Look Who's Talking! Technology-Supported Impression Formation in Virtual Communities


Advances in Consumer Research

2007, vol. 34, pp.450-451

Departments: Accounting & Management Control, Marketing, GREGHEC (CNRS)

The growing availability of consumer-generated information on the Internet about products, services, and companies has increased market transparency. Power is shifting from producers to consumers who share their knowledge, experiences, and opinions via virtual communities, electronic discussion forums, online opinion platforms, chat rooms, and weblogs. However, this abundance of readily available information also comes at a cost. How do you distinguish an expert from a fraud? Who is credible and trustworthy, and who isn't? We form impressions of others based on cues such as age, gender, manner of dress and speech (e.g., Hamilton & Huffman 1971). But how do we construct and evaluate impressions in an online environment that lacks social cues normally present in face-to-face settings?Cyberspace is in many ways distinctly different from the physical world. Two characteristics stand out. Firstly, interaction takes place through a technological interface, i.e., a computer, mobile phone, or an interactive television with Internet access. This means that the primary relationship is not between the sender and the receiver of information, but rather with the technology-mediated environment (Hoffman & Novak 1996). The second defining characteristic of cyberspace is its textuality. Communication and interaction online is based on the written word, audio, images, icons, and hyperlinks to other Web sites. This allows for new ways of self-presentation in which the physical self does not necessarily have to coincide with the digital self (Schau & Gilly 2003). Schau and Gilly (2003) have demonstrated that consumers make active use of signs, symbols, material objects, and places to construct a digital self on their personal Web site. In this paper, we want to extend their research into online self-presentational strategies by looking more closely at the receivers' side. The objective of our research is to investigate how consumers form impressions of senders in the context of word-of-web recommendations within virtual consumer communities (Kozinets 2002). Specifically, we focus on the role of the technological interface. According to Foucault (1977), technology can be considered as a disciplinary mechanism that is embedded in power devices. Examining how technologies are used to form and manage digital impressions, may help us to understand how individuals influence each other online. Gaining systematic insight in this process is necessary for improving and developing tools that aim to aid consumers in their assessment of online contributions (e.g., reputation systems, member profiles, contribution accounts)