Pseudo- Vs. Genuine-intimacy: Disentangling the Intimacy of Brand-customer Relationships in Social Media – a Hospitality Industry Perspective
Kim, Shin Ae
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Customer-intimacy has been recognised as vital to leveraging meaningful customer relationships for brands in the current and coming age of social-first generations (i.e. social and digital natives). This group are the next generation of consumers who will have never known or lived in a world without the social Web. Thus, the Web is precisely where they look to find, connect and communicate with and purchase from brands. Despite its acknowledged importance within the social media context, the phenomenon of customer-intimacy has received remarkably little attention, and efforts to develop a valid and comprehensive measure have been limited. To date, there have not been any studies that have attempted to disentangle the complexities of customer-intimacy and its impact on social media. While prior work on customer-intimacy has proposed conceptual models highlighting different facets that contribute to brand-customer-intimacy’s development, most of these concepts have not been subject to empirical testing. More importantly, the applicability of these models to a hospitality context is not clear. Hence this thesis sets out to fill these gaps in the literature. This research is motivated by the dearth of research studies accounting for the consumer perspective on brand-customer-intimacy inherent to social media platforms, along with the lack of a valid and comprehensive scale to measure brand-customer-intimacy. This thesis aims to first review and then refine the concept of brand-customer-intimacy as a binary consisting of pseudo-intimacy and genuine-intimacy, from the perspective of the social media consumer. It will then present empirical research based on the theoretical foundation of customer relationship marketing in conjunction with theories from the social media literature. To fulfil the research aims, Churchill’s (1979) paradigm was followed in conjunction with other scale development studies. The research employed both qualitative and quantitative methods, drawing on primary data from managers and social media customers of existing hotel and restaurant organisations. Qualitative research was undertaken to inform the conceptualisation of pseudo-intimacy and genuine-intimacy from both expert and customer perspectives and to generate and purify the initial scale items. Quantitative methods were then adopted to validate and establish the final scale. Guided by this research design, the researcher developed a brand-customer-intimacy scale consisting of three dimensions: a single dimension for both genuine-intimacy (labelled Genuine) and pseudo-intimacy (labelled Superficial), and a third dimension labelled Uninterested. Statistical analysis confirms the scale’s reliability and validity. Furthermore, the scale’s application is demonstrated by assessing and empirically assessing its association with the scales of brand satisfaction, brand loyalty and brand loyalty on social media platforms. The results support the proposition that the consumer perspective is important in understanding the complex nature of brand-customer-intimacy within the social media context. The key contribution of this study is the development of a valid and reliable scale for measuring brand-customer-intimacy as formed within social media. The study extends the social media literature on brand-customer-intimacy which has not received much research attention to date, particularly in the hospitality context. The thesis proposes and empirically establishes new dimensions to brand-customer-intimacy as pseudo- and genuine-intimacy. The results of this study show that while genuine-intimacy predicts a positive relationship to brand satisfaction and brand loyalty behaviours in social media, each of the two pseudo-intimacy variables predicts both a negative and positive relationship to brand satisfaction and loyalty.