Consumer activity in social media: Managerial approaches to consumers' social media behavior

Authors


Kristina Heinonen, Hanken School of Economics; Department of Marketing, Helsinki, Finland.

E-mail: kristina.heinonen@hanken.fi

ABSTRACT

Today, consumers are involved in a variety of activities, ranging from consuming content to participating in discussions, sharing knowledge with other consumers, and contributing to other consumers' activities. With the enormous interest in social media sites, such as YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and Wikipedia, consumers are assumed to be actively contributing to marketing content. However, despite the rich opportunities for contributing, recent academic research indicates that consumers are not necessarily as active online as has been believed. The aim of this paper is to conceptualize consumers' activities in social media by examining the motivations behind the activities. By offering a more detailed description of the differences in consumer use of social media, the study extends existing research on consumer activities related to user-created content. Based on consumer narratives of their social media activity, we identified 15 activities grouped under three themes. The conceptual framework is used to suggest managerial strategies related to different levels of consumer activity. Thus, it provides a tool for uncovering managerial challenges and for planning responses to consumer activities.

Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

INTRODUCTION

In marketing, there is currently a growing interest in digital interactivity, especially in consumer activity in social media. Information technology is empowering consumers, and their role is shifting from being passive recipients of information to becoming active generators of information (Stewart and Pavlou, 2002). As consumers are increasingly performing activities previously controlled by companies, the entire marketing landscape is changing. Therefore, companies need to better understand the changing behavior of consumers, in order to create mutual benefits from the use of social media.

Consumers' online behavior is developing at a fast rate. Consumers are taking part in a variety of activities ranging from consuming content, participating in discussions, and sharing knowledge with other consumers to contributing to other consumers' activities. This active consumer behavior is changing the media and marketing landscape as consumers are invading companies' marketing sphere (Berthon et al., 2008). With the enormous interest in social media and user-generated content (UGC) on sites, such as YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and Wikipedia, consumers are seen to be actively contributing to the marketing content.

At the same time, although the opportunities for active involvement are good, some academic studies on the topic indicate that consumers are not necessarily as active online as it has been believed (Jones et al., 2004; Joyce and Kraut, 2006; Preece et al., 2004). Interestingly, consumers are typically described as being active and creative (Berthon et al., 2008), neglecting the fact that depending on differences in interest and resources only a small number of consumers in fact produce the majority of user-generated content (Courtois et al., 2009). Research has also shown that the increased choice and responsibility resulting from empowerment can be challenging and confusing (Davies and Elliot, 2006). As a result, social media activity is not necessarily as prevalent as expected and desired by researchers and practitioners. Therefore, more research is needed to identify the different levels of activity and the bases of such activities.

Recent research on consumer activity in social media and on user-generated content has examined the motivations for using or not using social media (e.g. Park et al., 2009; Raacke and Bonds-Raacke, 2008; Baker and White, 2010; Shao, 2009). It has been proposed that consumers are either active as posters or contributors or passive as lurkers or consumers of content (e.g. Schlosser, 2005; Shang et al., 2006; Shao, 2009). In an online brand community context, practice-oriented research has focused on describing the practices related to brand communities (Schau et al., 2009). However, what is lacking in existing research is a detailed investigation of the different levels of activities consumers engage in.

What are consumers doing on social media? What are the motives that drive these social media activities? While recent research is assuming different levels of consumer activity, these questions highlight some of the key challenges in social media research. Therefore, we investigated consumers' activities in social media by focusing on the motivations behind the activities. The term social media here refers to user-created services, such as blogs, online review/rating sites, social networking sites, and online communities. The term consumer is used to describe the individual that is active in the social media, however, not necessarily only consuming the media but also performing other activities, such as participating in, using, or producing activities.

We present a conceptual framework for social media activities based on different levels of consumer input and consumer motivation. Drawing on narratives generated in 57 consumers' diary entries focusing on their social media activity, we substantiate the conceptual framework by offering detailed descriptions of different social media activities. The conceptual framework is further used to propose managerial strategies related to the different levels of consumer activity. Our study contributes to research and practice in consumer marketing in general and in social media and online communities in particular by describing different consumer activities associated with user-generated content. The goal is to describe in more detail how consumers' social media activities influence marketing practice.

In what follows, we provide a brief overview of the concepts of social media and user-generated content in order to present the approach taken in this paper. We then review previous research on consumers' motives for using social media as well as research on consumers' activities in social media. Based on the literature review, we introduce a conceptual framework of social media activities and apply the framework in a qualitative study. The emerging social media activities are then used to propose managerial challenges and activities in response to consumers' activities. Theoretical implications and agendas for future research are also discussed.

REVIEW OF PREVIOUS RESEARCH

Social media, such as social networking sites and user-generated services, have emerged into mass use rather recently, basically from 2003 onward (Boyd and Ellison, 2008). Academic research is appearing, and related concepts are explored, such as social networking sites (Boyd and Ellison, 2008; Utz, 2010), user-generated content (Shao, 2009), and social media (Walker Rettberg, 2009). Basically, what characterizes user-generated content is the fact that consumers are the ones producing, designing, publishing, or editing the content in the media (Krishnamurthy and Dou, 2008), i.e. the service is user-created. Social media in turn enable people to share and interact with each other and the content becomes more democratized (Drury, 2008). Although differences between the many concepts describing this new media have been implied and many would argue that user-generated content is a characteristic of social media, the concepts social media and user-generated content have been used semi-interchangeably (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). In this paper, social media and user-generated media are seen to denote the same phenomenon that consumers are creating the content in the media.

Different typologies of social media depending on their type and characteristics have been suggested (e.g. Krishnamurthy and Dou, 2008; Shao, 2009). For example, Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) categorized social media into collaborative projects, blogs, content communities, social networking sites, virtual game worlds, and virtual social worlds. Similarly, in this paper, we categorize collaborative projects and blogs as content creation and publishing tools. Collaborative projects or wikis are websites that allow people to contribute or edit content in a collective way. Blogs refer to online publications where the most recent entries are published first and are written in a personal and conversational style. Content-sharing communities are focused on sharing particular content, not on building a network (e.g. YouTube, Flickr, and Dopplr). Social networking sites enable users to create and maintain a community of individuals. Virtual game worlds and social worlds, such as Second Life or World of Warcraft, are more entertainment-oriented and enable consumers to enter a virtual or other reality. In a multiplayer game-like environment, they encourage communication and interaction with others. Being different in terms of means and consequences, these social media types obviously involve different motivations and activities. In this paper, social media activities are examined by focusing on user-created services, such as blogs, online review/rating sites, social networking sites, and online communities.

Consumers' motives for engaging in social media

Consumer motives for engaging in social media provide insights into consumers' activities. Several studies focusing on consumers' motivation have emerged recently (e.g. Ross et al., 2009; Raacke and Bonds-Raacke, 2008; Grace-Farfaglia et al., 2006). Many studies on social media and user-generated media apply a uses and gratification approach (c.f. Shao, 2009; Park et al., 2009). This approach focuses on consumers' motives for using a certain media and on the consequences that follow from those motives (Blumler and Katz, 1974). The gratification studies exploring social media show similar findings. Stafford, Stafford and Schkade (2004) found that consumers' have three main gratifications or motives for using the internet as a medium, namely, information, entertainment, and social aspects. This finding has been supported and extended by more recent research on user-generated media, which has identified information, entertainment, social interaction and community development, self-actualization, and self-expression as motives (Shao, 2009; Courtois et al., 2009). Krishnamurthy and Dou (2008) summarized the motivations into two main groups: rational motives, such as knowledge-sharing and advocacy, and emotional motives, such as social connection and self-expression. Park et al. (2009) found four motives for using social networking sites: socializing, entertainment, self-status seeking, and information. These gratifications are common motives for consumers' activities performed in social media, as will be proposed below.

Consumer activities in social media

Consumers' activities in social media has been explored based on how actively (or passively) consumers behave online. Community members have frequently been grouped according to their communication behavior and in this context the poster-lurker dichotomy has been widely used (e.g. Schlosser, 2005; Shang et al., 2006). Using this approach, de Valck et al., (2009) identified six different virtual community member types based on members' communication/participation patterns: 1) Core members were those who contributed to the community the most by retrieving, supplying, and discussing information. 2) Conversationalists focused on discussing information. 3) Informationalists mainly retrieved and supplied information. 4) Hobbyists focused on maintaining and updating their personal information on the website. 5) Functionalists were interested in retrieving information. 6) Opportunists only retrieved marginal content from the website. This categorization is thus based on information activities and did not include other types of activities.

In contrast, Shao (2009) proposed that people perform a variety of activities online: 1) Consumption of information and entertainment, 2) participation in social interaction and community development, and 3) production of self-expression and self-actualization. Consumption means reading the content that is posted by other users; participation occurs when people comment on others' creations, and production means posting one's own content on the site. Shao (2009) also noted that these three activities are often integrated that people often engage in all three activities or in a combination of two, and that it is not always possible to differentiate clearly between the activities. Despite identifying the three main activities and the resulting consequences of these activities, Shao's study does not provide insights into the various subactivities that occur within the main categories. The activities of consumption, participation, and production may also include other activities that are not described by the categorization based on contribution levels. In other words, it is appropriate to identify other activities that can be relevant for users of social media.

Most research on consumer activities related to UGC (User-Generated Content) emphasizes consumers' communication behavior based on the dichotomy of contribution (posting) and consumption (lurking).Thus, research has indicated that consumers are in fact not very active online, i.e. they commonly show a low level of participation and contribution on social media (c.f. Jones et al., 2004; Joyce and Kraut, 2006; Preece et al., 2004). However, looking beyond activities based on communication and information needs, other studies have drawn attention to the importance of social networking and entertaining. For example, Schau et al. (2009) identified 12 practices related to brand communities. Three practices were related to social networking: welcoming, empathizing, and governing. Two practices concerned impression management: evangelizing and justifying. Four practices were related to community engagement: staking, milestoning, badging, and documenting. Three practices concerned brand use grooming, customizing, and commoditizing. This line of thinking on practices can be used to extend the concept of activity by detailing the practices performed in social media.

CONCEPTUAL MODEL OF SOCIAL MEDIA ACTIVITIES

Building on the discussion above, we propose that consumers' social media activities can be conceptualized based on two major dimensions: consumer motivations and consumer input. The separation of activities into three main types, i.e. consumption, participation, and contribution (Shao, 2009), provides general information about what consumers do, i.e. it illustrates consumers' input. Examining consumer motivations in terms of entertainment, social connection, and information provides more details concerning the nature of three main activity types identified by Shao. In Figure 1, the two perspectives are combined in a simple 3x3 matrix. Nine potential outcomes follow from this categorization. Activities to the right involve a higher level of consumer input in terms of content contribution. The activities are based on motivation range from utilitarian to hedonic motives.

Figure 1.

Conceptual model of consumers' social media activities.

All elements in the model are present in existing research, but they have not been combined into one single framework. For example, Shao (2009) focused on consumer contributions as input but found that consumption is mainly related to information and entertainment; participation is related to social connection; and production is mainly related to self-expression that can be seen as a part of entertainment. Courtois et al., (2009) focused on motivations, and in addition to informational, entertaining, and social functions, they also emphasized escapist functions and personal functions. Although several gratifications have been proposed, it seems that the three major motivations (information, social connection, and entertainment) are the most common ones. In our empirical study, the conceptual framework was used to identify and categorize the activities that consumers performed in social media.

EMPIRICAL STUDY

Due to the scant research on social media activities, an exploratory study design was chosen. A diary method was used to capture the voice of the customer (Griffin & Hauser, 1993; Bolger, Davis & Rafaeli, 2003). The diary method has been described as a method that captures life as it is lived where respondents are asked to report on daily events and experiences (Bolger, Davis & Rafaeli, 2003). Typically, as the diary is directly linked with the event and experience, it focuses on respondents' natural and spontaneous feelings, rather than more retrospective thoughts (Bolger, Davis & Rafaeli, 2003).

Respondents kept a diary to report their thoughts and emotions of using social media sites. The diary was so-called event-contingent where the respondent reports whenever a defined event occurs (Wheeler & Reis, 1991), i.e. directly after using the site. The resulting narratives reflect the respondents' own wording and thus exactly represent the respondents' views of their own reality. The diary was developed as a qualitative questionnaire summarizing information about social media use in a structured way. For each use of social media site, respondents summarized the name of the site, the type of user-generated content, the dates, time, and length of visit. The diary was based on three parts, but only the findings from the first parts are reported here. The first part was based loosely on the studies by Shao (2009) and Stafford, Stafford, and Schkade (2004) focusing on the activities performed and the motivations behind the activities. It included three themes used to solicit the narratives concerning respondents' perceptions and use of social media: 1) respondents' perceptions about the content of the message, 2) the activities performed (consumption, participation, and production), and 3) the effects of social media. Respondents were asked to reflect upon the following three questions: 1) Describe the content (e.g. opinions, experiences, advice and commentary). What did you experience?, 2) Describe the activities (consumption, participation, production). What did you do and why?, and 3) What effect did the social media have on you? How did the social media influence your activities and perceptions?

The empirical study was conducted in 2009 among young individuals representing the users of user-generated services. Focusing on young individuals is consistent with previous studies in the area (e.g. Correa, 2010; Courtois et al. 2009; Park et al., 2009). Fifty-seven marketing students were asked to evaluate and report their use of five different user-created services, which resulted in a total sample size of 285 journal entries. Of the respondents, 34 were women and 23 men.

The data was analyzed as follows: A variable-oriented approach (Miles and Huberman, 1994) was used to group and categorize the narratives based on the dimensions of the conceptual framework. The dimensions cut across cases and the narratives were further analyzed to identify subcategories of the identified dimensions. This was done by conceptualizing and abstracting the meaning of the words (Strauss and Corbin, 1998). Data pertaining to the three consumer input dimensions (consumption, participation, and production) and the three motivation types (information, social connection, and entertainment) were grouped into different categories. The six categories all included several subcategories that emerged inductively.

FINDINGS

The findings from the study are discussed by starting with the motivation behind the activity. To provide an overview of the findings, the activities are first structured based on consumer input and motivation using the proposed conceptual framework. The activities emerging from the data are then categorized into three motivation groups, and the findings are substantiated with illustrative quotes from the narratives.

The findings indicated that consumers are mostly consuming the content; only a few respondents were contributors or producers of user-created services. Of thesample, 201 activities were related to consumption, 41 concerned consumption and participation activities, and 36 were related to production activities.

Social media behavior

The activities were categorized based on consumer input and consumer motives (Figure 2). Consumer input mainly concerned consumption and participation, and only some activities were related to production. Acquiring and consuming information were two of the main activities. Most respondents visited different UGC sites, consumed the content, but did not write comments nor produce their own content on the sites. The majority of cases where the respondents also produced some content to an UGC were reported from social networking sites. Some respondents also reported production on other websites, such as leaving comments on discussion boards, writing reviews, posting and sharing their own music, and blogging.

Figure 2.

An overview of social media activities.

The motives for visiting a UGC site were fairly similar to those of consumers who also chose to participate on the site. Sometimes there was only one motivation (information, entertainment, or social connection), but often it was a combination of two or three. Information, entertainment, surveillance, opinions, and inspiration were frequently mentioned. Not surprisingly, social connection and a need to communicate were mentioned repeatedly, as well as searches for people with whom to discuss different topics such as music. The activities are discussed in more detail below.

Social media activities

The 15 social media activities emerging from the narratives were divided into three categories depending on the motivation for the activity: 1) Information processing, 2) entertainment activities, and 3) social connection. Frequently, consumers were looking for specific information, such as facts or explanations for something. The findings indicate that user-created services play an important role in conveying experiences and peer-to-peer support. By sharing experiences and knowledge, consumers are creating new forms of services, which have an important task in guiding and directing decision making. Below, the activities will be illustrated with quotes from the narratives.

Five activities associated with information processing emerged from the data. They represent different levels of contribution to the content of the media, but they are mainly consumption related (Table 1). The information was valued for several reasons: accessibility, being real-time, variety of viewpoints covered, and exclusivity. The drawback was the trustworthiness of the information, and especially factual information was often considered questionable. A major information processing activity was the retrieval of product information or content, such as solving problems with product use or accessing content, such as music or other software. Many respondents were looking for professionally produced content that was posted on UGC sites, such as music videos or episodes of popular TV shows. This kind of content is often posted illegally, but it is highly appreciated by the users because it often helps in saving money and time.

Table 1. Information processing activities
DimensionDescription
Retrieving product information or contentAcquiring information about products or download content
Collecting factual informationGathering information from more formal user-generated sources, such as Wikipedia.
Sharing and accessing opinions, reviews and ratingSharing information and accessing shared knowledge online, such as opinions and comments
News surveillanceFollowing current news from all over the world
Applying knowledgeUsing knowledge for own benefits, such as processing content or exchanging products

The UGC of this site works as a functional supplement/substitute for watching the whole game on cable-TV or at a sports bar. Someone compiles the highlights, posts them wherever they like, and the site tracks them down thus giving the consumer the option of choosing their favorite source. Footytube might be the sole reason why I wouldn't buy cable TV, although I still might. (P)

My motivation to use YouTube was to get information about a product, i.e. to see how it works, how it looks like, what you can do with it and what the good versus bad aspects of it are. (BE)

Another activity is the collection of factual information. This was mainly related to utilitarian needs where users gathered information from more structured user-generated sources, such as Wikipedia.

I use Wikipedia to get information and I get what I am searching for, but the entertainment level is quite low. (AI)

I used the site to collect information for my personal use. (BC) MySpace

A third form of information processing is sharing information and experiences, and accessing shared knowledge online. Opposed to factual information that has lower trustworthiness, opinions were considered to be reliable and value adding.

It feels like a reliable way to get opinions of products. The people who are writing at afterdawn don't benefit anything from advertising a certain product, which means that they are going to tell the truth about what they think about some certain product. (AA; technology forum Afterdawn.com)

It changed my opinion of what hotel I should stay in and will not visit the hotel the travel agency suggested. (AC) (Tripadvisor)

In addition, news surveillance is a distinct social media activity because the respondents frequently reported an urge to keep themselves constantly updated. Respondents typically explored several sites many times a day in order to know what was happening.

Something happening right now on the other side of the world can be seen immediately at YouTube. (AH)

It is very interesting to read what people think about the contemporary occurrences. (D) (Online discussion forum of a daily paper)

It is interesting to see what happens in the fashion world. (L) (Fashion blog)

Information processing also concerned applying knowledge from user-generated media for utilitarian purposes. This activity often results in monetary benefits and economic gain.

This time, the Internet Movie Database helped me choose between quite a few movies that I want to see. Although I'm not entirely sure which one I'll see yet, my choices were narrowed down significantly. (AP)

Earn some money on selling items I don't use/need (AR) (online auction site)

Four entertainment activities emerged from the narratives (Table 2). Respondents were looking for relaxation or escape. Some sites, such as YouTube, were often used for taking a break in studies or work.

Table 2. Entertainment activities
DimensionDescription
Escaping the real world and relaxingRelaxing or escaping for a while
Becoming inspired, mood managementLooking for inspiration and encouragement
Entertaining oneselfEnjoying oneself online
Self-expressionSelf-articulation and self-promotion

The reason for visiting this site was that I wanted to relax my mind by reading something “light”. (AW) (A fashion blog)

I felt relaxed and amused and it offered a well-deserved break from the work I was doing. (AS) (YouTube)

It is a good site where you can spend your extra time. (AQ) FML

Entertainment search also comprised inspiration and mood management motives. Finding new and interesting information was also reported to have a positive effect on consumers' mood. Many sites offered inspiration to the consumers and encouraged them to do something in real life.

The food blog had an effect on me in a way that I got more excited about making food and baking again. (AI) food blog

My motivation for visiting this site was to be inspired and updated on the newest trends and to possibly get ideas on how to re-decorate my own apartment with simple tips. (V) (Interior design blog)

Another entertainment activity was related to the act of getting entertained by following other consumers' discussions and opinions.

It's highly entertaining to watch people debate and express their opinions. The fact that you can do this anonymously makes it somewhat funnier when people say things more straight up. (BC) (Online student discussion forum)

I think that it is entertaining to watch videos.(…) I can spend many hours on youtube.com searching for old commercials, funny cat videos, and music. (O) (YouTube)

In some cases, self-expression and managing one's self-image were mentioned. This included promoting an individual persona or expressing one's own beliefs.

Express (show) myself to my friends in the way that I want to. (AR) (Facebook)

The six activities related to social connection are described in Table 3. Social connection is mainly related to social surveillance, i.e. users are interested in seeing what is happening in their network of friends and acquaintances. Many respondents visited specific sites that included content posted by an acquaintance (e.g. a friend's blog) or they just wanted to know what people do.

Table 3. Social connection activities
DimensionDescription
Social surveillanceLearning about friends and acquaintances
Collaborative experiencingSharing and experiencing with others
Belonging and bondingConnecting with people
Being up-to-dateKnowing what is happening in one's own community
Staying in touchKeeping up relationships within one's own network
Social networkingCreating and managing a social network of friends and acquaintances

Well, I found out stuff about my friends I would not know without Facebook. (AE)

Certainly entertaining. Getting to know peoples' thoughts. In the future, it will get more entertaining when it gains wider popularity here and people you know are involved. (AV) (Twitter)

Social connection is also related to activities where respondents can share different content with each other or experience together something new or different. Respondents occasionally reported that the user-generated information influenced and changed their own opinions, e.g. after reading Internet discussion board content.

You occasionally talk about what you have been watching on YouTube or show them new videos or advise them to see something. (AE) (YouTube)

I watched some funny clips together with family and friends. (AZ) (YouTube)

Further, social connection activities appeared to facilitate a feeling of belonging and bonding to a specific social environment and between members of a social group. Respondents visited the UGC to learn what people are talking about and to connect with members of their social context.

I get a feeling of belongingness when I can easily listen to the same music as my friends are listening and talking about. (AD) (MySpace)

My motivation was that many friends had Facebook accounts, and I wanted to be a part of that as well. (E)

Social connection is also related to being up-to-date concerning events and happenings in the social network and participating in the events. This is one of the main attractions of the social networking sites as well as blogs, discussion forums, and video sites. Many respondents reported that they were addicted to being up to date with everything. Knowing things also gave them a feeling of social advantage.

I wanted to see how my friends are doing and see if something special had happened. (U) (Facebook)

I get at least 50% of all my invitations to different happenings via Facebook. (BC)

I use it almost every day as sort of a calendar to stay up to date and find out about what my friends are doing, but I don't participate and share stuff about myself more than I find I have to. (AR) (Facebook)

Most importantly, social connection is related to users' need to stay in touch with their friends and family. This was particularly evident for social networking sites, but also personal blogs and photo-sharing applications were used for this purpose. UGC's have a great influence on peoples' social life as some sites, such as Facebook, make it easy for people to manage their contacts with other people. Becoming more social was reported by most respondents.

Because when you have a lot of friends and people you know, Facebook is an easy and a cheap way to stay up to date with their lives and to stay in contact. (AI)

I wouldn't stay in touch with as many friends as I am now. (M) (Facebook)

Another main social connection activity was related to social networking, i.e. creating and managing a network. This activity differs from merely staying in touch, as social networking means gathering and managing a network of friends.

From the beginning, I started using it because “everybody else had Facebook”, but after a while, I noticed that I actually like it. Thanks to Facebook, I have more contact with friends living in other cities/countries than I normally would. As weird as it may sound, Facebook has made me more social! (V)

It is useful because it saves time. I have sort of collected all my friends at one place and it is an easy and fast way to share my life with them on Facebook. (O)

DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS

The study extends existing research on consumers' use of user-created content by describing in more detail differences in consumer activities related to social media. Focusing on activities rather than only on motivations or gratifications made it possible to increase the understanding of why consumers are interested in social media. In other words, the concepts of use and gratification (e.g. Stafford et al. 2004; Park et al., 2009) were developed in more depth by identifying several activities related to each gratification.

Second, the combination of the several categories of consumer input and motivations enabled a deeper understanding of activities performed using social media. The categories of consumption, participation, and production highlight different levels of contribution but do not detail further the characteristics of the different activities. The inclusion of motivation thus provides a more detailed picture of the activities performed. Also, in contrast to Shao's categories (2009), our framework suggests that the activities of consumption, participation, and production are not only related to certain motivations but that the activities are based on several motivations. This finding suggests that the classic notion of individuals as mere consumers is outdated and that consumers should also be seen as active producers of business value.

The suggested framework for identifying consumers' social media activities also contributes to the management of social media. Companies are challenged by the input of individuals traditionally seen as consumers or customers. The study indicates that the role of user-generated content in directing consumer behavior reduces the influence of traditional marketing communications. Rather than relying solely on marketing communication, companies should try to participate more in their customers' social media activities, in order to understand the impact of these on their brand image and also to facilitate interaction with potential customers. The proposed conceptual framework can be used not only to identify possible strategies and but also to create company responses that support consumers' social media activities (Figure 3). The following strategies can be used to increase social media engagement, improve product awareness, or induce cocreation of production information.

Figure 3.

Companies' possible strategies based on consumers' social media activities.

Consumption activities represented the main area of consumer input in social media and strategies in this area are associated with facilitating the consumption. In the lower left-hand corner of Figure 3, the focus is on the consumption of information. Companies can offer different information and facts to be accessed by anyone, in order to attract users and direct the usage towards a higher extent of contribution. This is the current strategy for example of numerous magazines and newspapers that offer parts of the online content for free in order to interest users, thus hoping to encourage them to participate in the discussions and debates on the topics and perhaps generate new insights and contents for the company to utilize. Another strategy related to the consumption of information is to link the company and/or its offerings to current happenings and real-time information and thus increase interest in the company, e.g. InterNavi's automotive navigation and information system. Another way to create awareness and interest in the company is by linking up with lead users functioning as consumer advocates through their personal blogs. Numerous consumer goods companies are using this strategy by offering products to popular bloggers, hoping that they will lead users; that after acceptance, they will speak positively about the product.

Another strategic area has to do with the consumption activities related to social connection. This is one of the most important areas as it involves the highest number of potential users. Here, the goal is to enable interaction with and arousing interest in the company. This can be done by initiating discussions about different daily topics and by encouraging consumers to pose questions and share experiences. Obviously, much of the consumption related to social connection is invisible to companies, as it occurs on private social networks. However, by inviting consumers to participate on companies' Facebook accounts or YouTube videos companies can attract consumers that will at least potentially receive the communication from the company positively. This is a popular strategy in most major consumer goods companies.

Strategies related to consumption activities with entertainment motives are aimed at increasing the entertainment factor of companies, mainly by creating games and online content. These games and content must be easy to use, preferably free of charge, and entertaining in order to appeal to different users. The entertainment can also be linked with the social connection motivation by involving a multiplayer possibility.

Strategies encouraging individuals' participation in social media can also be connected to the three usage motives (summarized in the middle column of Figure 3). Participation activities related to information motives mostly concern sharing knowledge and insight, and the company's goals entail enabling involvement and sharing by consumers. Here, one strategy can be to facilitate real-time reviews and product tests by inviting consumers to share their opinions, possibly offering some kind of carrot, e.g. prizes or coupons. Companies can also go beyond informing about the technical details of an offering by identifying the use of the product by a specific group and then clarifying this to other users. Connecting the offering to the individuals' daily lives in this way can promote the company and its image.

Another strategic area is related to individuals' participation activities based on social connection motives. This involves a stronger support of interactions between individuals. Increasing the consumption associated with social connection is not only a question of attracting fans to a company Facebook account for informational purposes. Instead, it is important to get individuals to share their thoughts and interact with each other. This goal is related to the feeling of belonging and community sense making. The Harley Davidson online community is a good example of this type of community bonding, where users are connecting with and supporting each other. Another strategy is to demystify the company image by showing its human involvement. This can be done by inviting company employees to share their thoughts and experience and inviting consumers to respond to these thoughts, as was done with Best Buy's Blue Shirt Nation or IBM's Innovation Jam. Also, in addition to having employees sharing their knowledge, best practices, and funny stories individual consumer experiences could also be included.

Companies can also strategically use participation activities related to entertainment motives. Encouraging consumers to create tools that can enhance individuals' creativity in daily practices can efficiently increase participation. This includes all content where users are sharing their experiences and activities of how to do something, such as Howcast.com, wikihow.com, or howstuffworks.com. This strategy provides both entertainment and usefulness. Companies can also encourage playfulness linked with different life themes, where individuals can comment and share their experience and funny incidents, similar to the collection of peoples' real life funniest stories (www.funniest-stories.blogspot.com). Another example is the product tests of BlendTech's CEO based on consumers' ideas and challenges. These tests are placed on both the company website and on YouTube, attracting a high number of both consumers and participants.

Strategies related to individuals' production activities are the most challenging ones as the consumer input is here the largest. Thus, it is difficult for companies to control the direction and quality of the input. However, successfully engaging individuals' in production activities can result in new insights about consumers and can reduce costs related to research and development. No informational production activities were identified in the empirical study; however, strategies in this area can be suggested. Companies can encourage the creation of tools facilitating daily activities. This is linked with the participation activities based on entertainment motives, where the goal for companies is to encourage the production of such content. This can be done by encouraging ideas on content related to company offerings or by inviting individuals to invent and produce such content in a contest. In this way, companies can get new ideas for offerings or improvement of offerings. Alternatively, companies can directly invite individuals' to develop new offerings on their website or sites, such as CrowdSpirit or InnoCentive.

Another strategic area has to do with the production activities based on social connection motives. Here, the company's role is to support individuals' social networking by enabling new connections. For example, the company can encourage individuals with the same mindset to team up in collaborative projects. Teams are given a variety of tasks related to specific life themes, which they should solve by using company offerings. This is can be done in applications, such as Second life or real life. As a result, companies can gain insights about their potential markets, the use of their offerings, and also how to engage new customers. Another strategy, which is even more knowledge-based, is to use insights from the social networks and discussions in order to adapt current offerings and to encourage customers to improve the offerings.

The production activities associated with entertainment motives represent the final strategic area. Here, the goal is to connect and engage individuals in real-time games, in order to increase their motivation to produce content. This does not necessarily mean that every company should create their own games, but it means being present at existing platforms and engaging in more real-time interaction with the users.

FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS

This study has used an exploratory approach and has opened up several agendas for future research. By identifying different user-created services described by users, the study is a first attempt to examine services based on users' actual practices. In order to generate a variety of activities, we included different types of social media. However, in the analysis, we did not specifically emphasize the differences between the types and the activities related to each type. Therefore, future studies need to distinguish and describe the differences of the activities in the various categories of user-generated content.

One limitation of the study was the large number of consumption and participation activities emerging from the data compared to the number of production activities. However, this finding supports previous research arguing that only a minority of web users are active contributors (Courtois et al., 2009). However, in order to understand contribution activities in depth, future research needs to investigate the behavior of those active and engaged consumers that deliberately create online content. The assumption here is that companies want actively contributing consumers, but further research is needed to understand the implications of each activity in order to identify what types of activities are needed or wanted. Some activities may influence the company image and brand positively whereas other consumer activities are perhaps not favorable.

Future research should also develop the design of empirical studies and the methods to understand the use of social media. In the present study, personal diaries based on a multimethod approach were used in order to solicit both narratives and quantitative information about individuals' social media use. The drawback of the current data was the fact that the respondents' were asked to reflect upon their activities after engaging in the activity. New methods should be developed that are real-time and unobtrusive but still offer the benefits of deep ethnographical insights into consumer activities. Another limitation is the sampling and data collection. Using student sampling was justified considering the goal to collect data concerning different social media environments. Recruiting respondents from one or a few online communities would give another perspective on the social media activities, for example, related to specific characteristics of that particular community. Further research is needed to explore the differences between social media users and social media environments.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

The use of social media is increasing exponentially, and this produces enormous challenges for both academic research and business practice. Consumer research is faced with the need to develop conceptual ideas of social media behavior complemented with empirical findings from the consumer perspective. Highlighting both conceptual and empirical issues, this paper demonstrates how important it is for companies to understand their role in the emerging media dominated by users. Instead of focusing on technology applications or push-marketing, social media strategies should adopt a consumer-dominant mindset by starting from the consumers' perspective on activities and practices in social media.

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