They learned a lot from blog in their interest area because lot of information is gathered in one blog. This supports research by Wallstén (2005) who explains that collaborative blogs is an excellent tool for learning.
- It was also noticed that diary blogs also had an ability to give knowledge to our informants. Informants used blogs in their pre-purchase search only when they were aware what to buy and seek more information.
Majority of the external search took place in blogs that addressed a very narrow topic. Between the ongoing and pre-purchase search there were no differences in which type of blogs used. The blog types noticed within this stage were:
- Collaborative blogs: Informants blogs on collaborative blogs covering narrow topics. Since the collaborative blogs contain input from many writers, the informant felt that they could always find a blog that will provide information on what they wanted and also even knows the experiences. Also since a large number of users provide the same information, the majority of our informants were given a confirmation that they were on the right track in their information search.
- Diary blogs: The diary blogs was only used by a small minority of the informants when searching for information. Tremayne (2007) argues that diary blogs often contain general discussions on what is happening in the author's life. The diary blogs used by our informants seemed however to be focused on a narrow topic. This shows the importance of a narrowed topic within the blog.
- Company blogs: It was used by only one informant. He uses company blogs since he could not get the information he needed. All the other informants used collaborative and diary blogs as they can find all the reliable information they need from those.
In most cases the informants were rather passive as blogger, the vast majority kept to reading what other bloggers had to say. One informant wrote at this stage who was the same individual who referred company's blogs. Rest of informants were all able to get the information as required only by reading blogs which is the main reason for not taking active part in the blogs at this stage.
Step3: Alternative evaluation
Informants search for alternatives to their consideration set tended to decrease. Informants started using blogs to evaluate and compare the products within their consideration set in order to decide on which product to purchase. This evaluation dealt with both pre-known products and those come infront during external search. While evaluating pre-known alternatives, informants tend to absorb only information that supported a decision to purchase. At the same time, they were also deteriorating the view of other alternatives.
Besides this, the informants were selective on which blog posts they read. Wells & Prensky (1996) and Blackwell et al (2001) explain that this behaviour is to make their decision making process easy for themselves. Many informants felt that the information in the blogosphere is sometimes too much to handle at one time. Thus focusing on certain blog post helped the informants to make their decisions.
While blogging within this stage, informants' used two types of blogs:
- Collaborative blogs: All informants used collaborative blogs at this stage as this give access to more bloggers and more information. This was an important issue explained by our informants, as they searched from input from many bloggers.
- Diary blogs: Only a minority used diary blogs reported at this stage to get information from a specific blogger that they valued more than others. In these exceptions, the informant often listened more to the individual blogger.
When evaluating alternatives, the majority only read blog post as desired information was available on the blogs. However, in cases where informants did not find relevant information, they wrote on the blogs to seek answers. This happened because informants searched for very specific information. Informants in return received well addressed answers that helped them to evaluate alternatives.
Stage4: Purchase decision: All our informants were affected by blogs in their purchase decision. This influence occurred in two ways, either directly or indirectly. The direct influence occurred when the informants wrote in the blog about their potential purchase. Informants explained - the more different bloggers who argued for a purchase the more they were affected. Other informants also showed to be influenced indirectly when all the previously gathered information made them do the purchase. Therefore, there decision to purchase was not affected by the opinion of other bloggers, but more by the fact that the informants felt confident enough to purchase. Most informants seemed to use blogs for deciding how and where, to make the purchase. One informant was affected by when to make the purchase, in which got advice to wait with his purchase until the price drops. The search for where and how to make the purchase confirms to what Statt (1997) argues. He explains that there are two types of information are the main factors influencing a consumer to purchase which are as:
I. The majority of the informants searched information for deciding on how to make the purchase - whether to buy in a physical store or in an online store.
II. All informants used blogs in order for deciding on where to make the purchase - concerned with trustworthiness of retailer and who offered the best price. However, pricing was discussed within the blog when information was hard to receive from corporate websites. Many informants were able to receive users' experiences on the reliability of the retailer, hard to get elsewhere. One informant was influenced even by advertisements placed on the blog that made him to take decision to purchase from the company that advertised.
Company blogs was not used as some of informants do not trust those sources of information. Collaborative and diary blogs was only found to be used at this stage because of the following reasons:
- Collaborative blogs: All of our informants used collaborative blogs. More the number of bloggers had a large impact on our informants, as they felt more tempted to go through with the purchase. However, informants rarely wrote even at this stage, made the persuasion not as strong as it could have been. If our informants would have written about their purchases to a larger extent, the persuasion from collaborative blogs might have been greater. This is since the collaborative blogs enable other bloggers to comment on inlays written by the informant, thereby influencing the informants.
- Diary blog: These were again not commonly used as influence came from one author only. In the case where our informants turned to diary blogs, they were sometimes heavily influenced. However, general diary blogs was not that commonly used by our informants.
Informants mainly read at this stage. The minority that actively took part in the blogging is because they felt that they were not given enough information to make a decision to purchase. Thus, they wrote questions to get required information.
Stage5: Post purchase decision
After purchase, all informants return to blogs for two reasons:
- The majority of the informants searched for confirmation within blogs. They all wanted to confirm that they had purchased the right product. Some of our informants only searched for the positive confirmation to reinforce their choice, neglecting all negative comments on their purchase. However, the majority did accepts both types of confirmation, and were thus interested to learn what others thought of the product that they had purchased.
- Many of our informants also used the blog in order to evaluate their purchase. The informants browsed the blogs to find possible problems and even to search for solutions with their existing problems.
Also at this stage, the collaborative and diary blogs are the most commonly used:
- Collaborative blogs:All informants turned to collaborative blogs to share their experiences on their purchase with others bloggers as writing. They even seek comments on their purchase from other bloggers.
- Diary blog: This blog was used only by minority of our informants because the diary blogs hardly ever concerned the informants purchase. Another reason might be that the diary blogs rarely allow other bloggers to comment on their own purchase. The majority of our informants participated in the blogosphere by writing about their purchases because they felt that they had more knowledge to contribute with them now, compared to within the previous stages.
Informants mostly wrote about their own experiences with the products either positive or negative. The urge to write negative experiences with owns purchases confirms the findings by Bernhad et al (2006). Although the urge to share negative experiences was not strong because many informants felt that it was equally important to warn consumers and to help then to find good products. It thus seemed to be important for our informants to be honest on both perceived negative and positive aspects of their purchase.
Stage II: Group influence in the Blogosphere
Under this section the following research question will be analysed;
- Are there certain groups in the blogosphere that influence the consumers in their decision making process?
- How does these groups influence the consumers in their decision making process?
When analysing the data, it shows that the informants turn to many different groups in the blogosphere. These groups can be categorised as either comparative or normative, depending on the influence they have, and whether or not consumer are willing to adapt to the groups. Below table highlights the stages of the consumer decision making process in which influence and the group affect the consumers.
Table 1 - Summary of Group influences
Type of Group
Type of power
Need Recognition stage purchasing decision
Post Purchase Stage
Post Purchase Stage
Post Purchase Stage
Post Purchase Stage
All the informants turned to groups in the blogosphere which they did not belong, nor desired to belong to even then group played an important role in providing information input for decision, which confirms Blackwell et al. (2001) discussion on comparative groups. However, the informants still had some things in common with the bloggers is that they were all consumers. The informants felt no similarity or group pressure to adapt to the norms and values provided by those consumers.
Majority of the informants had a strong desire to belong or belonged to some groups in the blogosphere. With these groups the informants blogged about a shared interest. These groups had more influence on the informants because the informants were willing to adapt to the norms and values provided by those groups. As Blackwell et al (2001) discuss, this type of normative influence is often more binding than influence from comparative groups.
The comparative and normative groups had both differences and similarities in the way they influenced the informants are presented below:
Expert: All informants seemed to search for bloggers with knowledge within the subject that they blogged about. They mainly used blog posts that were viewed and written by other consumers that had experiences with the product. Assael (1992) refers that an expert power influences the consumer because they need credible information instead of biased marketing oriented sources of information, findings confirms the same. It was mostly considered credible when it came from a consumer with user experiences. The only time they used marketing oriented sources for facts that could not be questioned. These facts mainly concerned prices, and to some extent, about product specifications. As showed in Table-1, expert power came both from normative and comparative groups and none of the groups seemed to have a greater ability to influence the informants with expert power than the other. Expert power seems to influence the consumer throughout all the stages in consumer decision making process because informants only read blog posts by consumer with user experiences as they lacks knowledge than those they blogged with. One exception from this might be during the post-purchase stage where informants had gathered enough information and experience on their own purchase and were exposed to expert knowledge as they search for ways to solve and discover potential problems with their purchase.
Referent: Normative groups have the ability to influence the informants with referent power as Assael (1992) argues, groups that have close similarity of social situation, beliefs and attitudes to the consumer, provide a stronger base for referent power. No informants were influenced with normative groups. Assael (1992) argues that reference power is unlikely to occur in other groups then normative, as other groups does not have the same close similarity. This was confirmed by our informants, who only were exposed to referent power in the case where they had a normative group in their blogosphere. The referent power exercised by normative groups, influenced informants in creating a need more than the comparative groups did. Normative groups also often persuaded the informant to decide on making the purchase. This mostly happened when the informants read blog post and received comments on their own writing.
Reinforcement: Most of our informants were influenced by reward and coercive power from groups within the blogosphere. These influences provided the informants with confirmation on their purchase given by normative and comparative groups. One thing we discovered is that comparative groups within the blogosphere have the same ability to give confirmation on the informant's purchase as normative groups, so even though, the informants were more willing to adapt to the norms of normative groups they valued the confirmation from comparative groups equally. The informants got both positive and negative confirmation on their purchase from the members of the groups even though the informants did not write about their purchase just by reading blog posts about the product they had purchased. The confirmation given from these groups either strengthened or weakened their purchase. The informants' reactions to problems that were discovered are either a need to solve the problem, or if they could not, they just tried to ignore it. These reactions did not tend to differ much whether the negative information came from comparative or normative groups. When informants received negative confirmation on their purchases from the normative groups, they still did not show any cases on being persuaded to change. The informants are not affected by coercive power because the faults with the purchase were not big enough to cause the group to condemn the purchase, so even though the group dislike the purchase it is still accepted. Confirmation was mainly given to consumer when they were in the post-purchase stage and wanted their experiences confirmed.