Chapter 1 – Introduction
The field of marketing has witnessed important transformations in the last decade and a half. Technological innovation has become a constant phenomenon and ever present in the expansion of digital, social media and mobile marketing. The omnipresent smartphone and other mobile devices have paved the way for innumerable social media applications. According to Asur & Huberman (2010), social media has become imperative for social networking and sharing content, while also operating as a critical component in the economic interests of mid-small and small businesses. In an age of visual exuberance, technology has managed to initiate a pull towards both nostalgia and futurism, leaving many social media users exerting them to keep apace and longing yearning to slow down as they document the lives online. As this anomaly grows, the interest in social media marketing in marketers’ business activities can be worthwhile (Evans, Bratton, ; McKee, 2010).
The evolution of social media has spearheaded the emergence of influencers in respective platforms, distinguished as “Instagrammers”, “YouTubers” and “Bloggers”. According to Senft (2008), influencers are common internet users who accumulate a huge following on social media through the engagement with followers in both digital and physical spaces by embedding advertorials into their social media posts. In the influencer business, numerous advertorials are particularly customized considering that they provide their opinions regarding products and services as they have experienced themselves and can endorse for a fee (Abidin, 2016). In addition, van der Waldt et al. (2009: 102) wrote that the “right choice of influencer can be effective in establishing a position for newly launched product and it can also change perceptions on a product that has been positioned in a wrong way”. One of the surging digital media platforms where influencers have gathered pace is Instagram, where the platform impelled and expanded social media trends at a pace that has left both markets and minds in awe. The rapid evolution of Instagram (90 million monthly active users since 2013 to over 700 million monthly active users in 2017 globally) showcases an broadening number of organizations considering to promote in the platform, and as for some, it is an essential prerequisite (Statista.com, 2017).
Foodie culture is made up of people who pay great interest to food, and it has become a focus for scholars of consumption (e.g., food critics) and material culture (e.g., fine dining) (Solier, 2013). The foodie culture can be understood as a social group that has a deep interest in food. Foodies are individuals with a cultivated appreciation for food, which in turn fosters social interaction with other foodies. Generally, foodies seek unique and one-of-a-kind food experiences. The widest practice of contemporary foodie culture is photographing food. Established in 2010, the online photo-sharing platform Instagram launched smartphone users into a new paradigm of media sharing, reaching 700 million users in April 2017. The visual nature of Instagram allows users to share quality images of food, restaurants, and a limitless array of food-centric content, producing a spiral of social and economic implications.
Connolly (2015) claims that the overarching reason for sharing food photos is to generate engaging conversations and moments of delight and joy for like-minded members of foodie culture. Smartphone technology elevates this foodie practice to a widespread phenomenon. Indeed, capturing food photos before a meal has become irresistible among people who identify as foodies (Connolly, 2015). This practice includes many different forms (e.g., photos, video, articles). According to Zhao, Grasmuck, and Martin (2008), the main reason people post photographs, profile information, and wall content on social media is to achieve “self-presentational goals” (Zhao, Grasmuck, ; Martin, 2008). Social media allow users to create alternate selves and express their “hidden self-aspects” (McKenna, Green, ; Gleason, 2002). Users can also create their ideal selves and share them (Manago, Graham, Greenfield, ; Salimkhan, 2008). Thus, not only are foodies creating conversation among like-minded groups, people who have interests in food may also share food photos in order to create their ideal selves as foodies on social media.
There are many cross-disciplinary studies about social media and food choice, yet only a few have touched on food-related posts on social media and their relationship to self-identification and other motivations specifically. Since consumers usually tend to perceive friends and the influencers they follow as more credible than distant and motivated sources (Neilsen, 2013), plenty research was conducted to explore consumers’ perceived credibility of influencers, their willingness to set a purchase intention might increase (Waldt, Loggerenberg & Wehmeyer, 2009; Fan & Miao, 2012). Additionally, Lecinski (2011) reported that 70% of purchase decisions occur during online search, specifically when products are recommended.
Put simply, social media in today’s context outplays traditional marketing when it comes to driving the buying behaviour of ‘foodie’ customers (Brown, 2016). According to Hsu, Liu and Lee (2010) social media has altered the dining experience, built a clientele base of food enthusiasts and created a new breed of restaurant customers: the impulsive social media obsessed, food blogger. Akar and Topcu (2011) concur that the food blogger is now armed with the authority to raise a restaurant’s reputation or expose a restaurant’s faults with a few keystrokes and amplified social media messages. Therefore, food bloggers are taking over the restaurant review scene, with social media as their prime tool of communication (Bronner ; Hoog, 2013). It has been further elaborated by Duggan and Smith (2013) that the social media have become an important source of information for restaurant customers in the contemporary era. According to Papasolomou and Melanthiou (2012), restaurant services cannot be evaluated before the experiencing of consumption; therefore, purchasing intangible restaurant services brings with it a relatively high risk, so that customers are dependent to a marked degree, on the interpersonal influence of social media. The idea of perception captures the notion of the importance of the appearance of the plate, and the food upon it (Al-Deen ; Hendricks, 2011).
Williams (2015) asserts that, because a consumer might not be able to understand a restaurant fully before experiencing what it has on offer, the consumer might seek advance information, by way of social media from an experienced source. However, in spite of the growing international interest on the influence of social media on customer experiences in restaurants, limited research has been commissioned on this topic. This study therefore seeks to examine the relationship of social media influencers and their followers (food related), and the factors that impact purchasing behavior.