Emergence of a new actor category in electronic word of mouth communication
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Digital platforms such as blogs and social networking sites provide new means for individuals to gather and spread information about products and services through electronic Word of Mouth (eWOM). Within those platforms, individuals have the potential to emerge to become influential actors with the power to affect the behaviours and attitudes of others. Despite the growing interest in online influence, there is still a limited understanding of how key individuals share and engage in eWOM. This study looks at tech-bloggers as an emerging actor category that create and develop consumption oriented online content such as product reviews using blogs and associated technologies. This thesis presents an in depth qualitative investigation to understand how this emerging actor category have been able to establish an influential status. Existing literature often labelled bloggers as “opinion leaders” obscuring what is new and different about them. Building a practice based discussion of these emerging actors aims to capture activities and processes in a wider, natural setting. Paired with the exploratory nature of research, this thesis draws on a conceptually grounded, qualitative research approach utilising interviews with key tech-bloggers, marketers and blog analysis. Findings show that these emerging actors engage in three distinct but interrelated practices centred on audience construction, content development and network formation. Audience construction requires emerging actors to develop quality content utilising existing networks composed of other actors within the same category and the audience. As a consequence, emerging actors are socially embedded in a multiplicity of interactions online and offline to develop their blog and their content. This study contributes to existing concepts in eWOM by showing how emerging actors develop a particular expertise, distinct from consumers, in attracting an audience. Furthermore, these emerging actors transform from being knowledge replicators to become knowledge producers developing communication content in line with a wider audience. As tech-bloggers become more established as emerging actors, tech companies are adapting their marketing to account for these practices. The result is a co-creation of product news and advice on new products between emerging actors, marketers and the audience. Thus, this work gives a more nuanced account of eWOM and the role of emerging actors shaping communication in this sector.