Transforming followers into fans: a study of Chinese users of the WeChat Official Account

Publication Date13 November 2017
Date13 November 2017
AuthorLingyun Guo,Mingli Zhang,Kai Kang,Mu Hu
SubjectLibrary & information science,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Bibliometrics,Databases,Information & knowledge management,Information & communications technology,Internet,Records management & preservation,Document management
Transforming followers into fans:
a study of Chinese users of the
WeChat Official Account
Lingyun Guo
School of Economics and Management, Beihang University, Beijing, China and
School of Economics and Management, Hebei University of Technology, Tianjin, China
Mingli Zhang
School of Economics and Management, Beihang University, Beijing, China
Kai Kang
School of Economics and Management, Hebei University of Technology,
Tianjin, China, and
Mu Hu
School of Economics and Management, Beihang University, Beijing, China
Purpose Drawing uponthe social cognitive and customerengagement theories, the purposeof this paper is
to investigate how individualssimple follow, purely aimingfor information but with little contribution, could
affectfans behavior and make themengage in company social network(CSN). The study identifiesthe impact of
personal motivators (follower participation motivation), environmental antecedents (perception of information
quality) and individual behavior (fan engagement behavior and stickiness) on CSNs and examines the
interaction relationship between thefollower participation motivationand perception of information quality.
Design/methodology/approach Data collected from 392 valid questionnaires from WeChat Official
Account users were analyzed by structural equation modeling.
Findings Personal factor such as follower participation motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic motivator)
was found to be significant predictor of fan engagement behavior. Environmental factor (perception of
information quality: perceived usefulness as well as perceived entertainment) was a significant factor in
determining followersproclivity to engage in CNSs. One significant interaction effect was found: the effect
of perceived entertainment on fan engagement behavior was manifested to a greater extent when followers
participation aimed for intrinsic motivator. The second interaction effect, between the extrinsic motivator and
perceived usefulness, was also found to be statistically significant.
Originality/value This study enriches and extends the studies on the theories of customer engagement
and social cognitive theory. It applies the above theories to CSNs and advances CSNs research by taking into
consideration both personal and environmental factors (follower participation motivation and perception of
information quality), and the interaction effects of the two on individual behavior.
Keywords Social cognitive theory, Stickiness, Company social networks (CSNs), Engagement behaviour,
Participation motivation, Perception of information quality
Paper type Research paper
Company social networks (CSNs) have gained interests among customer s today.
The development which is a combination of social network sites (SNSs) (e.g. Facebook,
WeChat, Sina Weibo) and their brand pages or websites have enabled customers to obtain
product-related information, news, and entertainment contents, as well as to interact and
communication with others about customer experience (King et al., 2014). A recent research
report, for instance, showed that 75.3 percent of China online users appreciate the novel way
of WeChat Official Accounts (certain brand page established by an enterprise on the Online Information Review
Vol. 41 No. 7, 2017
pp. 1029-1045
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/OIR-01-2016-0013
Received 14 January 2016
Revised 14 April 2016
Accepted 19 July 2016
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
This research is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC 71272018).
Chinese users
of the WeChat
WeChat platform) to collect product-related content, news, and entertainment (CNNIC, 2015).
CSNs have received much attention from practitioners and researchers.
One element that may promote such adequate and updated information of CSNs is
customersactive engagement in and passion about information contribution and sharing
on CSNs (Kim et al., 2015). For example, McDonalds Official Account has over 640,000 users
and provides various information, such as news, entertainments, activities, and
user-generated information about brands, products, or services for users to consume on
its WeChat Official Account pages ( ). One customer may share his
photos, videos, and comments of a new hamburger or discount information of an apple pie,
French fries or sundae in the form of posts, which can be obtained by others on pages. Then,
individuals who care about McDonalds food itself may be willing to browse such
information as discount deals, gifts rewards, and evaluation of new products. Another
example is that, on February 14, 2016, McDonalds launched an activity and stated that if a
pair of lovers sent a kissing photo to WeChat Official Account page, they can freely get a
customized coffee. Such entertainment content or photos maybe catch attentions of those
who utilize fragmented time for hedonistic pleasures, which is unrelated to business and
commerce. Personals may interact with each other about that hedonic issue or functional
message by liking, sharing, and commenting, which further produce a new round of
user-generated content about product or daily topic on pages (Luarn et al., 2015). That is to
say, CSNs have drawn enough attention by practitioners mostly due to viral dissemination
of information, generated by fansactive engagement in information contribution and
sharing on CSN. However, questions remain about what attracts followers who only follow a
CSN but do not engage substantially with the CSN. Most CSN managers agree that followers
on their websites exceed fans in number. As a consequence, how to transform more
followers into fans dedicates the durability of CSNs.
Given the significance of customer engagement, it is necessary to know what the
rationale is behind massive customer engage in CSNs. Extant literatures show that there is
increasing attention paid to customer engagement (Hollebeek et al., 2014; Jaakkola and
Alexander, 2014; Jahn and Kunz, 2012; Van Doorn et al., 2010). However, most of studies
intend to explain engagement from the perspective of either personal factors (e.g. intrinsic
and extrinsic motivations, brand involvement) or environmental elements (e.g. relationship
quality, social influence), respectively (Hollebeek et al., 2014; Jahn and Kunz, 2012;
Poor Rezaei and Heinze, 2014). Studies approach which combines individual and
environment factors at the same time is still needed. In addition, the majority of studies are
based on online brand communities with a primary emphasis on interaction of brands,
products, or services (Hollebeek et al., 2014; Wirtz et al., 2013). However, types of information
on CSNs (esp. photos, videos, messages of products, or daily issues) such as liking, sharing,
and commenting are quite different from online brand communities. Whether previous
conclusion can be directly applied in the present case still needs further study.
There are still no clear answers to the present situation in accordance with existing
literatures.According to the social cognitivetheory, human behaviors are comprehensive and
integrativeinfluenced by individualfactor and environmentalelements (Bandura, 1986).In the
meantime, we are also informed from the case of McDonalds WeChat Official Account that
customersmotivation of different initial follow determines consumer demand for different
content displayed on CSNs, whichmay facilitate various levelsof engagement. That is to say,
it is the satisfaction of distinct individual follow motivations, and the strong perception of
information quality that consequently lead to involved fan engagement. However, seldom
empiricalresearch has verified this rationale.To fill this gap, we develop a researchmodel that
regards fanengagement behavior and stickinessas individual behavior, followerparticipation
motivation(intrinsic and extrinsic motivator) as personal factor,and perception of information
quality (perceived usefulness as well as perceived entertainment) as environmental element,

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