Social media is becoming a mature and widely used advertising platform, including customer relationship management, brand management and sales promotion (eMarketer, 2013). However, how much people trust this advertising channel is a question worth discussing for marketing practitioners. From a general perspective, social media is one of the least trusted channels compared to outdoor display and other traditional offline advertising channels according to the Media Reaction study conducted by a global marketing company Kantar. The study was conducted on a worldwide scale, revealing the difference in advertising channel trust among countries.
What’s worth particular attention is that people tend to trust online advertisements in China more than people in other countries. Besides, due to the unique online environment, Chinese users prefer local social applications rather than the applications that have gained worldwide recognition elsewhere, such as Facebook, Instagram and so on. The difference inspired this research in that Chinese social applications are in a unique position that makes it worth exploring their features to better understand this highly potential market containing 1.3 billion people.
For most Chinese social applications, the typical users are Chinese. Except TikTok, which integrates into the local market and has gained over 1 billion monthly active users across the world (Statista, 2021a), all other platforms’ overseas expansion haven't had much progress. The focus of other Chinese social applications is still Chinese users.
One of the most frequently used social media platform for overseas Chinese is Xiaohongshu (also known as Little Red Book or RED). Even though it doesn’t have substantial local users, it gained prevalence in the Chinese community in the UK. It is a lifestyle sharing platform, where users can post travel experiences, their outfit of the day, and all sorts of recommendations on the platform. Originally designed as a sharing platform for overseas shopping guides, Xiaohongshu extended the content of the platform to broader lifestyle recommendations. Now it has more than 300 million registered users and 148 monthly active users as at the end of 2021 (Statista, 2021b).
Another phenomenon worth noting is that e-commerce has been boosting since the pandemic of Covid-19. Except the well-known e-commerce websites, like Amazon and eBay, more and more social media websites started to explore the field of e-commerce and are seeking to combine the attributes of social media and shopping channels, integrating into “social commerce”. Huang and Benyoucef (2015) explained that social commerce is “online buying and selling of products and services” on social media platforms, where users’ interactions on social media are leveraged.
The most popular social media applications are all entering this field, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest. In China, some social media applications are gaining popularity among Chinese users, including Xiaohongshu and TikTok (Chinese version). Huang and Benyoucef identified that there are two kinds of social commerce—one is from traditional e-commerce platform to social commerce platform, such as Taobao, the other is from social media platform to social commerce platform, such as Xiaohongshu, which is a typical example of the second transformation.
Taking the example of Xiaohongshu, the social media platform integrates e-commerce and social media, with trust as the core transaction mode in a social media context. It is based on an interpersonal relationship network, through social interaction, User Generated Content (UGC) and website algorithms to assist in the buying and selling of goods. Social elements such as attention, sharing, discussion and interaction are applied to the process of e-commerce transactions, so that users can trust the commodity recommendations under social relations, and recognise the commodity endorsed by creditable and high-quality recommendations.
From observation, Xiaohongshu has become a typical tool–as an online social network–to make friends with individuals sharing similar lifestyles and gather information. Xiaohongshu has strong community and tool attributes. Users often open the application with specific purposes, either to enrich knowledge or to view advices. The prevalence of the platform shows its strong user stickiness and sense of belonging and trust it creates. To some extent, the more trusted the platform is, the more users will rely on it to take actions. Therefore, Xiaohongshu is a reasonable research object to analysis credibility.
This research raises three questions:
- Will the disclosure of number of likes affect users' perceived credibility on Xiaohongshu?
- Does experience and familiarity with Xiaohongshu affect users’ perceived credibility of that platform and posts?
- Does users' perceived credibility play a mediating role in the research model affecting users’ intention to try restaurants?
One major finding of this research is that disclosure of number of likes doesn’t have a significant impact on perceived credibility or intention to try restaurants, especially no impact on intention. The mean values of intention in two groups are identical and standard deviations are very close. The result is different from what is previously assumed.
Gan found in her research that liking behaviour on WeChat is closely related to information seeking, and that users tend to like the posts that contain high-value information. Besides, the number of likes may stimulate users’ behaviours through the psychology of imitation and conformity.
The previous researchers’ findings support hypotheses that are rejected in this research. The reason may be that the number of likes may only be stimulative when it has reached a certain number. In other words, users might perceive the posts that receive many likes to be more credible, while the posts that don’t receive as many likes don’t make a difference to the users. For example, a post with thousands of likes might be persuasive, while a post with only twenty likes and a post without number of likes are the same to users.
The latter situation is what is found in this research. The hypotheses are only rejected when the shown number of likes doesn’t achieve a high number, not when posts receive a high volume of likes. Therefore, the conclusion of this result is that without a substantial number, the number of likes shown under the posts on Xiaohongshu doesn’t impact users’ perceived credibility and their intention of trying products. The research result doesn’t controvert the previous researches mentioned above.
In the descriptive analysis, most of the means of rating for items measuring trustworthiness and expertise is around 4.5 to 5, which is slightly above medium level of credibility. The means of rating for attractiveness are all above 5, that is they slightly approve the attractiveness of Xiaohongshu. Overall, the participants tend to perceive Xiaohongshu and its posts as credible.
Another finding of this research is that gender and age also have a significant impact on users’ perceived credibility of the platform and posts on Xiaohongshu. From the statistics, female users perceive the posts to be more attractive, while other variables remain the same. Users from 24 to 29 years old also perceive the posts as more attractive and are more familiar with Xiaohongshu.
The difference in gender could be explained by the fact that female users are more sensitive to the way information is presented while male users tend to focus on the content of information more. Another implication of this difference is that the majority of Xiaohongshu users are female, meaning most posts are written and presented by females. These female-led posts attract female users more. It can be inferred that female users are more likely to perceive posts as credible in terms of attractiveness, leading them to make irrational purchase.
It has been confirmed that media is an irrational factor that positively influences customers’ purchase intentions. It means that female users from 24 to 29 years old may be more likely to make irrational purchases on Xiaohongshu. This result reminds customers and companies that increasing attractiveness of posts may result in this groups of people consuming more. The companies may take advantage of this result and target this group of users for social media marketing, given that attractiveness is alterable by marketers without reducing perceived credibility.
Moreover, statistics in this research confirm that experience in online recommendations and familiarity both positively impact perceived credibility and purchase intentions. That means more experienced users tend to perceive the platform and posts more crediblly and tend to desire to purchase, as intention means having the desire and belief to take action. The result conforms with findings in the previous literature that experience with online media is positively correlated with perceived credibility of information obtained from online media.
Unlike previous research, this research includes familiarity with the specific social media—Xiaohongshu. In this research, familiarity with the specific social media is more correlated with credibility and intention than general experience with online media. It can be inferred that the impact of general experience with online media may be transferred and applied to other social media, while the familiarity with the specific social media is a more important and direct indicator when analysing users.
Looking at the model proposed by the linear regression analysis result, experience and familiarity impact the credibility in different dimensions. They both positively impact dimension expertise, while experience doesn’t significantly impact attractiveness and familiarity doesn’t significantly impact trustworthiness. Besides, three dimensions of credibility all positively correlate with intention of purchase. The most related one is attractiveness, and the least related one is trustworthiness. A regression model is generated from the analysis: Intention=4.732 + 0.390*Trustworthiness + 0.442*Expertise + 0.489*Attractiveness. Attractiveness impacts purchase intention most. It also implies the importance of attractiveness as a marketing campaign goal.
On the other hand, trustworthiness is not as effective as previously assumed. Therefore, examining users’ trust in the platform and posts may only explain a small part of purchase intention, given that trustworthiness has the lowest coefficient among credibility dimensions.
The last result generated by the analysis is the partial mediating role of expertise in the relationship between experience and intention of purchase. This could explain part of the impacting process of users’ experience on intention of purchase. One of the factors that mediates the process is confirmed to be perceived expertise, and there may be still other factors such as mediating role or experience that could impact the intention directly. Other dimensions of credibility cannot be confirmed by statistics to have mediating effect. The result can serve as reference for the psychology research on the formation of purchase intention. Familiarity with Xiaohongshu also cannot be confirmed to impact intention through a mediating effect. This could be explained by the fact that irrelevant variables and controlled variables in the situation are not included in this model, thus resulting in insignificance of mediation. It can be inferred that the real situation is more complex than the model.
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17 November 2022