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A recent study explores social media and consumer advocacy.

Eunseon “Penny” Kwon ventures beyond social media “likes” to examine how consumers behave online, particularly with respect to luxury apparel brands. Much of her ongoing research centers on deciphering why certain users become advocates for high-end fashion companies by reposting or retweeting their social media content.

Kwon, assistant professor of strategic communication, designed a study to identify the characteristics of social media users who become self-appointed — and unpaid — ambassadors for brands such as Gucci, Burberry and Louis Vuitton.

“Consumer research is all about exploring customers’ motivations and patterns,” Kwon said. “What this study showed me was that those who share posts about luxury products feel good about themselves when they are doing it. And for some, it actually becomes a way of signifying their own social status, even if they are not one of those people who can afford a $5,000 Chanel bag.”

Kwon published her 2017 study, “Consumers’ Social Media Advocacy Behaviors Regarding Luxury Brands: An Explanatory Framework,” in the Journal of Interactive Advertising.

Eunseon Kwon looking to the sky

Eunseon “Penny” Kwon, assistant professor of strategic communication, is asking why certain social media users choose to act as unpaid ambassadors for luxury apparel brands. (photo by Jeffrey McWhorter)


Advising her on the research and findings were S. “Ratti” Ratneshwar, a professor emeritus of marketing at the University of Missouri, and Esther Thorson, a professor of journalism at Michigan State University. Kwon worked with both as a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri.

In the paper, Kwon analyzed the results of an online survey she conducted with 413 women living in the United States. Participants responded to a series of questions about the circumstances in which they might repost something from a luxury brand to their social media accounts.

“My research showed that people care about how others think about them,” Kwon said. “Many consumers do not want to stand out from their social groups; they want to conform to their social norm. So if your close friend prefers brand A, you tend to prefer brand A. In that way, you can share common interests with your social groups.”

Consumers who adopt the role of luxury brand advocate also do so to bask in the reflected glory of the brand, Kwon said. A social media user who reposts about a certain luxury brand often enjoys a self-esteem boost as a result.

Kwon identified four motivational factors prompting someone to share luxury brand posts on social media. First is brand prestige — how even a tangential association with luxury brands makes certain consumers feel good about themselves.

Some consumers also find that reposting luxury brand images fulfills a personal need to signify social status. “Generally, consumers who have high socioeconomic status prefer and purchase luxury brands over those who have low status,” Kwon said.

Meanwhile, some consumers feel the need to conform to their social groups. This type of social media user tends to share luxury brand postings because a friend does.

Finally, the closeness of that friend matters. A close friend who loves a certain luxury brand typically has more influence than an acquaintance on whether to repost about that brand on social media.

“The research is really taking some old ideas we have had for years in marketing about word-of-mouth behaviors and seeing how they are playing out on a massive scale these days thanks to the internet and social media,” said Ratneshwar, who worked with Kwon to develop the survey, which focused on handbags and clothing.

The brands themselves have taken note of these trends, Ratneshwar said. “They recognize that people are always skeptical about what they see in advertising, but when you see something on Facebook or if your friend shares something with you on Instagram, it is coming from people you know or respect and has added weight because of that.”

Kwon plans to continue her research.

“Based on our findings, I am really interested in the future to see if consumers prefer regular postings from luxury brands or not, and what is too much every day,” Kwon said. “We want to find the magic number of how many times they should post.”