Social media marketing is a marketing approach by which products or brands are promoted or sold using a social media platform, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. (Akar and Topçu, 2011; Drury, 2008). Many florists have been selling flowers by using this marketing approach. For example, depending on the regions, between 39% and 69% of the florists in the United States have adopted social media as a tool for selling flowers to consumers (Prince and Prince, 2014); the environmental horticulture industry in the United States considers social media to be an important advertising channel given that its enterprisers spent 43% of their online advertising budget on social media, websites, and newsletters (Torres et al., 2019). It is clear that improving the effectiveness of the application of social media in flower retailing is a topic worthy of attention in the floral industry.
Social media has several functions in marketing due to their Web.2.0-based information technology, i.e., in terms of serving as a platform for mutual communications between enterprises and consumers, developing new customers, enhancing brand awareness and word-of-mouth, etc. (Abed et al., 2015; Akar and Topçu, 2011; Drury, 2008; Fuchs, 2014; Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). However, with regard to the commercial competition in the current social media era, the most pressing issue concerns how social media can be applied as a platform to unite users and subsequently transform those users into a brand community to support the growth of the brand (Laroche et al., 2012).
Brand communities are one of the many different types of consumer communities, and are formed by groups of consumers who love particular brands. As the structure of a consumer group is more typical as a brand community, the more favorable will that consumer group be toward the development of the brand, because the members of that consumer group are usually highly loyal to that brand. Therefore, these members are usually the potential opinion leaders who influence other consumers’ attitudes and purchase intentions toward the brand. These members are also more likely to generate word-of-mouth for that brand, which is conducive to expanding the brand’s reputation among the consumers (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001). The same principles also apply among virtual brand communities. The more that the consumers engage in a virtual brand community, the more likely it is that they will have increasingly positive attitudes toward the social media advertisements for that brand, and will consume more of the products (Chi, 2011; Goh et al., 2013).
The formation of a brand community is measured in accordance with various community markers, i.e., a “shared consciousness,” “shared rituals and traditions,” and an “obligation to society” (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001; Tajfel, 1982; Zaglia, 2013). In other words, if a brand’s fan group exhibits the markers of communities, the fan group can be said to have become or to be becoming a brand community for that brand. Scholars have observed that the social media fan bases for some industries exhibit the community markers of a shared consciousness, shared rituals and traditions, and an obligation to society, implying the functionality of social media in converting users into a virtual brand community. The more that the fan base possesses such community markers, the more likely it is that the fans will engage in value-creation activities to further promote the brand (Laroche et al., 2012). A social media–based brand community also has a positive effect on building consumers’ relationships with the company, products, and brands, as well as with other consumers (Laroche et al., 2013).
Although social media is believed to have great potential in fostering virtual brand communities, the factors that drive users to engage in the florists’ social media–based brand communities remain unknown for the floral industry. Simon and Tossan (2018) argued that social interactions between brands and consumers increase consumers’ intimacy with the brand, and thereby in turn increase the consumers’ appreciation for the enterprise or brand. Algesheimer et al. (2005) discovered that a positive brand relationship facilitates consumers’ identification with the brand community, and thus results in consumers being more likely to engage in the brand community, while also lowering consumers’ negative perceptions toward the normative community pressure. According to the findings for other industries as discussed previously, it is very likely to be the case in the floral industry that users’ personal experiences with a florist will influence their engagement in the florist’s social media–based brand community, while at the same time increasing the brand equity of the florist.
Besides users’ experiences with the florists, the users’ knowledge of the florists may also influence the formation of the florists’ social media–based brand communities. As virtual communities have become the major platform for consumers to exchange information, individuals who are more knowledgeable about a subject are expected to have more opportunities to interact with others through social media. Besides, they may have a higher degree of interest in or more experience with that subject, and thus be more capable of serving as an opinion leader in a consumer community to influence other consumers’ perceptions and attitudes toward that subject. Because of their higher loyalty and greater social interaction, such individuals will consequently have a better social network in that virtual environment, and thus may be more likely to keep their membership in that community. Therefore, as social media serves as a source for consumers to acquire information on the floral industry (Russell Research, 2016), it is very likely that users’ knowledge of a certain florist will influence the formation of that florist’s social media–based brand community.
Although official social media pages have the potential for converting users into brand communities, numerous flower retailers still favor social media as a platform for information disclosure, thereby neglecting the function that social media can achieve in brand management. For example, Huang and Chen (2018) investigated the typology of florists’ Facebook posts and discovered that more than 50% of those posts were aimed at introducing products or services to consumers, with few posts being used to cultivate consumers’ interactions with florists or group members within the fan base. Even though social media can function as an important platform for florists to manage their brands, scholars rarely investigate related issues in the academic domain of floriculture. This study thus seeks to address this deficiency. The objectives of this study were to 1) explore the potential of converting the florists’ social media fan base into a social media–based brand community, and 2) investigate the influence of users’ knowledge of and personal experience with a florist on the formation of a virtual brand community for the florist, as well as the subsequent influence on the brand equity of that florist. Because Facebook is the most popular social network worldwide (Statista, 2019), these study objectives are assessed in a setting where Facebook is used by the florists.
Approximately 80% of florists in Taiwan are located in metropolitan areas, but because of the increasing cost of renting a store, many florists have relocated their stores farther away from the town center, and thus online flower shops have become an alternative plan for those florists to continue their businesses (Yuan, 2010). Because Facebook is a very popular social medium in Taiwan, in that 80.5% of its entire population are Facebook users (NapoleonCat, Inc., 2019), many of the florists have started their online businesses by opening a brand page on Facebook. Therefore, the samples used in this study are valid in examining the questions proposed in this study, and the empirical findings of this study should be helpful to those florists who are interested in improving their online businesses via social media.
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