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Dr Daisy Jing Tan

University of Wolverhampton Business SchoolDr Daisy Jing Tan

Daisy's research interests lie in e-commerce adoption and digital marketing. She joined the University of Wolverhampton Business School in 2011 teaching marketing. Her papers have been published on 4* journal Information & Management, and presented at both national and international conferences. Daisy's current area of research is trust and social media.

Can We Trust Social Media in Industrial Marketing?

Introduction

John Bell from Ogilvy PR says that social media’s value lies in strengthening relationships (Taylor, 2012). In the B2B market, it is estimated that two-thirds of incidents of switching suppliers is down to relationship problems. Ethan McCarty, Senior Manager of Digital and Social Strategy for IBM, believes there is “an overall shift in trust in organizations to trust in networks” (Taylor, 2012).

LinkedIn is an online professional network that allows users to connect with trusted contacts to exchange knowledge, ideas, and opportunities within a broader network. Comer (2010) further identifies its strategic uses as: building relationships, understanding and hand-picking prospects, attracting prospects, and listening to clients. Locating qualifying prospects is quite a challenge, since the prospects have to demonstrate the desired need and buying power, and at the same time be willing to be contacted. Shih (2009) suggests that social media can be used to qualify leads early in the sales cycle by researching the profile of the ideal target prospect. But having qualified leads alone does not guarantee sales performance. To establish a relationship, trust is important to ensure mutual understanding of expectations and future cooperation and planning in relational contract as early as the exploration stage (Dwyer, Schurr and Oh, 1987). In the case of social network, what can it do to engender trust during this early stage?

Aim

The aim of this research is to investigate the role of social media on initial trust formation in the B2B market, by identifying aspects of social media that lead to mutual trust between organisations.

Research design

The first stage of this research involves developing a theoretical framework from the literature that could guide the study, as social media is a relatively new territory in trust research. Trust can be understood in two folds: first, as a concept with antecedents; second, as a construct with trustworthiness attributes (i.e. credibility and benevolence). By “initial” I mean trust established when trading parties first meet or interact.

In traditional brick-and-mortar society, this type of trust is largely determined by a person’s disposition to trust, interpersonal trust, and trust in institutions (McKnight, Cummings and Chervany, 1998). Whilst the first two elements are easy to understand, the third one – institutional trust means normality of the situation and assurance provided by the structure within the institution. When applied to e-marketplace, factors such as website monitoring, accreditation, legal bonds, feedback as well as cooperation are categorised as institution-based trust and identified as antecedents to inter-organisational trust-building.

Social media network such as LinkedIn differ from e-marketplace in that it lacks many structural assurance features, but has the assurance brought forth by social capital. Social capital refers to the value that can be accrued through a social network and from the social resources of the actors embedded within that network. There are three dimensions to social capital: structure of the network, the relationship itself, and cognitive resources that are shared amongst parties.  It is suggested in the literature that one valid metric of social capital is reputation, which is visible on LinkedIn through endorsement. Another metric could be number and degree of shared contacts, which are part of the information provided by LinkedIn.

To achieve the current research goal, a conceptual model is developed (See Fig.1).  The main focus here is to investigate the relationship between various Institution-based antecedents and Inter-organisational trust building (Credibility and Benevolence) on LinkedIn. The institution-based antecedents are identified under the dimensions of situation normality (Communication, Information Quality), structural assurance (Onsite Security) and social capital assurance (Reputation, Feedback, and Information Quality), with social capital assurance being investigated for the first time in similar scenarios.  Since the major participant of social media activity is individual actor, his/her personal disposition to trust and background should be taken into consideration as well. I am also interested in examining how these elements further influence trusting-outcomes, i.e. the likelihood of future development of the trusting relationship.

 

Fig. 1 Theoretical Framework

Hypotheses are developed based on the framework. A research instrument has been developed to collect relevant data using cross-sectional survey in the UK.