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Blogs and Their Impacts on Brands

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0025017/00001

Material Information

Title: Blogs and Their Impacts on Brands
Physical Description: 1 online resource (84 p.)
Language: english
Creator: Bang, Ji-Young
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2009

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: blog, brands, credibility, media, online
Journalism and Communications -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: Mass Communication thesis, M.A.M.C.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: The influence of blogs appears to be growing dramatically. According to media reports, there has been a significant increase in the number of blog users. In terms of political and social issues, blogs often play very important roles in highlighting critical issues within the public sphere. Moreover, authoritative bloggers write about brands and products without any censorship and in a very dialogic and conversational way. At the end of the observation, the element that amplifies most effectively the impact made by blogs may be their credibility. This is because blog credibility not only has the ability to enhance and reinforce brand awareness, image, and attitude toward brand but it also facilitates a dialogic and two-way symmetrical relationship between blog users and brands. Thus, the present study aims to elaborate on the important aspects of a blog that influence its credibility and how those ultimately factor into influencing readers? attitudes and behavioral intentions toward brands. Specifically, perceived interactivity, blogger credibility, perceived information quality, an audience?s level of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, and blog usage were examined to determine whether they affect blog credibility. Further, this study investigated the relationships between blog credibility and brand attitude/behavioral intention toward a brand. An experimental study was constructed using 6 sets of 3 variables in 2 dimensions among 299 college students. The results of the present study show that 1) different levels of blogger credibility and information quality result in a significant difference in perception of blog credibility, 2) the audience?s level of involvement with blogs is positively related to blog credibility, and 3) blog credibility is positively related to the audience?s attitude and behavioral intention toward the brand addressed in the blog. The findings of the present study suggest that the impact of blogs as a brand information platform can be maximized when their content and relational aspects are established strongly, such as blogger credibility and the degree of involvement with the medium, as opposed to structural factors such as interactivity. Brand managers and public relations practitioners can benefit from the results of the present study by utilizing blogs as an effective brand information source or as a means of gauging marketing strategies.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Statement of Responsibility: by Ji-Young Bang.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.M.C.)--University of Florida, 2009.
Local: Adviser: Chan-Olmsted, Sylvia M.
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO UF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE UNTIL 2011-08-31

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2009
System ID: UFE0025017:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0025017/00001

Material Information

Title: Blogs and Their Impacts on Brands
Physical Description: 1 online resource (84 p.)
Language: english
Creator: Bang, Ji-Young
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2009

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: blog, brands, credibility, media, online
Journalism and Communications -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: Mass Communication thesis, M.A.M.C.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: The influence of blogs appears to be growing dramatically. According to media reports, there has been a significant increase in the number of blog users. In terms of political and social issues, blogs often play very important roles in highlighting critical issues within the public sphere. Moreover, authoritative bloggers write about brands and products without any censorship and in a very dialogic and conversational way. At the end of the observation, the element that amplifies most effectively the impact made by blogs may be their credibility. This is because blog credibility not only has the ability to enhance and reinforce brand awareness, image, and attitude toward brand but it also facilitates a dialogic and two-way symmetrical relationship between blog users and brands. Thus, the present study aims to elaborate on the important aspects of a blog that influence its credibility and how those ultimately factor into influencing readers? attitudes and behavioral intentions toward brands. Specifically, perceived interactivity, blogger credibility, perceived information quality, an audience?s level of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, and blog usage were examined to determine whether they affect blog credibility. Further, this study investigated the relationships between blog credibility and brand attitude/behavioral intention toward a brand. An experimental study was constructed using 6 sets of 3 variables in 2 dimensions among 299 college students. The results of the present study show that 1) different levels of blogger credibility and information quality result in a significant difference in perception of blog credibility, 2) the audience?s level of involvement with blogs is positively related to blog credibility, and 3) blog credibility is positively related to the audience?s attitude and behavioral intention toward the brand addressed in the blog. The findings of the present study suggest that the impact of blogs as a brand information platform can be maximized when their content and relational aspects are established strongly, such as blogger credibility and the degree of involvement with the medium, as opposed to structural factors such as interactivity. Brand managers and public relations practitioners can benefit from the results of the present study by utilizing blogs as an effective brand information source or as a means of gauging marketing strategies.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Statement of Responsibility: by Ji-Young Bang.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.M.C.)--University of Florida, 2009.
Local: Adviser: Chan-Olmsted, Sylvia M.
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO UF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE UNTIL 2011-08-31

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2009
System ID: UFE0025017:00001


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1 BLOGS AND THEIR IMPACTS ON BRANDS By JI YOUNG BANG A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTE R OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2009

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2 2009 Ji Young Bang

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3 To my b eloved f amily and d ear f riends

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4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS First of all, I would like to thank my chair, Dr. Sylvia Chan -Olmsted. Her curiosity and enthusiasm, and all of her efforts and accomplishment s as a great scholar and adviser provided the driving force behind my thoughts and achievement in this endeavor I will always keep in mind every positive impact you have made on my work. I also want to thank my committee members, Dr. George Villegas and Dr. Youjin Choi, for their profound knowledge and valuable guidance Indeed, I deeply appreciate all of the gener ous support my committee members have given me so willingly I also want to thank Dr. Yung Wook Kim and Dr. Hee Won Cha for the e ncouragement and guidance they have offered They were my role models and helped me broaden my horizons when I was in the undergraduate course. I would like to thank my amazing friends in Gainesville for their endless affection and trust. Without their he lp, I would never have acquired the confidence and peace of mind necessary to achieve this goal Needless to say, I would like to express special thanks to my dear friends in Seoul Lim, Panda, Hulk, and Kyungjin who have always been there to shar e all of my grumbles and laughter. Finally, I must say that it is my parents, Yoengeun Bang and Jinsoo Nahm, who always make my dreams come true. Without their sacrific e, love and support, I w ould not be where I am now. I would also like to thank my little bro ther, Jaehoon, for his support and affection. Most of all, I want to express my deepest gratitude to my grandparents, Yongsul Nahm and Yangbok Lee. They are the reason that I am in the right place and the right direction.

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5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS .................................................................................................................... 4 LIST OF TABLES ................................................................................................................................ 7 LIST OF FIGURES .............................................................................................................................. 9 ABSTRACT ........................................................................................................................................ 10 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ....................................................................................................................... 12 2 LITERATURE REVIEW ........................................................................................................... 17 Definition of a Web Log (Blog) ................................................................................................. 17 Blogs C haracteristics and T heir I mpact on Brands ................................................................. 17 Theoretical Backgrounds ............................................................................................................ 19 Media Effects Theory .......................................................................................................... 19 Source Credibility Theory ................................................................................................... 21 ProminenceInt erpretation Theory ...................................................................................... 2 2 Blog Credibility ........................................................................................................................... 23 Factors Influencing Blog Credibility ......................................................................................... 25 Perceived Interactivity ......................................................................................................... 25 Blogger Credibility .............................................................................................................. 27 Audiences Level of Involvement with Blogs ................................................................... 29 Reliance on Blogs ................................................................................................................ 30 Usage of Blogs ..................................................................................................................... 31 Perceived Quality of Information ....................................................................................... 32 Blogs Impact on Branding ......................................................................................................... 33 Analytical Framework ................................................................................................................ 35 3 METHODOLOGY ...................................................................................................................... 37 Selection of Subjects ................................................................................................................... 37 Study Procedure .......................................................................................................................... 38 Stimuli Developme nt .................................................................................................................. 38 Selection of a Brand and Product Category ....................................................................... 38 Blog Stimuli ......................................................................................................................... 39 Pretests ......................................................................................................................................... 41 Blog Manipulation Check ................................................................................................... 41 Brand Perception .................................................................................................................. 42 Re liability Check ................................................................................................................. 42 Variables and Measures .............................................................................................................. 43 Independent Variables ......................................................................................................... 43 Mediating Variable .............................................................................................................. 45

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6 Dependent Variables ............................................................................................................ 45 Controlling Variable ............................................................................................................ 47 Data Analysis ............................................................................................................................... 48 4 RESULTS .................................................................................................................................... 50 Overview of the Statistical Analysis .......................................................................................... 50 Descriptive Statistics ................................................................................................................... 50 Profile of the Sample ........................................................................................................... 50 Normality of Items ............................................................................................................... 51 Reliability ............................................................................................................................. 51 Hypotheses Testing ..................................................................................................................... 53 Test of Hypothesis 1 ............................................................................................................ 53 Test of Hypothesis 2 ............................................................................................................ 54 Test of Hypothesis 3 ............................................................................................................ 55 Test of Hypotheses 4, 5, and 6 ............................................................................................ 56 Test of Hypothesis 7 ............................................................................................................ 58 Test of Hypothesis 8 ............................................................................................................ 59 The Results of Hypotheses ......................................................................................................... 60 5 DISCUSSION .............................................................................................................................. 62 Review of the Present Study ....................................................................................................... 62 Overview of the Results of Hypotheses ..................................................................................... 63 Conclusion ................................................................................................................................... 68 Implications ................................................................................................................................. 70 Theoretical Implicat ions ...................................................................................................... 70 Practical Implications .......................................................................................................... 71 Limitations ................................................................................................................................... 73 Suggestions for Future Research ................................................................................................ 75 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................................................................................................... 77 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................................................................................. 84

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7 LIST OF TABLES Table page 2 1 Analytical framework: different levels of interactivity, blogger credibility, and information quality influencing blog credibility. ................................................................. 35 3 1 Blog samples .......................................................................................................................... 40 3 2 The results of independent -samples T test for blog manipulation check ........................... 41 3 3 Group diff erence in perception toward Samsung and Samsungs laptop computers ........ 42 3 4 Cronbachs alpha for four credibility factors ....................................................................... 43 3 5 O perationalization of variables ............................................................................................. 45 3 6 Adjusted items measuring independent and mediating variables ....................................... 46 3 7 Items measuring dependent variables ................................................................................... 48 4 1 Demographic profile of the subjects ..................................................................................... 50 4 2 Descriptive profile of each variable ...................................................................................... 51 4 3 Descriptive statistics for blog credibility of the groups with different levels of interactivity ............................................................................................................................. 54 4 4 ANOVA results for blog credibility of the gr oups with different levels of interactivity ............................................................................................................................. 54 4 5 Descriptive statistics for blog credibility of the groups with different levels of bloggers credibility ............................................................................................................... 55 4 6 ANOVA results for blog credibility of the groups with different levels of bloggers credibility ................................................................................................................................ 55 4 7 Descriptive statistics for blog credibility of the groups with different levels of information quality ................................................................................................................. 56 4 8 ANOVA results for blog credibility of the groups with different levels of information quality ..................................................................................................................................... 56 4 9 Correlations among the level of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, blog usage, and blog credibility ..................................................................................................... 57 4 10 Backward elimination multiple regression analys is of blog credibility with the level of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, and blog usage ............................................ 57

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8 4 11 Correlations between blog credibility, the tone of blog content, and brand attitude ......... 59 4 12 Multiple regression analysis of brand attitude with blog credibility and the tone of blog content ............................................................................................................................ 59 4 13 Correlations be tween blog credibility, the tone of blog content, and behavioral intention toward a brand ........................................................................................................ 60 4 14 Multiple regression analysis of behavioral intention toward a brand with blog credibility and the tone of blog content ................................................................................ 60 4 15 Results of hypotheses ............................................................................................................. 60

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9 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 2 1 Analytical framework: the factors influencing blog credibility and its impact on brand attitude and behavioral intention. ............................................................................... 36

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10 Ab s tract of T hesis P re sented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of M aster of A rts in M ass C ommunication BLOGS AND THEIR IMPACTS ON BRANDS By Ji Young Bang August 2009 Chair: Sylvia Chan -Olmsted Major: Mass Communication The influence of b logs appea rs to be growing dra ma tically A ccording to media reports, there has been a significant increase in the number of blog users I n terms of political and social issues, blogs often play very important role s in highlighting critical issues within the public s phere. Moreover, authoritative bloggers write about brands and products without any censorship and in a very dialogic and conversational way. At the end of the observation, the element that amplifies most effectively the impact made by blogs may be their credibilit y. This is because blog credibility not only has the ability to enhance and reinforce brand awareness, image, and attitude toward brand but it also facilitate s a dialogic and t w o -way symmetrical relationship between blog users and brands. Thus, the present study aims to elaborate on the important aspects of a blog that influence its credibility and how those ultimately factor into influencing readers attitudes and behavioral intention s toward brands. Specifically, pe rceived interactivity, blogge r credibility, perceived information quality, an audiences level of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, and blog usage were examined to determine whether they affect blog credibility. Further, this study investigated the relationships between blog credibility and brand attitude/behavioral intention toward a brand.

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11 An experimental study was constructed using 6 sets of 3 variables in 2 dimensions among 299 college students. The results of the present study show that 1) different levels of blogger credibility and information quality result in a significant difference in perception of blog credibility, 2) the audiences level of involvement with blogs is positively re lated to blog credibility, and 3) blog credibility is positively related to the audienc es attitude and behavioral intention toward the brand addressed in the blog. The findings of the present study suggest that the impact of blogs as a brand information platform can be maximized when their content and relat ional aspects are established str ongly such as blogger credibility and the degree of involvement with the medium, as opposed to structural factors such as interactivity. Brand managers and public relations practitioners can benefit from the results of the present study by utilizing blogs as an effective brand information source or as a mean s of gauging marketing strategies.

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12 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION In 2004, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 32 million Americans were blog readers. Four years later, according to comScore MediaMetrixs research, the number shot up to 77.7 million This drastic change in such a short period indicates the importance of blogs as a significant communication platform and blogs growing impact on audiences. Most Internet studies thus far have a greed on the increased significance of blogs and blogging in our daily lives (Technorati, 2008; PIP 2006). Blogging has received a great deal of attention recently because of its growing political and social impact. There have been influential personal bl ogs written after the Seattle earthquake in 2001 and 9/11. During the Iraq War, blogger Salam Pax provided some of the best eyewitness reporting available. In the case of South Korea, general bloggers using digital cameras and camera phones vividly captur ed the situations surrounding the candle rallies held to protest the import of US beef since May 2008. Among the uses of blogs, one of the emerging ones is the growing power of bloggers who write detailed information and persuasive opinions about brands and products. In Korea, for example, well known bloggers who deal with IT issues and are accredited by many readers often become important sources for product evaluation. Further, a small number of professional and influential blogs can carry out inter -b log agenda setting between those blogs (Hass, 2005). Thus, the growing power of the so-called credible blogs is becoming an important source of market information that business practitioners must monitor and manage. Because of the wealth of information available on the Web created by anyone, it is not easy to distinguish which brand information is worthwhile and which is not. This is why readers rely on credible blogs (or credible bloggers). Fogg (2003) claims that the success of most

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13 Web site s today depends on whether users perceive the site to be credible (p. 722). In other words, it is consumers perceived credibility toward the Web site (or blog) that assists in making the online brand information valid for readers. With this in mind, i t is essential to understand what factors contribute to the differences and significance of blog credibility as perceived by readers in the form of precursors to information reception. To answer this question, scholars in marketing and communication have researched the characteristics of the Web, blogs, bloggers, and the blogosphere. Notably, the factors related to the four major elements of source credibility (sender, receiver, message, and medium) seem to explain the preponderance of blog credibility. As predicted earlier, blogs have become an important source of information that might shape a brands images. The potential power of blogs might either help marketers develop and build brand images, or they can be an obstacle to branding efforts when t hey rail against certain brands. A brand is defined as a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competition (Am erican Marketing Association) or in a broader scope, something that has actually created a certain amount of awareness, reputation, prominence, and so on in the market place. What can be inferred from these definitions is that the brand elements as well as their outcomes can be dealt with in influential blogs, and consequently, affect the relationship between brands and their consumers. In terms of brand management, companies often face many changes in their business environments. Especially evident am ong these challenges are the issues related to the emergence of savvy customers, fragmentation of media coverage, erosion of traditional media effectiveness, and emergence of new communication options. These indicate that in marketing

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14 communication, the a doption of new communication tools would present significant challenges for current businesses in their attempts to maintain communication with their consumers. Because competition between brands has become more intense than ever, understanding how to utilize and respond to all possible communication tools has likewise become more important than ever. In a firms branding process, consumers first should be exposed as much as possible to the brand elements that provide them with brand clues to increase br and familiarity. The new interactive media, such as blogs, can serve as an important communication tool because it delivers indirectly brand or product experiences. The medium mediates the information through very intimate voices, since the perceived dis tance between bloggers and readers is comparatively shorter than any traditional media type. Brand experiences through a narrowly targeted, interactive, and dialogic medium a blog thus offer a great deal of potential to help consumers reinforce brand perc eption by increasing brand awareness or familiarity. Once an idea exists in the online world, it exists in the real one, in effect (Armstrong, 2006, p. 27). To a large extent, blogs have already played a role in mediating their audiences perception ab out brands. State of the Blogosphere 2008, a report from Technorati, points out that with or without corporations intentions, bloggers have been talking about brands and sharing their experience and affection with others. Four in five bloggers post bra nd or product reviews, with 37% posting them frequently, and one third of bloggers have been approached to be brand advocates (Technorati, 2008). Regarding this phenomenon, Business Week also sent a warning sign to businesses that ignore the influence of blogs because blogs are the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself (Baker & Green, 2008)

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15 Researchers have begun exploring blogs potential impact on peoples perception based on the perceived credibility toward the medium (Jones et al., 2003; Johnson & Kaye, 2004; Rubin & Liddy, 2006; Van House, 2004; Rieh & Danielson, 2007; Fogg, 2003). They claim that the message source of a blog (bloggers), blog content, and the receivers situational distinctions can make a dif ference in building credibility between a blog (bloggers) and its readers; consequently, attitudinal or behavioral changes among the readers may be affected by the blog. From the perspective of the relationship management strategy, research (Kelleher & Mi ller, 2006) shows that conversational voice such as that in a blog, positively correlates with organization public relationship variables, including trust, satisfaction, control mutuality, and commitment. Research has also shown the effect of the credib ility of a medium in many aspects; for example, it reduces transaction costs, lowers the risk of transacting, increases future interaction intention, and brings more favorable pricing terms (Stewart, Pavlou & Ward, 2002). These results seem to support the notion that credibility toward a medium is critical when the content dealt with were closely related to a corporations financial and relational performance. Regardless of its great potential, there is a paucity of research focused on the direct and in direct effects of blogs on consumers brand knowledge, perception, attitude, behavioral intention toward a brand, and brand relationships. Also, there is a shortage of related studies focusing on how the characteristics and types of blogs as well as consu mers personal features would influence brand relationships. Thus, this study aims to explore the important aspects of a blog that influence its credibility and how they ultimately play a role in readers attitudes, behavioral intention toward brands, and their relationship with a brand. The results of the study will help brand managers obtain a better understanding of this emerging and powerful communication medium, thus assisting them in establishing and maintaining effective

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16 relationships with their cu stomers using more interactive and customized approaches. Also, this study will contribute to the research that explores the features and effects of emerging online medium and its impact on branding. In the next chapter, literatures that examined blog s characteristics, its impact on brands, and media effects and source credibility theories were looked into for present study. Previous research regarding six credibility factors interactivity, blogger credibility, perceived information quality, the leve l of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, and blog usage were also introduced. In chapter 3, research procedure and specific methods to examine hypotheses were elaborated. In chapter 4, study results for each hypothesis were illustrated. In chapt er 5, hypotheses and their results were overviewed for discussion. In the last chapter, theoretical and practical implications and limitations of present study, and suggestions for future research were proposed.

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17 CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW Definition o f a Web Log ( Blog ) Scholars have tried to define the emerging medium of blogs. According to some, a blog is a diary -style Web site where people share observations and news without any gatekeepers (Blood, 2003; Lasica, 2003; Lowrey, 2006). Smudde (2005) e xplains that to blog is to continually post one s own ideas, opinions, Internet links (including those for other blogs), and so on about things on one s own website, which is called a web log The collection of all 9 million blogs in cyberspace is ca lled the blogosphere (p. 57). Considering its practical potential, Wright (2006) defines blogging as a communication tool, a marketing technique, a listening device and a way to interact directly with customers one to one on a global scale. In an ef fort to integrate its technical and practical meanings, this study defines blog as an individual Web site designed especially to update ones own or borrowed content, and communicate it to others interactively, without any censorship or geographical restri ction Blog s C haracteristics and T heir I mpact on Brands Although blog s share most of the characteristics of general Web pages, blog s have unique features as a medium. Van House (2004) differentiates blogging from other format s of Web communication in a n umber of ways. F irst, a blog is a very personal and individualized medium, often showing the blogger s real offline identities some scholars posit that blog content is attractive to users because it allows them to have a more personal and interactive posi tion in information seeking behavior than traditional media (Papacharissi, 2004; Reynolds, 2005; Thompson, 2003; Wall, 2005) Secondly, for bloggers, blogging is perceived as a highly expressive activity with an audience Smudde (2005) expresses this a s dialogic Thirdly, bloggers devote their time and effort to their blogs; they spend hours each day blogging to ensure

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18 constant updates Fourthly, regardless of their personal characteristic s blogs are open to the public and to anyone who finds the blogs Next, B logging can be highly interactive (Blood, 2002) In addition, it is easy to spread norms and expectation s within the blogosphere. Finally, the medium is considered democratic by bloggers (Van House, 2004, p. 3). In the context of br anding, many of these blog characteristics can help marketers stimulate positive brand perceptions if utilized properly. Due to its personal and individualized nature, a blog seems to have the potential to be more influential than any other media. As exp lained, because most bloggers are not controlled by censorship or a specific corporation, they discuss products and brands and share their experience s and emotion s freely with readers. This tends to mean that the readers may perce ive of having a short d istance between a blogger and themselves which can affect their attitude and behavior. Also, since there is no geographical boundary in blogs, the global word of -mouth effect with specific brands can be spread almost instantaneously (Stauss, 1997). Ad ditionally the uniqueness of blogs can facilitate mutual relationship s between readers and brands by enhancing two -way symmetrical communication. Wright and Hinson (2008 ) conducted a study that examined the impact of blogs on traditional communication m odels, such as the conceptual model, agenda setting theory, spiral of silence theory, and excellence theory. They asserted the following findings. Blogs bypass traditional news media and, as such, throw a major wrench in the suggestion that these traditional news media set any agenda for public thought. The potential impact for blogs in connection with the spiral of silence theory is massive since it provides interesting options and opportunities for minority viewpoints. The ability of blogs to facilita te two -way symmetrical communication offers tremendous possibilities for the enhancement of excellence theory (p. 8) Not only do blog s offer a great deal of potential as an innovative communication tool they also provide the scope and mean s of audience behavioral changes Newhagen (1998) explains

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19 that traditional concepts of audience become virtually ir relevant in the context of the I nternet. Rather, the individual user comes forward to a conceptual center stage. The boundary between blog writers and readers is becoming more obscure and mixed. That is, when the interactive and dialogic conversation occurs between bloggers and readers, the brand information can be amplified greatly throughout blogs. Thus, beyond the general features of the Web, which are characterized as being interactive, less constrained by time/space, customized, nonlinear, decentralized, and flexible in terms of the context and the form of communication (Wilcox, 2004) blogs can offer consumers various brand and product infor mation in a more dialogic and customized context. Because of these reasons, corporations must be aware of the power of blogs in terms of building and maintaining customer relationship s Theoretical B ackgrounds Media E ffects Theory To incorporate the media effect theories that explain the causal relationship between media exposure and the public s sustained behavior, Slater (1999) suggested the theories of media effects, attitude, and behavior change across stages of change. She emphasizes that the follo wing theories media advocacy, multistep, agenda setting, accessibility theory, social cognitive theory, and theory of reasoned actionare complementary to each other. Thus, there should be an integrated model that explain s the connections between those t heories. Combining the stages of change model (Prochaska et al., 1992), Slater assigned related variables to each stage of the change process. T he stage s of c hange model include five levels of change. First, people in pre -contemplation usually do not feel the need for change. In the contemplation stage, even though people are not fully devoted to taking action, they notice a certain perceive d need for change concerning the issue. Then, in the preparation stage, people

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20 start to attempt actual beh avioral action but without successful modification. People take action and continue for some time in the action stage. Finally in the maintenance stage, they learn how to sustain the behavioral change. Slater states that members of the public who ar e exposed to media coverage in the pre contemplation stage activate interpersonal and organizational discussion s about the issue, while the media coverage affects community norms, salience and the availability of the issue discussed in the coverage in rea ders mind Further, it impact s mediated and interpersonal modeling both direct ly and indirect ly Then, in the contemplation stage, the issues of salience and availability can influence individual s attitudinal beliefs and accessibility, since interperso nal discussion and community norms are responsive to subjective norms. Community norms also affect mediated and interpersonal modeling as well as subjective norms. These interactions are observed in the contemplation stage through the support of theories such as media advocacy, multistep, and agenda setting Moreover accessibility support helps explain th e se impacts on the publics cognition level at this stage. The t heory of reasoned action illustrates how attitudinal beliefs and subjective norms aff ect attitude accessibility and behavioral intentions in the preparation stage. According to the social cognitive theory, after mediated/interpersonal modeling occurs, behavioral intentions and the modeling of relevant skills, which ultimately have an effe ct on behavioral change during the preparation and action stage s are modified. What can be inferred from the integrated theory is that brand information discussed in blog s and the way readers perceive such information can be a direct stimulus for interp ersonal discussion, salience and availability about certain issue s and community norms, which finally can lead to attitudinal changes as well as behavioral intention and change. This study assumes that blogs are applicable to this model and fit well base d on the fact that they often function as a

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21 journalistic channel, information storage, and the sphere of dialogic conversation in very interactive forms, thus serving as an important tool for relationship building with customers. Source Credibility T heor y One of the most significant factors to increase the persuasion effect on audiences is source credibility. Scholars have found that the more credible the media, the more the audience is persuaded by its contents. Hovland and Weiss (1951) examined how so urce credibility affects the acquisition and retention of communicated contents. The respondents of their study were exposed to different sets of articles with high and low credibility sources and in affirmative and negative tones. Then, they asked respo ndents to recall the information and indicate their opinion changes on the topics. In terms of the amount of information obtained from the articles, there was no significant difference among the respondents between the two groups. However, the authors found that subjects changed their opinion in the direction advocated by the communicator in a significantly greater number of cases when the material was attributed to a high credibility source than when attributed to a low credibility source (p. 642). Wh at can be inferred from this study is that the source credibility of blogs, just as that of other media channels, could play an important role in the audiences decision making process The audience s opinion on a specific topic or brand can be changed if someone perceives the source as highly credible. The effect of source credibility does not seem to be limited to attitudinal levels. Jones, Sinclair & Courneya (2003) found the fact that when respondents are exposed to positive frame condition with a credible source, they are more willing to elaborate on the message, increase behavioral intention, and actually are more likely to change their behavior. Comparatively, noncredible sources failed to stimulate the respondent s message elaboration process es As an

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22 application of this result, we can expect that high blogger credibility might even motivate reader s brand selection behavior. Promine nce -Interpretation T heory The p rominence -interpretation theory (Fogg, 2003) assumes that when it comes to asse ssing credibility online, two main components matter most prominence and interpretation. Prominence is defined as the likelihood that a Web site element will be noticed or perceived (p. 722), and interpretation refers to a person s judgment about an el ement under examination (p. 723). Unless both procedures occur, it is hard to forecast the credibility impact In such cases, the users should recognize that the existence of items consists of online sites, and they should have an opinion about the f acts based on their evaluation to assess overall credibility of the Web site. Fogg (2003) claims that credibility impact means the impact that element has on credibility assessment (p. 723). The author posits five elements a s factors that influenc e p rominence: involvement of the user, topic of the Web site, task of the user, experience of the user, and individual difference. Among these factors, user involvement, which includes user s motivation and ability to explore Web content, was considered most critical by Fogg. Similarly, assumptions in a user s mind, the skill and knowledge of a user, and the various context s interfere with one s interpretation process. In this process, again, the varieties of user involvement influence the overall credibili ty impact of Web sites. Therefore, based on the prominence -interpretation theory, it can be inferred that the three most influential factors in creating credibility impact are the elements that are easily noticed by users, how positively users perceive t he elements, and how much they are involved in the Web and its contents. This study can be applied to blog credibility studies because ; 1) the theory explains existing blog research well in terms of users credibility assessment and relevant

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23 variables. I n addition, the discrete results from many studies can be explained by the three critical factors suggested by the theory (i.e., studies that have investigated whether a privacy policy is important often obtain different results, but it seems that they hav e focused exclusively on prominence or interpretation without considering other factors) ; and, 2) it allows researchers to understand the interaction between the prominence, interpretation, and involvement factors in terms of users credibility assessment. Blog C redibility Many scholars in media studies have considered credibility as perceived thoughts and feelings based on one s assessment and evaluation procedure s (Rieh & Danielson, 2007). According to Rieh & Dinelson, perceived credibility of medium, message sender and receiver, and message have been at the center of credibility studies. Further, t he credibility factors seem to be interlinked with each other. Credible source is strongly related to the assessment of credible message (Frangale & Hea lth, 2004), and credible media can give the source credibility or vice versa. However, Because of the new media s uniqueness, some scholars have insisted that there should be a different standard to assess the credibility of online medium and content (Bu rbules, 2001). Danielson (2005) posits four reasons that explain why online readers are often confused about Web credibility. 1) T here is lack of standardized filtering or gate keeping systems. 2) T he new format of communication with high interactivity within the medium or with other forms of channels hinders a precise estimation of credibility 3) V agueness of message source prevents an accurate valuation of source credibility a nd 4) there has been a lack of evaluation criterion for online medium. Bec ause of the se reasons, there have been attempts to create a distinctive standard for Web sites. Flanagin and Metzger (2003) classified three dimensions of Web credibility perception: 1) message credibility (i.e., the credibility toward the presented

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24 infor mation); 2) sponsor credibility (i.e., the credibility toward represented individual); and 3) site credibility ( i.e., the credibility toward a Web site). Yet, the se criteria do not seem to suggest an adequate direction for the assessment of blog credibili ty To find the factors that are highly relevant to blog credibility based on the medium s characteristics, it seems that there should be a holistic overview regarding the media credibility assessment. Pornpitakpan (2004) reviewed credibility studies for five decades to analyze empirical evidence of these relevant factors and how they affect persuasion. The researcher categorized the variables into five areas : 1 ) source variables (i.e., physical attractiveness of the source, similarity between source and the recipient, and gender of the source ); 2 ) m essage variables (i.e., timing of source identification, presence of evidence, presence of supporting arguments, argument quality, message congruity with the source s self interests, message discrepancy, extremit y of the claims, threat of the message, message style, language intensity, quantitative nature of the message, and inclusion of refutation ); 3 ) channel variables (i.e. media modality, direct experience with the object, exposure time compression, and time pr essure ); 4 ) receiver variables ( i.e. initial disposition, issue involvement, individuals own behavior as a persuasive cue, authoritarianism, dogmatism, repression/ sensitization access to attitude relevant information in memory, self -monitoring, certainty orientation, propensity to differentiate stimuli, locus of control, depression, comprehension, need for cognition, and age ; and,

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25 5 ) destination variables ( i.e. passage of time after exposure to the communication, second counter persuasive appeal following an initial message, and product type ). Among these factors, only a limited number of variables have been examined for credibility and persuasion effect in blog studies. Considering the medium s unique characteristics, its impact and significance, major cr edibility variables will be considered in this study. Factors I nfluencing Blog C redibility In examining blog credibility, the variables related to 1) medium 2) message sender 3) message receiver and 4) the message itself will be investigated This in cludes perceived interactivity as medium related variables, blogger credibility for a message sender related variable, the audience s level of involvement with the blog, reliance on blog s and blog usage as message receiver related variables, and the percei ved information quality as a message related variable. P erceived I nteractivity The most prominent characteristic of a blog is its high interactivity. As discussed, th is unique characteristic offers a great deal of potential to reinforce brand informa tion in the minds of consumers. Although the impact of interactivity on an audience s attitude toward the medium and brands has not been studied sufficiently, and even a small number of the studies has not shown congruent results, the impact of blog inter activity cannot be overlooked, since it comprises most characteristics of a blog as a medium. Faster and sustained i nteractions between consumers and advertisers seem to affect consumers attitude toward a Web site Wu (1999) investigated the relationsh ip between perceived interactivity and attitude toward a Web site. The results of the study indicate that perceived interactivity is positively related to users attitudes toward the Web site. In order to

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26 measure a ttitude toward Web sites various factor s related to credibility were measured, including trustworth iness and believability The correlation finding was significant in that study. In conclusion, interactivity has a pronounced influence on attitude toward a Web site, which can explain the credi bility ascribed to a Web site. In this context, the interactivity associated with blogs appears to affect blog credibility. Recent studies have also address the contribution of a Web site s interactivity in the context of branding. Raney et al. (2003) posit that interactive media can contribute to brands because it stimulates cognitive arousal much more than traditional media T he readers may give higher level s of attention to brandrelated information as the main information stimuli while disregarding other distracting peripheral stimuli such as advertising. Moreover, readers intention to interact was found to positively affect the attitude toward the Web sites and brand purchase intention (Yoo & Stout, 2001). Thus, assessment of interactivity se ems to be essential for blog credibility as well for its impact on brand perception. Teo et al. (2003) also conducted a study to examine how interactive features of Web sites improve Web users attitude s towards commercial Web sites. The researchers presented three kinds of sites with different levels of interactivity to respondents T hen, the researchers requested that they reply to the questions ask ed about perceived satisfaction, effectiveness, efficiency, value, and overall attitude towards a Web si te. The study shows that the level of interactivity impact ed those independent variables, thus implying that the readers cognitive and affective status can be changed depending on the interactivity level of Web sites. To resolve some of the current pro blems associated with the prevalence of so many different conceptualizations of interactivity, many scholars have attempted to define the meaning of interactivity. Generally, the definitions of interactivity are classified into process,

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27 features, perc eption, or combined approaches (McMillan & Hwang, 2002). According to Liu (2003), an interactive communication is defined as a communication that offers individuals active control and allows them to communicate both reciprocally and synchronously (p. 208). Interactivity differs from media involvement in that it focuses on two distinct aspects: reciprocal communication and control (Liu, 2003). Although the majority of blog studies have focused on feature related factors when assessing interactivity, wh at really matters for marketers and communicators is how the public perceive s the interactivity (Lee, 2000). As explained in the prominence interpretation theory, if the audience does not either perceive or interpret the factors, it is unlikely that a ny cognitive changes will occur McMillan and Hwang analyzed the elements of interactivity that have been frequently emphasized in previous literature These include; 1 ) direction of communication, which is explained by interpersonal two -way communication on the Web ; 2 ) user control, which explains increased number of content and navigational tools in human to -computer interaction ; and, 3 ) time, which refers to the information loading and searching speed. Liu (2003) later developed the perceived interactivity scale conducted by former researchers, including McMillan and Hwang, which focus es on three similar elements: active control, two -way communication, and synchronicity. The d ifferent levels of perceived interactivity are expected to result in different lev els of blog credibility and influence relative to readers brand perception. Blogger C redibility It seems that the power of bloggers has never been greater. An interesting event introduced by Armstrong (2006) illustrates this phenomenon. In 2005, a famo us blogger Jeff Jarvis posted

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28 an article that included the headline Dell Hell, which complain ed about Dell s poor service. The posting was read by 10,000 visitors each day. Ultimately Dell decided to replace Jeff s computer. This story illustrated not only the powerful voice of an influential blogger but also that the readers trust and credibility toward the blogger creates certain belief regarding what the blogger says This after all, might foster readers attitudinal and behavioral change s V a n House (2004) argues that trust occurs through personal interaction, which means that even though it seems as if people trust institutions, what they actually believe are the individuals within those institutions This implies that bloggers can be come the ultimate individual units of trust. Rubin and Liddy (2006) mention that there are two important aspects related to the information source in blogs ; the self reported image or profile of a blogger, and the information posted. People progress through a complex credibility evaluation process with both elements. The researchers maintain that bloggers acquire trust from the audience by publicly disclosing their personal and professional lives. In a study about Web selection and evaluation, although pe ople tend to trust others recommendation s or their own previous experience in terms of predictive judgment (in the case of deciding on a first visit), the credibility of the sources become very critical factors when they actually use and evaluate the site s (Rieh, 2000, 2002). Source reputation, type of source, and author/creator credentials were perceived as being significant through both predictive and evaluative procedure s Huerta s study (2003) also supports this perspective. Among the variables rela ted to content, format, and source reputation, the Web site owner s reputation and the quality of the content provided were the major factors that related to credibility assessment. In terms of the individuals who run blogs bloggers are often perceived as pundit s (Carter, 2005). However, the actual role of bloggers seem s to extend well beyond that limitation

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29 Carter describes that bloggers can also be perceived as a reporter who deliver s breaking news stories or new information in specific fields to his or her audience or someone who depicts a documentary of specific experience. Relative to branding, direct and indirect brand experiences generate significant cognitive, attitudinal, and behavioral responses from consumers. As illustrated in the D ell Hell case, blog readers indirectly experience specific brands through bloggers direct experience. A blogger s role as a brand evangelist can be amplified when the blogger is perceived as being trustworthy or having expertise. The researchers also posit that trustworthiness and expertise are the major components of credibility as discussed by many scholars (Hovland et al., 1953; Schweitzer & Ginsberg, 1966; Giffin, 1967; Wathen & Burkell, 2002; Rubin & Liddy, 2006). McGinnies and Ward (1980) define the term expertise as competence and knowledge, and trustworthiness as honesty and integrity of the source (p. 467). According to Fogg et al. (2001), trustworthiness is compatible with well intentioned truthful or unbiased and it capt ures the perceived goodness or morality of the source (p. 62). Expertise can be defined as knowledgeable, experienced, or competent, and the dimension of credibility captures the perceived knowledge and skill of the source (p. 62). T h us, when pe rceived level s of trustworthiness and expertise are high, blog credibility may increase, and attitudinal changes about brands might occur more frequently. Audience s Level of Involvement with B logs Among the various factors that can influence the credibi lity of blog and brand perception, the effect of readers level s of involvement with the medium seems to be significant. S tudies of traditional media proved that highly involving media is more effective in product message recall, persuasion, and credibili ty (Lloyd & Clancy, 1989; Audits and Surveys, 1986). Fogg s prominence -interpretation theory (2003) also stresses the significance of user involvement level when it comes to the impact on credibility assessment on the Web. In e xplaining the critical

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30 fact ors that influence the prominence, Fogg suggests that the most important factor should be user involvement. Although it is true that the meaning of involvement is both multidimensional and confusing in many studies (Stewart et al., 2002), generally in communication research, involvement refers to audience s activity reflects personal participation with content (Perse, 1990, p. 678). Again, the concept of media involvement differs from that of interactivity in that it concentrates on how far the cogni tive process extends; i.e., when readers are highly involved with blogs, they are more likely to intensify their cognition process for the brand information posted on the blogs. To assess the audience s involvement level with media, Perse (1990) suggeste d several dimensions for examination. The researcher classified each level of involvement by time frame. Before exposure to media, involvement refers to anticipation of media content reflected in intentionality, or planning exposure, and belief that the content is important. During exposure, involvement means actual cognitive activities regarding the content. The two major activities at this stage are attention and elaboration. A ttention is defined as focused sensory and cognitive effort that lim its attention to other activities, and elaboration is thinking about program content and relating it to the content (p. 679). How much readers pay attention to media and how deeply they think about the content can explain the ir involvement level with t he media. Therefore, blog credibility and subsequent impact on branding may vary depending on the level s of reader involvement in each stage Reliance on B logs A s one of the most important factors in influencing media credibility, reliance on media will also be studied. Research on traditional media have found that people who rely on media for news and information are inclined to judge that information as being more credible.

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31 Similarly, the preferred news source is evaluated as being the most reliable news source. In other words, how much rel iance the audience places on the media will affect whether they will accept or internalize the information. Several findings indicate that the relations between general Web reliance and credibility are not consi stent. However, studies related to blogs demonstrate that reliance on blogs can be a powerful criterion to judge blog credibility (Banning & Trammell, 2006; Johnson & Kaye, 2004; Kim, 2006). Johnson and his colleagues argue that the mixture of reliance on blogs and motivations account for between 41% and 45.7% of the awareness of blog credibility. R eliance on blogs has played a much more important role in judging credibility compared to any other motivation factor (Johnson et al., 2007). Usage of B logs A large number of studies address the correlations between medium usage and credibility of a source. Rieh and Danielson (2007) posit that the inconsistency in perceived credibility on the Web may be due to readers level of experience and confidence with the Internet. The study result s obtained by Cole and colleagues (2003) also supports this observation Among I nternet users, the very experienced among them tended to show strong belief s toward the news information posted on the Web (83.5% of users), wh ile users who were un accustomed to the Web indicated much lower level s of trust. Internet usage is also very important relative to blog credibility since blog users are usually heavy Internet users, and blog users are more likely to know which online sou rce is trustworthy (Johnson & Kaye, 2004). The more familiar Internet users are with the Internet, the more critical they become when judging the trustworthiness of Web sites or the ability to distinguish worthy sites from others that are less so (Flan agin & Metzger, 2000).

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32 T h us, the amounts of time spent online as well as usage frequency are elements that would be appropriate predictors of blog usage and consequently, blog credibility (Greer, 2003). Perceived Q uality of I nformation When it comes t o the assessment of media credibility, the quality of information posted on the Web sites seems to be essential. The concept and scope of information quality differs considerably among studies. Some researchers view information as one of the components o f credibility criteria, while other s regard the perceived information quality as the outcome of credibility. The meaning of information quality in this study is narrowed to its limited scope as being one component of the credibility impact. In this study, information quality is defined as the perceived quality of the argument represented by blog content. Among the many factors that comprise Web credibility, such as Web design, information structure, argument quality and usefulness, and the tone of writing, the criteria related to information had significant value as well as source credibility (Fogg et al., 2001; Stanford et al., 2002). In the study by Stanford et al. which investigated the perspective of experts in health and financial fields, researc hers found that the professionals also considered unbiased information to be important. As explained previously Rubin and Liddy (2006) argue that the blogger s image and posted information represent the information source for the blog. According to them, whether the information provided is complete, accurate, unbiased, and appropriate will assist in determin ing readers credibility evaluation. Chu and Kamel (2008) explored how blogger credibility and the argument quality of blog content affect m e ssage e laboration and brand attitudes. The researchers conclude that when perceived blogger trustworthiness is high, argument quality has a greater impact on brand attitude. Although they did not assess the direct effect of argument quality on brand attitude, it

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33 can be inferred from the results that interaction between blogger credibility and argument quality serves an important function relative to credibility evaluation. In that effective information provided by the source increases brand awareness and produ ces a positive influence on brand perception (Aaker & Joachimsthaler, 2000; Ha, 2002; Keller, 1998), the perceived information quality of blog content should be considered as being important. Not only can the perceived quality of information help increase media credibility, but it may also increase the chance to reinforce brand perception. Because blogs enable bloggers and the audience to communicate in a customized manner it is more likely to satisfy the desire s of Internet users who seek customized i nformation on the Web (Ha, 2002). Blog s Impact on B randing Brand attitude is one of the most significant aspects of brand equity because it is often a precursor to consumer behavior and brand selection. In the emerging world of online media, brand att itude can be examined in the context of blog credibility. First, the audiences perceived credibility or trustworthiness of a medium/a blog plays a critical role in creating his or her attitude toward the medium (Andrews & Shimp, 1990). Furthermore, the more audience tr ust a blogger (or a blog) the greater the message elaboration and positive attitude will be toward a brand featured in the blog Armed with a reciprocal conversation and interaction mechanism, interactive media seem s to be a very effectiv e tool to facilitate positive attitude toward brands. Also, behavioral intention s, such as purchase intention and willingness to recommend to other people, are common effectiveness measure s and are used often to anticipate a response behavior. By investi gating the willingness to buy products and brands, and recommend, the impact of blog credibility on the brand s financial aspect can be measured. Moreover, in terms of brand leverage, a blog can be an effective brand entity that is able to evoke positive brand knowledge. Keller (2003) asserts that leveraging brand knowledge is the

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34 key to success in b randing. The two major tasks for marketers relative to effective branding are the creation and representation of brand knowledge According to Keller (2003 ), marketers are strongly encouraged t o communicate through any possible means brand information related to brand awareness, attributes, benefits, images, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and experiences in order to leverage brand knowledge. The information sources the researcher suggests are linked and interact with each other to creat e a synerg istic effect. If the environment around a brand, including places, people, things, and other brands interact with each other to facilitat e the distribution of brand knowledge, then the branding effect can be amplified. One of the important implications for brand leveraging strategies is that when a blog or blogger plays a role as another entity with its own brand asset, a brand leverage effect may be apparent between a brand and the blog (blogger). A brand s brand awareness, attributes, benefits, images, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and experiences, along with those of a blog, can interact to transfer those elements. That is, the more credibility and authority a blog has the more a brand can benefit from the blog. Ultimately, the fact that a blog can function as an independent brand shows the medium s great potential to become an effective communication tool for branding. Ultimately, the blog s credibility an d the factors that influenc e that credibility are important because ; 1) they can enhance and reinforce brand awareness, image, and attitude toward a brand ; and 2) they can facilitate a dialogic and two -way symmetrical relationship between the audience and brands. Stewart et al. (2002) posit that traditional media have not succeed tremendously in terms of credibility building with the audience because of its traditional one -way communication ; however, interactive media can greatly improve this problem due t o its unique interactive characteristics. R eciprocal interaction and communication were found to

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35 enhance the relationship between a brand and its consumers in terms of building trust and creating commitment (Anderson & Narus, 1999). Analytical F ramework S ource credibility studies have focused on the variables related to four major subjects: medium, message sender, message receiver, and message. To measure the corresponding variables for each element, this study investigate s the influence of perceived interactivity, bloggers credibility, readers involvement level s with blogs, reliance and usage, and perceived information quality. It is assumed that these variables affect the blog s credibility directly, thus creating indirect influences on brand attitu de behavioral intention toward a certain brand. The blog s credibility will play a role as a mediator between credibility factors and brand perceptions. Consequently, based on the source credibility theories and the related empirical research, it can b e proposed that when blog credibility is perceived as being higher, perceptional and attitudinal changes toward a brand will occur more frequently in the audience s mind. T o focus on the main effects of credibility factors on blog credibility, and the rel ationships between blog credibility and brand attitude and/or behavioral intention, the tone of blog contents which contain the brand information of Samsung laptop computers will be controlled. Table 2 1. Analytical framework: different le vels of interac tivity, blogger credibility, and information quality influencing blog credibility. Source Credibility Components Measurement Variables Influencing Blog credibility Medium Perceived interactivity (High vs. Low) Message Sender Blogger credibility : Trustworthiness and Expertise (High vs. Low) Message Perceived information quality (High vs. Low)

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36 Source Credibility Components Related to Message Receiver Figure 2 1 Analytical framework: the factors influencing blog cr edibility and its impact on brand attitude and behavioral intention Based on the literature review, this study proposes eight hypotheses: H1: Subjects exposed to a blog that offers a higher level of interactivity will perceive the blog as being more credi ble than do subjects exposed to a blog that has a lower level of interactivity. H2: Subjects exposed to a blog that has a higher level of blogger trustworthiness and expertise will perceive the blog as being more credible than do subjects exposed to a bl og that has a lower level of blogger trustworthiness and expertise. H3: Subjects exposed to a blog that has a higher level of information quality will perceive the blog as being more credible than do subjects exposed to a blog that has a lower level of i nformation quality. H4: The level of involvement with blogs will be positively related to blog credibility. H5: Reliance on blogs will be positively related to blog credibility. H6: Blog usage will be positively related to blog credibility H7: Sub jects perceived credibility toward a blog will be positively related to brand attitude toward a brand. Level of involvement with blogs Reliance on blogs Blog usage Blog credibility Brand attitude Behavioral Intention

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37 H8: Subjects perceived credibility toward a blog will be positively related to behavioral intention toward a brand. CHAPTER 3 METHODOLOGY An experi mental study using a participant pool at the University of Florida was conducted. The present study was constructed in six sets of three variables with in two dimensions. Since only the main effects of the variables were investigated in this study, only s ix blog samples were used as stimuli. To test the hypotheses, this study manipulated different levels (high versus low) of blog interactivity, blogger credibility (trustworthiness and expertise), and information quality. One of the six blogs that represents each condition high interactivity, low interactivity, high blogger credibility, low blogger credibility, high information quality, and low information quality was expos ed to subjects through an online survey tool. Depending on the difference of the th ree factors and involvement level with blogs, reliance on blogs, and blog usage, the subjects were expected to reflect different level s of blog credibility. Also, the influence of blog credibility on brand attitude and behavioral intention toward a brand were investigated. Selection of S ubjects To target the respondents who understand what blogs are and who know how to operate and navigate the Internet, this study utilized college students as the sample. Not only do they have a basic I nternet skill set, they are the population who are more familiar with blog (Chu & Kamal, 2008). According to Pew Internet and American Life Project 2006, 54% of bloggers are under the age of 30. Therefore, the use of college students seems appropriate for this study. Tw o hundred ninety -nine undergraduate students at the University of Florida participated in the experiment. The researcher for the present study randomly booked several undergraduate classes from the department of Journalism and Communication, sociology, an d sports

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38 management. The s ubjects of each class were informed of the purpose and the procedure of the present study by the researcher before the actual experiments. Study P rocedure The s ubjects participated in the survey using an online survey tool, Sur vey Monkey. They were asked to answer questionnaires regarding their level of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, and blog usage. Then they were asked to follow a link to a sample blog. The assignment to find brand information about S amsung lapt op computers was given to the subjects as if they were going to purchase such a computer in the near future. A fter reading the blog, the questionnaires were presented again to gauge the subjects perceptions regarding the interactivity of the blogs, blogg er credibility, the information quality of the blogs, and the credibility of the blog. Then they were asked about brand perceptions ; i.e. brand attitude and behavioral intention regarding S amsung laptop computers Demographic questionnaires were present ed in the last part of the procedure. S timuli D evelopment Selection of a Brand and Product C ategory A personal laptop computer was selected as a sample product category because 1) it represents one of three major pieces of equipment used by bloggers to c reate and maintain their online social interaction (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2006) and 2) American college students are accustomed to carrying laptops around with them (to use in class, in the library or in public spaces) (Baron et al., 20 05, p. 307) For the present study, S amsung laptop computers were selected Because Samsung computers are comparatively less familiar and have a weaker relationship to consumers than other brands ; i.e. Apple Mac or Sony VAIO, respondents tend not to be affected by previous bias regarding the brand and its products. Thus, the effects of blogs on brands might be assessed more easily.

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39 Bl og S timuli According to Smudde (2005), there are four types of the blogs: personal, topic or industrial, publication -ba sed, and corporate. This study tested the first two types, personal and topical blogs because: 1 ) Personal blogs can encompass the most interactive and dialogic characteristics of a blog, which might increase their persuasive effect. 2 ) Topical blog posts we re found to benefit from credibility indicators (Weerkamp & Rijike, 2008). In turn, it is possible to assume that the brand or product information posted on topical blogs with high credibility can be retrieved effectively in consumers minds. 3 ) The two ty pes of blogs are not controlled by specific corporations or organizations. This means they have the independence to share any brand information with the audience. When the source of information is perceived as being independent, the impact of word of -mouth effect can be maximized (Keller, 1998). To include brand information about the Samsung laptop computers, technologyrelated blogs were manipulated or extracted from leading blog directories Technorati Top 100 blogs and Bloglines Top 1000. Among t he six blogs that specialized in high technology product information three were existing blogs that were extracted from the leading blog directories for presentation of the higher level of interactivity, blogger c redibility (trustworthiness and expertise) and information quality. The o ther three blogs addressed lower level of interactivity, blogger credibility (trustworthiness and expertise), and information quality, and these were manipulated by the researcher for this study in order to maximize the dif ference between the groups.

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40 According to the prominence interpretation theory, the prominent or visible elements of a Web site are critical determinants for establishing credibility with the Web site. Thus, the sample blog for group one represente d a high level of interactivity and included graphic images, video clips and texts, and interactive communication tools, such as a comment tool, a real time chat window, and a n RSS system. On the other hand, group two, which was conditioned to experience much less interactiv ity was shown only text -based articles without any two -way communication tools. The blogs for groups three and four, which were manipulated as high and low level s of blogger credibility, were distinguished by the tone of the self intr oduction and the tone and expressions used in the postings. For different level s of information quality the subjects in group five were exposed to a b l og that contains substantial amounts of professional information related to computers and other high te chnology products. In contrast, the blog assigned to group six did not include any reliable or complete brand information. The names and URLs of the blogs are presented in table 3 1. Table 3 1. Blog samples Group Conditions Blogs 1 High Interactiv ity Dr. Augustine Fou's Online Scrapbook (http://www.augustinefou.com) 2 Low Interactivity ITtechblog (http://techinfogathering techblog.blogspot.com) 3 High Bloggers c redibility Y.I.P.C.A.N.J.O (http://yipcanjo.wordpress.com) 4 Low Bloggers credibility BGGG(http://bgtechblog techumaniac.blogspot.com) 5 High Information quality Displayblog (www.displayblog.com) 6 Low Information quality IFLOG (http://techumaniac iflog.blogspot.com) To manipulate only one differentiated condition fo r each pair of the groups, the other two variables were controlled with similar levels. For example, for the low interactivity blog, conditions relative to blogger credibility and information quality (i.e. bloggers profiles and the contents of a blog tha t addressed Samsung laptop computers) were borrowed from the high interactivity blog and then manipulated for the low condition. Interactivity and information

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41 quality for high/low blogger credibility groups, and interactivity and blogger credibility for h igh/low information quality groups were controlled in the same way. Pretests Blog Manipulation C heck A pretest was implemented to find the most appropriate sample blogs, to examine the statistical differences between groups regarding perceptions toward S amsung and its laptop computers, and to examine the relevance between the items of each scale. A total of 111 UF undergraduate students from two undergraduate classes participated in the pretest. To test the validity of the sample blogs, the subjects we re assigned to one of the six blogs through an online survey tool, Survey Monkey, and they were then asked to navigate the blog to find brand information about Samsung laptop computers. Then they answered the questionnaires that followed regarding interac tivity, blogger credibility, and information quality. Independent samples t tests were performed to examin e the degree of difference between the pairs. It was found that there were significant statistical difference s between groups one and two (t=2.432, p<.05), group s three and four (t=2.221, p<.05), and groups five and six (t=3.561, p<.005). In other words, the subjects perceived the different level of treatment for each group. Table 3 2 shows the result s of the tests. Table 3 2. The results of inde pendent -samples T test for blog manipulation check Group t df S ig. (2 tailed) Mean Difference Std. Error Difference 95% confidence Interval of the Difference Lower Upper G1 G2 2.432 36 .020 .595 .245 .099 1.091 G3 G4 2.221 35 .033 .550 .247 .047 1 .052 G5 G6 3.561 34 .001 1.120 .314 .480 1.758 Note: equal variance assumed

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42 Brand P erception To mitigate subjects preexisting bias toward a sample brand and product, this study used Samsung and its laptop computers to investigate the effects of blogs on brand perceptions since the brand was comparatively less familiar to consumers than leading brands such as the Apple Mac or Sony VAIO. To test whether the perceptions between groups toward the brand and the products were statistically different, the s ubjects were asked to evaluate their familiarity with Samsung and its line of laptop computers. As may be seen in table 3 3 t he result s indicated that there was no significant difference between the groups regarding brand and product familiarit y regardin g the samples. Table 3 3. Group difference in perception toward Samsung and Samsung s laptop computers Group t df S ig. (2 tailed) Mean Differen ce Std. Error Difference 95% confidence Interval of the Difference Lower Upper G1 G2 Brand Familiarity Products Familiarity .645 .381 36 36 .523 .706 .178 .094 .276 .248 .737 .409 .381 .598 G3 G4 Brand Familiarity Products Familiarity .273 .246 35 35 .787 .807 .079 .038 .290 .154 .509 .276 .667 .351 G5 G6 Brand Familiar ity Products Familiarity 1.304 1.617 34 34 .201 .115 .333 .222 .256 .137 .186 .057 .853 .501 Note: equal variance assumed Reliability C heck To examine the reliability of scales modified for this study, the values of Cronbach s alpha for t he indicators related to interactivity, blogger credibility, information quality, and involvement with blogs were tested. The test revealed that all four scales were highly reliable.

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43 All reliability coefficients were above .80 Table 3 4 shows the values of Cronbachs alpha for these four indicators of blog credibility influencers. Table 3 4. Cronbach s alpha for four credibility factors Indicators T he values of Cronbach s alpha Interactivity 15 item scale .86 Bloggers credibility (trustworthiness and expertise) 10 item scale .90 Information quality 7 item scale .89 Involvement with blogs 11item scale .89 Variables and M easures Independent V ariables Perceived interactivity of blogs : Liu (2003) developed and tested a measurement of the perceiv ed interactivity of Web sites. The items suggested by the researcher are active control, two -way communication, and synchronicity. The multidimensional scale was found to be effective for both experienced and inexperienced Internet users. The measure wa s also used for perceived blog interactivity. To investigate the perceptions of the subjects who were exposed to one of the actual blogs, the measures were adjusted for a specific blog, and a seven -point Likert scale was used. Blogger credibility : Ohahi an (1990) developed t hree d imensions of c elebrity e ndorser c redibility s cale, which can be replicated in the context of blogger credibility. Among the dimensions of attractiveness, trustworthiness, and expertise, the first dimension is excluded because bl og users usually cannot judge the physical features of bloggers because of their online environment The scale for trustworthiness consists of dependable, honest, reliable, sincere, and trustworthy. For the expertise dimension, items such as e xpert, experienced, knowledgeable, qualified and skilled were used. To investigate the

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44 perceptions of the subjects who were exposed to one of the actual blogs, the measures were adjusted to a specific blog. A seven -point Likert scale was used h ere as well Audiences level of involvement with blogs : Perse (1990) insists that there are four indicators of involvement with media: intentionality, attention, elaboration, and engaging in distracting behaviors. However, an intention not to miss programs is un necessary for blog users because the y do not have any time limitation for using the medium. Therefore, only the attention and elaboration factors were adopted for this blog study. F or each factor, the measures were modified according to the blo g users involvement with the blogs using a seven-point Likert scale. To examine the subjects' perceptions toward overall blogs, the measures were adjusted to general blogs. Reliance on blogs : DeFleur and Ball -Rokeach (1989) posit that individuals becom e dependent on the mass media due to their desire and goal to acquire a source of information. That is, reliance on media or medium refers to ones dependency on them. Johnson et al. (2007) measured reliance on blogs using a single question in which they ask ed respondents how much they rel ied on blogs. This study also adopts the single questionnaire approach to assess ing blog reliance. To examine subjects' overall perceptions toward blogs, the measures were adjusted to general blogs. A seven -point Like rt scale was used. Blog usage : To assess blog usage, questions were asked of the subjects regarding visiting and updating frequency ( Pew Internet & American Life Project 2006). To examine subjects' overall perceptions toward blogs, the measures were ad justed to general blogs. Perceived information quality of blog content : The indicators of information quality were suggested by Rubin and Liddy (2006) and consist of completeness, accuracy, appropriateness, timeliness, match to prior expectations, and ma tch to information need ed To

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45 investigate the perceptions of the subjects who were exposed to one of the actual blogs, the measures were adjusted to a specific blog. A seven point Likert scale was used for this purpose Table 3 5. Operationalization of variables Variables Operational Definitions Perceived interactivity A perceived communication that offers individuals active control and allows them to communicate both reciprocally and synchronously (Liu, 2003) Blogger credibility Trustworthiness the perceived goodness or morality of the source Expertise the perceived knowledge and skill of the source (Fog et al., 2001) Level of involvement with blogs Audience s activity that reflects personal participation with content (Krugman, 1966) Reliance on blogs D ependen cy on the mass media based on the desire and the goal to acquire information source (DeFleur & Ball Rokeach, 1989) Perceived information quality T he perceived quality of the argument represented by media content An argument is a piece of i nformation that is relevant to determining the true merits of the position taken. (Petty et al., 2002) Blog credibility Believability (Fogg et al., 2001) Brand attitude Consumers overall evaluations of a brand (Wilkie, 1990) Behavioral intention I ndic ations of whether a visitor to a program or facility will r eturn (Baker & Crompton, 2000) Mediating V ariable Blog credibility : Fogg et al. (2001) define credibility simply as believability. T h ey explain that credibility can be understood as a perceive d quality, which can be measured simultaneously by multiple dimensions Thus, to investigate whether the credibility factors are positively related to perceived credibility the present study used questionnaires that ask whether blogs are credible and believable. A seven -point Likert scale was used here as well Dependent Variables Attitude toward a brand : Attitude toward the brand entails the predisposition to a positive or negative impression to a particular brand (MacKenzie & Lutz, 1989). This s tudy operationalizes this variable as a blog readers predisposition to a positive or negative impression to a brand when he or she reads the brand -related information on blogs. A 5 item, 7 point

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46 semantic differential scale was used in the present study ( Priester & Petty, 2003). The s ubjects rated the way they fel t about Samsung laptop computers as unfavorable / favorable, bad / good, dislike / like, and negative / positive (Holbrook & Batra, 1987 ). Behavioral intention toward a brand: Willingness to buy a product and willingness to recommend the product to other people ( Zeithaml et al., 1996) were used to evaluate behavioral intention toward a brand. A seven -point Likert scale was used. Table 3 6 Adjusted i tems measuring independent and mediating variables P erceived interactivity (regarding specific blogs) Liu (2003) Active control I felt that I had a lot of control over my visiting experiences at the blog While I was on the blog I could choose freely what I wanted to see. While surfing the blog I had a bsolutely no control over what I can do on the site While surfing the blog my actions decided the kind of experiences I got. -Two way communication The blog was effective in gathering visitors' feedback. The blog facilitate d two -way communication betwee n the visitors and the site. It was difficult to offer feedback to the blog The blog ma de me feel it want s to listen to its visitors. The blog did not at all encourage visitors to talk back. The blog g a ve visitors the opportunity to talk back. -Synchroni city The blog processed my input very q uickly. Getting information from the blog wa s very fast. I was able to obtain the information I want without any delay. When I clicked on the links, I felt I was getting instantaneous information. The blog very sl ow in responding to my requests. Bloggers credibility (regarding specific blogs) Ohahian (1990) Trustworthiness The blogger(s) was(were) dependable. T he blogger(s) was(were) honest. The blogger(s) was(were) reliable. The blogger(s) was(were) sincere. Th e blogger(s) was(were) trustworthy -Expertise The blogger(s) was(were) experts. The blogger(s) was(were) experienced. The blogger(s) was(were) knowledgeable. The blogger(s) was(were) qualified. The blogger(s) was(were) skilled.

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47 Table 3 6. Continued L evel of involvement with blogs (regarding general blogs) Perse (1990) Attention I pay close attention when I navigate blogs. I listen carefully when I navigate blogs. I watch carefully when I navigate blogs. I miss parts of the blog content when I naviga te blogs. I pay close attention to the blog content when I navigate blogs. When I navigate blogs, I try to concentrate on the blog content. I put a lot of mental effort into my blog viewing. -Elaboration When I m navigating, I think about what the blog content means to me and my family. When I m navigating, I think about how the blog content relates to other things that I know. When I m navigating, I think about what the blog content means to other people. When I m navigating, I think about the blog conte nt over and over again. Reliance on blogs (regarding general blogs) Johnson et al. (2007) I rely on blogs. Blog usage (regarding general blogs) PIP (2006) How often do you read other peoples blogs? How often do you typically post new material on blog s ? Perceived information quality (regarding specific blogs) Rubin & Liddy (2006) The information posted on the blog was complete. The information posted on the blog was accurate. The information posted on the blog was appropriate. The information posted on the blog was timely. The information posted on the blog was organized (by categories or chronology) The information posted on the blog was matched to my prior expectations. T h e information posted on the blog was matched to my information need. Blog c redibility (regarding specific blogs) Fogg et al. (2001) The blog was credible. The blog was believable. Controlling V ariable The tone of blog content : In previous studies relative to blog or Web credibility, the tone of blog content has not been consid ered as an influential factor on audiences to determine the credibility of a medium. However, when it comes to brand perception, the tone of blog content dealing with brand information can directly affect readers brand attitude and behavioral intention t oward the brand. Thus, the present study controlled the tone of blog content to focus mainly on the role of blog credibility in the relationship with brand perception, rather than on the

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48 influence of the preexisting attitude about the content. A seven -po int Likert scale that included one item (positive/negative) was used. Table 3 7 Items measuring dependent variables Brand attitude Holbrook & Batra ( 1987 ) unfavorable favorable bad -good dislike like negative positive Behavioral intention Zeithaml et a l(1996) Willingness to buy Willingness to recommend Data Analysis T o test the proposed hypotheses, one -way ANOVA, Pearson s correlation and regression data analyses (multiple and backward elimination ) were used. As indicated previously, subjects wer e exposed to one of six blogs that represent the conditions of high level of interactivity low level of interactivity, high level of blogger credibility (trustworthiness and expertise), low level of blogger credibility (trustworthiness and expertise), high level of information quality, and low level of information quality. Thus, to examine the significant difference in blog credibility within the high low pairs, ANOVA was used to test hypothes e s 1 2 and 3 Hypothes e s 4 5 and 6 explore the relationshi p between level of involvement with blog and blog credibility, reliance on blogs and blog credibility, and blog usage and blog credibility. Backward elimination multiple regression analysis was performed to test the three hypotheses. The backward elimina tion procedure starts with all of the independent variables and ends with variables that are statistically significant for the regression equation (Hair et al., 1998). Because the method deletes insignificant variables step -by -step, the backward eliminati on multiple regression analysis can provide brief and powerful model. Further Menard (2002) observes that in some cases, a variable may appear to have a

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49 statistically significant effect only when another variable is controlled or held constant (p. 64). While forward stepwise regression has a higher chance of missing that kind of variable, the backward elimination method is more likely to uncover the relationships missed by forward inclusion (Menard, 2002, p. 64). For th ose reason s the present study opted for the backward elimination regression rather than the forward stepwise regression. Hypothes e s 7 and 8 also describe the relationship between blog credibility and brand attitude, and between blog credibility and behavioral intention (willingness t o buy and willingness to recommend). Pearson s correlation and multiple regression analysis were utilized to examine those hypotheses because the standardized b coefficients and the beta coefficients ratio are indicators of the relative predictive power o f independent variables (Garson, 2003).

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50 CHAPTER 4 RESULTS Overview of the Statistical A nalysis This chapter consists of two sections. The first section discusses the descriptive statistics regarding the subjects in the present study In the second par t, the results of the hypotheses are presented using one -way ANOVA, Pearson s correlation, and regression analyses (multiple and backward elimination multiple regres sion analyses). Descriptive S tatistics Profile of the S ample Among the 299 subjects who c ompleted the questionnaires, 218 were female (72.9%) and 81 were male (27.1%). The ages of the s ubjects ranged from 17 to 43, and t he mean age was 20.83 years. In terms of education level, 31 were freshmen (10.4%), 64 were sophomores (21.4%), 94 were jun iors (30.8%), 105 were seniors (35.1%), and 7 were graduate students (2.3%). Table 4 1. Demogr aphic profile of the subjects Frequency Valid Percent Gender Male 81 27.1 Female 218 72.9 Total 299 100 Age 17 25 292 97.7 26 35 6 1.9 Ove r 35 1 0.3 Total 299 100 Education Level Freshmen 31 10.4 Sophomore 64 21.4 Junior 94 30.8 Senior 105 35.1 Graduate 7 2.3 Total 299 100

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51 Normality of I tems To check normality of data, values of skewness and kurtosis were examined. According to Hair et al. (1998), if the values are between 2.58 and +2.58 at the .01 probability level, the null hypothesis regarding normality is rejected. The mean, standard deviation, skewness, and kurtosis of each item used in the present study were presented in table 4 2. As indicated in the table, no value exceeded the 2.58 range; therefore, the normality of the data is verified. Reliability To verify internal reliability, it is necessary to assess the values of Cronbach's alpha. Cronbach 's alpha explains the correlations between items that measure the same variable. Generally, reliability coeffic i ents over .06 are appropriate for use in research (Garson, 2003). As illustrated in table 4 2 the Cro n bach's alpha values of all scales exceeded .60, and the majority of them are over .80, which indicates very good reliability (Kline, 1998). Therefore, all scales can be used statistically in the present study. Table 4 2. Descriptive profile of each variable Variables and Items M SD Skewness Kurtosis Involvement regarding general blogs (Cronbach s alpha= .893) I pay close attention when I navigate blogs. 4.04 1.325 .370 .386 I listen carefully when I navigate blogs. 4.00 1.312 .338 .396 I watch carefully when I navigate blogs. 4. 27 1.297 .552 .135 I miss parts of the blog content when I navigate blogs. 3.53 1.314 .535 .057 I pay close attention to the blog content when I navigate blogs. 4.15 1.297 .447 .323 When I navigate blogs, I try to concentrate on the blog content. 4.28 1.345 .480 .194 I put a lot of mental effort into my blog viewing. 3.36 1.310 .231 .241 When I m navigating, I think about what the blog content means to me and my family. 3.46 1.459 .109 .681 When I m navigating, I think about how the blog content relates to other things that I know. 4.51 1.462 .851 .091 When I m navigating, I think about what the blog content means to other people. 4.05 1.473 .481 .456

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52 Table 4 2. Continued Variables and Items M SD Skewness Kurtosis Involvement regarding general blogs (Cronbach s alpha= .893) When I m navigating, I think about the blog content over and over again. 3.04 1.330 .313 .334 Reliance regarding general blogs I rely on blogs. 2.32 1.386 .960 .193 Blog usage regarding general bl ogs (Cronbach s alpha= .646) How often do you read other people s blog? 3.51 1.670 .682 .681 How often do you typically post new material on blogs? 2.23 1.166 1.370 2.079 Interactivity regarding specific blogs (Cronbach s alpha= .859) I felt that I had a lot of control over my visiting experiences at the blog. 4.26 1.395 .294 .607 I could choose freely what I wanted to see. 4.45 1.433 .429 .743 I had absolutely no control over what I can do on the site. 4.74 1.311 .356 .352 My actions (blogging) decided the kind of experience I got. 4.12 1.070 .467 .329 The blog was effective in gathering visitor s feedback. 4.05 1.245 .379 .390 The blog facilitated two way communication between the visitors and the site. 3.97 1.258 .387 .43 8 It was difficult to offer feedback to the blog. 4.22 1.249 .096 .432 The blog made me feel it wants to listen to its visitors. 3.77 1.164 .177 .221 The blog did not at all encourage visitors to talk back. 4.12 1.230 .214 .080 The blog gave visitors the opportunity to talk back. 4.30 1.257 .584 .201 The blog processed my input very quickly. 4.02 1.041 .389 1.550 Getting information from the blog was very fast. 4.48 1.159 .461 .467 I was able to obtain the information I want without a ny delay. 4.34 1.233 .461 .139 When I clicked on the links, I felt I was getting instantaneous information. 4.47 1.213 .626 .311 The blog was very slow in responding to my request. 4.57 1.086 .115 .094 Blogger s trustworthiness and expertise reg arding specific blogs (Cronbach s alpha= .906) I think the blogger(s) was(were) dependable. 4.10 1.117 .235 .586 I think the blogger(s) was(were) honest. 4.43 1.313 .423 .093 I think the blogger(s) was(were) reliable. 3.95 1.169 .340 .325 I thi nk the blogger(s) was(were)sincere. 4.47 1.136 .539 .376 I think the blogger(s) was(were) trustworthy. 3.87 1.131 .392 .133 I think the blogger(s) was(were) experts. 3.26 1.281 .029 .521 I think the blogger(s) was(were) experienced. 4.09 1.317 407 .071

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53 Table 4 2. Continued Variables and Items M SD Skewness Kurtosis Blogger s trustworthiness and expertise regarding specific blogs (Cronbach s alpha= .906) I think the blogger(s) was(were) knowledgeable. I think the blogger(s) was(were) quali fied. 4.31 3.73 1.271 1.186 .574 .232 .104 .285 I think the blogger(s) was(were) skilled. 4.05 1.133 .448 .257 Information quality regarding specific blogs (Cronbach s alpha= .887) I think the information posted on the blog was complete. 3.64 1 .382 .138 .921 I think the information posted on the blog was accurate. 3.98 1.108 .422 .194 I think the information posted on the blog was appropriate. 4.57 1.189 .630 .435 I think the information posted on the blog was timely. 4.49 1.142 .381 .555 I think the information posted on the blog was organized. 4.20 1.397 .303 .487 I think the information posted on the blog was matched to my prior expectations. 4.02 1.222 .312 .112 I think the information posted on the blog was matched to my information need. 3.91 1.361 .357 .365 Blog credibility regarding specific blogs (Cronbach s alpha= .855) Overall, the blog was credible. 4.04 1.296 .351 .531 Overall, the blog was believable. 4.41 1.256 .743 .131 Attitude toward a brand I f eel favorable toward Samsung s laptop computers. 4.04 1.091 .524 .227 I feel good about Samsung s laptop computers. 4.11 1.124 .555 .516 I like Samsung s laptop computers. 3.98 1.054 .659 .777 I feel positive toward Samsung s laptop computers. 4 .15 1.087 .681 .702 Behavioral intention I will recommend Samsung s laptop computers to other people. 3.52 1.124 .390 .160 I will buy a Samsung s laptop computer. 3.72 1.199 .270 .561 Note : N=299 Hypotheses T esting Test of H ypothesis 1 H1: Subje cts exposed to a blog that offers a higher level of interactivity will perceive the blog as being more credible than do subjects exposed to a blog that has a lower level of interactivity.

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54 H1 examined whether there is any difference in terms of perceived bl og credibility between two groups with high and low interactivity level s Thus, a one -way ANOVA analysis was conducted to assess the degree of difference in blog credibility between a pai r of group s (group 1 for high level of interactivity and group 2 for low level of interactivity) Table 4 3 illustrates descriptive statistics for blog credibility of group 1 and 2. The means for blog credibility were 4.64 (the high interactivity group) and 4.36 (the low interactivity group) for each group, and the diffe rence between the groups was not statistically significant as indicated in t able 4 4 (p=.26). That is, there was no any significant difference in perception of blog credibility among the subjects who were exposed to a more interactive blog and those expos ed to a less interactive blog. Therefore, H1 was not supported. Table 4 3. Descriptive statistics for blog credibility of the groups with different levels of interactivity Group Mean Std. Deviation N Minimum Maximum 1 High interactivity 4.64 1.33 48 1. 00 6.00 2 Low interactivity 4.36 .98 46 2.00 6.00 Total 4.50 1.18 94 1.00 6.00 Table 4 4. ANOVA results for blog credibility of the groups with different levels of interactivity Group Sum of Squares df Mean Square F p Between Groups 1.80 1 1.80 1.31 26 Within Groups 126.70 92 1.38 Total 128.50 93 Test of H ypothesis 2 H2: Subjects exposed to a blog that has a higher level of blogger trustworthiness and expertise will perceive the blog as being more credible than do subjects exposed to a blog t hat has a lower level of blogger trustworthiness and expertise. H2 explores the relationship between a blogger s credibility trustworthiness and expertise and blog credibility. To compare the mean difference in blog credibility between the high and low gr oup s a one -way ANOVA was conducted. Table 4 5 illustrates the descriptive statistics for blog credibility of group s 3 and 4. The means for blog credibility were 4.48 (the

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55 high trustworthiness/expertise group) and 3.92 (the low trustworthiness/expertise group) for each group, and the mean difference between the groups was statistically significant (p< .05) as illustrated in t able 4 6. This indicates that there was a significant difference in perception of blog credibility between the subjects who were exp osed to a more trustworthy and expert blogger and others exposed to a less trustworthy and less expert blogger. The mean scores indicate that the subjects in a group with a higher level of blogger credibility perceive a higher level of credibility toward a blog. Therefore, H2 was supported. Table 4 5. Descriptive statistics for blog credibility of the groups with different levels of bloggers credibility Group Mean Std. Deviation N Minimum Maximum 3 High bloggers credibility 4.48 1.14 52 1.00 6.00 4 Low bloggers credibility 3.92 .93 50 1.50 6.00 Total 4.21 1.08 102 1.00 6.00 Table 4 6. ANOVA results for blog credibility of the groups with different levels of bloggers credibility Group Sum of Squares df Mean Square F p Between Groups 8.02 1 8.02 7.34 .008 Within Groups 109.16 100 1.10 Total 117.18 101 Test of H ypothesis 3 H3: Subjects exposed to a blog that has a higher level of information quality will perceive the blog as being more credible than do subjects exposed to a blog that has a lower level of information quality. H3 was developed to investigate the relationship between information quality and blog credibility. The mean scores of groups 5 and 6, which were designed to show the subjects one of the blogs with high and low informat ion quality, were compared using a one -way ANOVA. Table 4 7 illustrates the descriptive statistics for blog credibility of group s 5 and 6. The means for blog credibility were 4.68 (high information quality group) and 3.43 (low information quality group) for each group, and the mean difference between the groups was statistically significant (p< .001) as indicated in table 4 8. That is, the difference in the information quality of a blog can

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56 affect the subjects perception of a blog, specifically in terms of blog credibility When the subjects were exposed to a blog with a higher level of information quality, they perceived the blog to be more credible. Thus, H3 was supported. Table 4 7. Descriptive statistics for blog credibility of the groups with di fferent levels of information quality Group Mean Std. Deviation N Minimum Maximum 5 High information quality 4.68 .97 47 2.00 6.00 6 Low information quality 3.43 1.23 56 1.00 6.00 Total 4.00 1.28 103 1.00 6.00 Table 4 8. ANOVA results for blog credibi lity of the groups with different levels of information quality Group Sum of Squares df Mean Square F p Between Groups 40.07 1 40.07 32.14 .00 Within Groups 125.93 101 1.25 Total 166.00 102 Test of H ypotheses 4, 5, and 6 H4: Subjects level of in volvement with blogs will be positively related to blog credibility. H5: Subjects reliance on blogs will be positively related to blog credibility. H6: Subjects blog usage will be positively related to blog credibility. H4 predicted that subjects level of involvement with a blog will be positively related to blog credibility. H5 assumes that reliance on blogs will be positively related to blog credibility. H6 predicts that a positive relationship will exist between blog usage and blog credibility. To test these hypotheses, Pearson s correlation analysis and backward elimination multiple regression analysis were conducted. As shown in t able 4 9, blog credibility did not demonstrate a significant correlat ion with any of the factors related to message r eceivers. However, the level of involvement with blogs correlated with reliance on blogs (r= .370, p< .01) and blog usage (r= .291, p< .01). Further reliance on blogs correlated strongly with blog usage (r= .569, p< .01).

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57 Backward elimination multiple regression analysis of blog credibility with the level of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, and blog usage was performed. T h e equation was statistically significant (F=2.945, p< .05) as illustrated in t able 4 10. However, only 1% of the variance in blog credibility was explained statistically by the variable, the level of involvement with blogs ( = .099, p< .05). Reliance on blogs and blog usage were excluded due to their statistical insignificancy in the model. Thus, H4 was supported, and H5 and H6 were not supported. Table 4 9. Correlations among the level of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, blog usage, and blog credibility Blog credibility Involvement Reliance Usage Blog credibility 1.00 Involvement .099 1.00 Reliance .075 .370** 1.00 Usage .073 .291** .569** 1.00 Note: ** p < .01 (2-tailed) Table 4 10. Backward eliminat ion multiple regression analysis of blog credibility with the level of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, and blog usage Dependent variable: blog credibility Regression models B Std. Error Beta T S ig. tolerance VIF Model 1 Involvement .100 .079 .079 1.268 .103 .853 1.172 Reliance .022 .063 .025 .348 .364 .630 1.586 Usage .035 .071 .035 .499 .309 .669 1.495 Model 2 Involvement .108 .076 .085 1.409 .080 .915 1.092 Usage .048 .060 .048 .796 .214 .915 1.092 Model 3 Involvement .125 .073 .099 1.716 .044* 1.000 1.000 Note : p < .05 (1 tailed) R= .111, R = .012, Adj. R = .002 R= .109, R = .012, Adj. R = .005 R= .099, R = .010, Adj. R = .006 To check the multicollinearity of the variables, tolerance and VIF value s w ere used. Generally, if tolerance is less than .20 or the VIF value exceeds 5, there is the possibility of a problem with multicollinearity (Garson, 2003). Tolerance levels of the three variables were

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58 .853, .630, and .669 ( t able 4 9) and the VIF scores were all below 5 in the equation. Therefore, it can be said that there was no serious problem of multicollinearity in this analysis. Test of H ypothesis 7 H7: Subjects perceived credibility toward a blog will be positively related to brand attitude towa rd a brand. H7 assumes that there will be a positive relationship between blog credibility and brand attitude. The tone of blog content which contains Samsung s brand and product information, was controlled. To investigate the relationship, Pearson s cor relation and multiple aggression analysis were conducted. Table 4 11 shows that brand attitude correlates strongly with blog credibility (r=.494, p< .001) and the tone of blog content was also related strongly to brand attitude (r=.489, p<.001). These correlation results indicate that both blog credibility and the tone of blog content were significantly related to brand attitude. A multiple regression analysis was performed o n blog credibility and the tone of blog content on brand attitude. As shown in t able 4 12, the equation is statistically significant (F=78.550, p< .001), and 34.7% of the variance in brand attitude is explained statistically by the two variables. Both of the variables predicted significantly the attitude toward the brand. Accordin g to Garson (2003), b eta weights are regression effect size measures, controlling for other variables in the model. That is, if all independent and control variables are included in a regression model at the same time, then each variable is controlled by other variables. Thus, it can be said that blog credibility was positively related to brand attitude ( =.357, p< .001), controlling for the tone of the content. Thus, H7 was supported. Table 4 9 shows that tolerance levels of two independent variables are .846, and the VIF value was 1.182. Based on the se results, multicollinearity was not found in this a nalysis.

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59 Table 4 11. Correlations between blog credibility, the tone of blog content, and brand attitude Blog credibility Tone Brand attitude Blog credibility 1.00 Tone .392** 1.00 Brand attitude .494** .489** 1.00 Note: ** p < .01 (2-tailed) Tab le 4 12. Multiple regression analysis of brand attitude with blog credibility and the tone of blog content Dependent variable: brand attitude Variable Unstandardized Coefficients Standardized Coefficients t S ig. Collinearity Statistics Tolerance VIF B Std. Error Beta Blog credibility .307 .044 .357 6.998 .000 .846 1.182 Tone .367 .054 .348 6.821 .000 .846 1.182 R: .589 R : .347 Adjusted R : .342 F ratio: F=78.550 ( p < .001) Te st of H ypothesis 8 H8: Subjects perceived credibility towa rd a blog will be positively related to behavioral intention toward a brand. H8 predicted that blog credibility will be positively related to behavioral intention. The tone of blog content was controlled in the same way used for H7. To investigate the r elationship, Pearson s correlation and multiple aggression analysis were conducted. Behavioral intention toward a brand correlates strongly with blog credibility (r=.382, p< .001) and the tone of blog content was also strongly related to behavioral intention (r=.229, p<.001). These correlation results indicate that both blog credibility and the tone of blog content were related significantly to behavioral intention ( t able 4 13). A multiple regression analysis was performed on blog credibility and the to ne of blog content relative to behavioral intention. As shown in t able 4 14, the equation is statistically significant (F=26.799, p< .001), and 15.3% of the variance in behavioral intention is explained statistically by the two variables. Of the two

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60 vari ables, only blog credibility was significant in predict ing behavioral intention ( =.345, p< .001). Thus, H8 was supported. Regarding multicollinearity, the same results as H7 can be seen in t able 4 12. Table 4 14 shows that the tolerance level of the two independent variables was .846, and the VIF value was 1.182. Based on the se re sults, multicollinearity was not a factor in this analysis. Table 4 13. Correlations between blog credibility, the tone of blog content, and behavioral intention toward a brand Blog credibility Tone Behavioral intention Blog credibility 1.00 Tone .3 92** 1.00 Behavioral intention .382** .229** 1.00 Note: ** p < .01 (2-tailed) Table 4 14. Multiple regression analysis of behavioral intention toward a brand with blog credibility and the tone of blog content Dependent variable: behavioral intention Va riable Unstandardized Coefficients Standardized Coefficients t S ig. Collinearity Statistics Tolerance VIF B Std. Error Beta Blog credibility .315 .053 .345 5.938 .000 .846 1.182 Tone .105 .065 .094 1.609 .109 .846 1.182 R: .392 R : .153 Adjusted R : .148 F ratio: F=26.799 ( p < .001) The R esults of H ypotheses Among the hypotheses of current study, five were supported and other three were not supported. Table 4 15 indicates the results of the hypotheses. Table 4 15. Results of hypothes es Hypotheses Results H1: Subjects exposed to a blo g that offers a higher level of interactivity will perceive the blog as being more credible than do subjects exposed to a blog that has a lower level of interactivity. N ot supported

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61 Table 4 15. Continued Hypotheses Results H2: Subjects exposed to a blog that has a higher level of blogger trustworthiness and expertise will perceive the blog as being more credible than do subjects exposed to a blog that has a lower level of blogger trustworthiness and ex pertise. Supported H3: Subjects exposed to a blog that has a higher level of information quality will perceive the blog as being more credible than do subjects exposed to a blog that has a lower level of information quality. Supported H4: Subjects level of involvement with blogs will be positively related to blog credibility Supported H5: Subjects reliance on blogs will be positively related to blog credibility Not supported H6: Subjects blogs usage will be positively related to blog credibility N ot supported H7: Subjects perceived credibility toward a blog will be positively related to brand attitude toward a brand. Supported H8: Subjects perceived credibility toward a blog will be positively related to behavioral intention toward a brand. Su pported

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62 CHAPTER 5 DISCUSSION This chapter is composed of six parts. In the first part, the background of the present study and the study procedures were reviewed. Then in the next part, the results of the hypotheses were presented. T he conclusion of this study was stated in the third portion The theoretical and practical implications of the present study were discussed in the fourth part, and the limitations of the present study were addressed in the f ifth part. In the final part, s everal suggestions for future research were presented Review of the P resent S tudy The present study presents an innovative empirical examination of the impact of various factors on blog credibility, and the effects of blog credibility on brand attitude and behavioral in tention toward a brand. M any traditional media studies have been conducted to analyze the characteristics of information sources and their impacts on corporations, brands, and products. However, relative to online media and various online communication mediums including blogs, few such studies have addressed the effects of these fast -growing, new information platforms. Among the effective online communication tools, it seems that there is a clear difference between a blog and other mediums in terms of t he interactivity between bloggers and readers as blogs are often called highly expressive (Van House, 2004), dialogic (Smudde, 2005), interactive (Blood, 2003), and democratic (Van House, 2004). Blogs that possess these distinctive features can c reate not only social and political impact s on the blog users (Johnson & Kaye, 2004) but also the potential of influencing blog users brand perception. Currently, 80% of bloggers share brand or product reviews with their audiences, and more than 30% of t he bloggers have been asked to become spokespersons or advocates of certain brands (Technorati, 2008). In other

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63 words, blogs are gaining importan ce in terms of their ability to increase influence on branding and customer relationships. Since blogs are s ources of information just like any other kind of media, their credibility is a critical factor in maximiz ing the impact of the medium. Blog credibility is critical because audience s are more inclined to accept information from a blog that is perceived as being credible or believable (Fogg, 2003). B log credibility is determined by many conditions related to the message sender, the message receiver, the message itself, and the medium. Consequently, the factors and conditions that affect blog credibi lity may have direct or indirect impacts on brand perception. Further, blog credibility can mediate those impacts. Thus, the present study aimed to explore the significant factors that influence blog credibility and how they ultimately play a role in re aders attitudes and behavioral intentions toward brands. Also, this study proposed that blog credibility can actually help to amplify the interaction between those credibility factors and brand perception. To verify the assumptions, the media effects th eory (Slater, 1999), the source credibility theory (Hovland & Weiss, 1951), and the prominence interpretation theory (Fogg, 2003) were adopted. To test the hypotheses, an experimental study was conducted with 299 college students from the University of F lorida. One of the six blogs that represents high or low interactivity, blogger credibility and information quality was exposed to subjects as a stimulus, and the subjects were asked to focus on the brand information regarding Samsung laptop computers. Then, they evaluated items relative to the six credibility factors, brand attitude, and behavioral intention toward the brand. Overview of the R esults of H ypotheses In this part, each of the hypotheses was evaluated based on the results of the data analy sis.

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64 H1: Subjects exposed to a blog that offers a higher level of interactivity will perceive the blog as being more credible than do subjects exposed to a blog that has a lower level of interactivity. H2: Subjects exposed to a blog that has a higher lev el of blogger trustworthiness and expertise will perceive the blog as being more credible than do subjects exposed to a blog that has a lower level of blogger trustworthiness and expertise. H3: Subjects exposed to a blog that has a higher level of informat ion quality will perceive the blog as being more credible than do subjects exposed to a blog that has a lower level of information quality. Perceived interactivity, blogger credibility information quality, the level of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, and blog usage were the influencers of blog credibility suggested by the present study. H1, H2, and H3 tested the group differences in blog credibility between high and low interactivity, high and low blogger credibility (trustworthiness/expertise) and high and low information quality groups. One -way ANOVA analyses were performed to test the hypotheses. It was found that the difference in blogger credibility and information quality actually produced different levels of blog credibility Alternat ively, differentiation of perceived interactivity did not produce any difference s in blog credibility. One of the major findings of the present study reaffirms the results of previous source credibility studies relative to new media. Past studies have o bserved that the credibility of an information provider and the quality of information (or argument) were the most crucial elements in creating credible perceptions among audiences (Van House, 2004; Rubin & Liddy, 2006; Rieh, 2000, 2002; Huerta, 2003). The results of the present study are also consistent with previous research. Blog users showed a distinct reaction to the different levels of information quality and blogger credibility (trustworthiness and expertise) in terms of blog credibility. This i mplies that the impact of bloggers on audience perceptions of blogs can vary widely depending on the credibility of bloggers. Moreover, although a blog may be considered a biased medium, its quality of information is still one of the most critical facto rs in determining the credibility of

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65 the source. In sum, i t is confirmed again that information quality can play a role as a major predictor of Web credibility (Fogg et al., 200 1 ; Stanford et al., 2002; Rubin & Liddy, 2006; Chu & Kamel, 2008). With resp ect to perceived interactivity, the results were somewhat different from what was predicted. There was no significant difference between the high and a low interactivity groups regarding blog credibility. One possible explanation for this result can be t he multidimensionality of interactivity. Since conceptualizations of interactivity have varied so greatly, there can also be diverse ways of measuring that interactivity. McMillan and Hwang (2002) argued that the definitions of interactivity can be cla ssified in four ways: process, features, perceptions, or combination of the concepts. In the present study, the main focus of interactivity was perception. Thus, other conceptualizations of interactivity; i.e., interactivity relative to the features of blogs, could produce different outcomes. In addition, it is also possible to assume that a blog is predominantly an interpersonal communication medium, which stresses the relationship between the source and reader, intimacy, and message content rathe r than structural variables such as interactivity. In conclusion, the results of H1, H2, and H3 imply the importance of the perceptions about bloggers and information quality when it comes to the evaluation of blog credibility. The result for H3 can be interpreted such that the perceived interactivity of a blog has comparatively less significance than blogger credibility and information quality. H4: Subjects level of involvement with blogs will be positively related to blog credibility. H5: Subjects reliance on blogs will be positively related to blog credibility. H6: Subjects blog usage will be positively related to blog credibility. To investigate the relationships between subjects level of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, blog usage, and blog credibility, H4, H5, and H6 were posit ed. As a result of Pearsons

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66 correlation and backward elimination multiple regression analysis, it was found that only the subjects level of involvement with blogs was positively related to blog credibility. No significant relationship exist ed between reliance on blogs and blog credibility, and between blog usage and blog credibility. The result of H4 is consistent with the previous studies. In traditional media studies, it was concluded that product messag e recall and persuasion effects are increased when a medium is highly involv ed (Lloyd & Clancy, 1989; Audits and Surveys, 1986). A similar tendency is expected in new media. Foggs prominence interpretation theory (2003) also emphasizes the importance of involvement with the Web regarding the credibility assessment of the Web site. Specifically in blogs, it is observed that an audience s level of involvement with blogs contributes to the explanation of blog credibility. A lthough there was a statistical ly significant and positive relationship between level of involvement and blog credibility, the strength of the relationship was limited. Some of the previous studies related to the level of involvement and media credibility showed mixed results about the relationship between the two factors. The empirical findings regarding involvement on blog credibility seem s somewhat u n settling (Stewart et al. 2002). The result s seen in the present study might be explained by most subjects not hav ing previous relati onships with the sample blogs. In terms of the relationship between reliance on blogs and blog credibility, the result of the present study does not correspond with that of several Web reliance studies (Banning & Trammell, 2006; Johnson & Kaye, 2004; Kim 2006). However, t he result might be affected by certain factors. For example, in a study by Johnson et al. (2007), the political tendency of respondents was controlled in order to test the relationship between reliance and blog credibility.

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67 For the pr esent study, reliance on other media might influence the relationship between reliance on blogs and blog credibility because subjects can rely more on many other traditional or new forms of media than blogs. In addition, the measures used in the study wer e of general blog reliance rather than reliance on the specific blog read, which might lead to some differentiated perception. As in the case of reliance, there was no significant relationship between blog usage and blog credibility. It is often said th at the more familiar Internet users are with the Internet, the more critical they become (Flanagin & Metzger, 2000). When subjects with a high blog usage level were exposed to a blog with comparatively low quality, they may exhibit a higher level of skept icism than do subjects with a low usage level. Here a gain, the measurement difference between general and specific blog usage might play some role. In conclusion, the present study found that subjects level of involvement with blogs is positively relat ed to blog credibility while reliance on blogs and level of blog usage do not play roles as predictors of blog credibility. H7: Subjects perceived credibility toward a blog will be positively related to brand attitude toward a brand. H8: Subjects perceived credibility toward a blog will be positively related to behavioral intention toward a brand H7 and H8 attempted to identify the positive relationships between blog credibility and brand attitude, and between blog credibility and behavioral intention toward a brand. To examine these relationships, Pearsons correlation and multiple regression data analyses were conducted. The tone of blog content regarding Samsung laptop computers was controlled; as a result, both relationships were supported. The results revealed that when people perceive a blog as being more credible, they are more likely to have a favorable brand attitude and a higher level of behavioral intention toward a

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68 brand that was posted on the blog. Thus, the findings provide some insigh ts into branding because blogs can actually make an impact on the blog audiences brand perception; blogs can be utilized to stimulate brand awareness, positive attitude toward a brand, and even purchase intention or willingness to recommend a brand to other people. In conclusion, t he present study demonstrated that: 1 ) Different levels of blogger credibility (trustworthiness and expertise) result in a significant difference in perception of blog credibility; 2 ) Different levels of the information quality of a blog result in a significant difference in perceived blog credibility; 3 ) An audiences level of involvement with blogs is positively related to blog credibility; 4 ) Blog credibility is positively related to the audiences attitude toward the brand addressed in the blog; and, 5 ) Blog credibility is positively related to the behavioral intention of the audience (willingness to buy and willingness to recommend to other people) toward the brand addressed in the blog. Conclusion Each blog adds to an inescapable tren d fueled by the Internet: the democratization of power and opinionAn amateur media is springing up, and the smart are adapting (Kirkpatrick, 2005) The emergence and evolution of new communication vehicles not only has given researchers diverse new subjects for studies but has also affected business practitioners perspectives on how to communicate with the public. As described above, among the many innovative online mediums, blogs are extremely free -to -talk, open to everybody, and blunt. Thus, as blogg ers power develops blogs often become the center of attention for both the general public and the market.

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69 The reason why a blog represents such an important medium for branding is not limited to the fact that the number of blogs is growing and the nu mber of bloggers who actually spread their blunt opinions on brand s and products is increasing. More than those tendencies, the fact that blog visitors represent a demographically attractive advertising audience points to the importance and the potenti al of the medium. According to recent studies, the majority of blog visitors were white, highly educated, were of high -income backgrounds, and were likely to be affluent, young, and broadband -enabled (Kaye, 2005; Rainie, Fox, & Fallows, 2003; ComScore Networks, 2005). Regardless of its potential, a blog will not be able to influence the audiences attitude and behavior if it does not fulfill the expectations of its audience as a credible source of information. Microsofts Robert Scoble state d that the blog should be credible, otherwise, it will lose all ability to have a conversation with the world at large (Kirkpatrick, 2005). Thus, the elements of a blog that comp rise blog users credibility perceptions should be better understood by sc holars and practitioners who can utilize the medium in many desirable ways. Furthermore, as seen in the present study, blog communication exhibits the essence of interpersonal communication Blogs should offer quality information (fulfillment of basic in terest to start relationships), the personal features of bloggers are critical elements (importance of the relationship based on the trust between two persons), and it is important to involve the audiences in the media (significance of interaction and cycl es of the interaction) to create and maintain relationships with blog audience s Thus, blogs should be managed and monitored differently from traditional mass media branding platforms.

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70 Implications Theoretical I mplications The present study provides som e noteworthy theoretical implications. First, this was the initial attempt to explore the factors that influence blog credibility considering the four important aspects of source credibility: message sender (blogger credibility ), message receiver (the lev el of involvement with blogs, reliance on blogs, and blog usage), medium (perceived interactivity of a blog), and message (perceived information quality). Most researchers have either investigated the impact of the factors on the credibility of traditiona l media or have focused on one or two aspects of the online media. This study presents a holistic view of the impacts of these factors from various aspects of source credibility on the specific medium, blog s Second, theories regarding the assessment of Web credibility, such as the prominence interpretation theory (Fogg, 2003), tend to emphasize the importance of the visibility of Web components. The researchers posit that the degree to which the audience captures the various elements of Web sites will produce a significant impact on credibility assessment. However, it can be inferred from the present study that an information providers credibility and information quality contributed to the perception of credibility more than structural factors like in teractivity, in the relationship between bloggers and their audiences. In essence, in a b l og environment, the messenger and message seem to contribute more to the credibility of the medium. In other words, the mechanism of the blog platform may mimic tha t of interpersonal communication in that it emphasizes the initial interest of the audience to seek quality information, determine their trust with the information provider, and evaluate their willingness to maintain the relationships. Finally, the prese nt study examined the direct effects of blog credibility on brand attitude and behavioral intention. It can be inferred from the results of this study that the media effects theories, which were investigated previously and focused primarily on traditional media, can be

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71 applied to a blog study. Slater (1999) integrated the theories related to media effects and attitude and behavioral change across the stages of change. According to the present study, brand information deliberated in blogs can be a stimulus for interpersonal communication, which can stimulate attitudinal or behavioral changes. Thus the influence of blogs can be explored with respect to media advocacy, agenda setting, the theory of reasoned action, and so on. Practical I mplications From the perspective of business practice s the present study contributes to building and maintaining relationships with the public from several perspectives Jeff Jarvis, author of the blog BuzzMachine, argues, there should be someone at every company whose job is to put into Google and blog search engines the name of the company or the brand, followed by the word sucks, just to see what customers are saying (Kirkpatrick, 2005). Because of its democratic and censorship free characteristics, it has been very easy for bloggers (and also for their interactive audiences) to bring to the attention of the public any product or brand related opinions. Industry has noticed this phenomenon as well, and public relations practitioners or brand managers should be equipped with the knowledge and skills to manage the impacts of those blogs on their brands. As useful as it is for branding, a blog is one of the most difficult mediums in which to control content or influence audiences. That is, without having an appropriate understanding of this emerging communication tool, brands cannot acquire positive attention and reactions from blog users. Steve Hayden, vice chairman of advertising agency Ogylvy & Mather, warns corporations interested in blog marketing that their use of ill -prepared strategies, such as distortion of brand information, will arouse the audiences negative reactions (Kirkpatrick, 2005).

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72 One of the most important elements in understanding blogs should be a comprehension of the factors that make blogs persuasive. In other words, brand managers and public relations practitioners should understand the factors that may influence blog credibility and how it functions. T he results of the present study suggest some critical factors that might influ ence blog credibility and subsequently, its impact on brands. First, given that blogger credibility and the information quality of blogs are important influencers on blog users perception of credibility, practitioners can not e the importance of recruiti ng and building relationships with bloggers that command high authority and popularity in specific fields. For example, a brand manager of Samsung laptop computers can create a new blogosphere by inviting some active bloggers from highly ranked blogs for technology information, such as Gizmodo or Engadjet, in order to give the blog s audiences the impression of a professional information source. Further, once the new blog and bloggers are composed, the company can establish experience -based marketing st rategies toward the authoritative bloggers. Arranging meetings on a regular basis to allow bloggers to try the company s existing and new products represents just one way to connect bloggers to the brand. When bloggers experiences are expressed later on the ir blog s audiences can acquire more substantial and concrete brand information. That is, when concrete brand information was released by the bloggers with high credibility, the chances are much higher that the company will deliver quality information to its customers thus decreasing the audiences suspicion about the advertisements. Also, because audiences involvement with blog s can affect the overall perception of credibility toward the blog, creat ing and maintain ing audience involvement should be considered by practitioners. Many blog experts point out that the most important method to keep blog

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73 readers is updating information frequently and offering dialogic tools. For instance, Samsung marketers can install the bulletin on blogs and ena ble people to share information on Samsung laptop computers such as reviews or after service systems each other. A nother way a company can increase user involvement is by organizing regular events that provide direct and indirect experience with Samsung l aptop computers to the blog users who participate in surveys or promotion events i n the ir blog s Finally, practitioners should be aware that blogs can be utilized in diverse ways to foster changes in audience attitude and behavior d epending on the charac teristics of the brands and their target audience. Among many laptop computers, some models emphasize design and size for the young and female target audience s while others highlight their durability among older prospective purchasers and members of the more practical target audience. The se two target groups may use different criteria to discern the credib ility of a source and the information it provides; thus, they may involve themselves with a given blog in dissimilar ways. Th erefore it will be impo rtant to customize a blog in terms of bloggers, information type, and the way to involve audience in order to maximize the attitudinal and behavioral changes toward a brand by the target audience. If practitioners can build or find credible blogs to co mmunicate with the public, this would contribute to the development and maintenance of an effective relationship. As a cost efficient, interactive, and highly customized medium, a blog is expected to open a new means of branding. Limitations Though ever y attempt has been made to ensure a comprehensive and thorough study, t he present study has several limitations.

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74 First, in terms of sampling, this study us ed only college students from the University of Florida. The majority of the subjects ranged in age from 17 to 25, which indicates skewness of the sample demographic. Although college students were considered the most appropriate subjects for the present study due to their Internet skill set and familiarity, the results of the present study cannot be generalized beyond this specific population. Second, the present study used only one brand (Samsung) within one product category (a laptop computer). To acquire results that are more applicable to various brands and product categories, tests should have been conducted with other brands and product categories for comparison. Third, previous relationships between bloggers (blogs) and subjects were not considered in the present study. The length or intensity of such relationships with general or specific blogs and bloggers might affect the results. Considering half of the sample blogs were ranked in popular blog lists while the other half of the sample blogs were created by the researcher, the unexpected influence of this relationship cannot be excluded in the present study. F ourth, the measures of blog usage, reliance, and involvement served as the scales designed for general blogs. T he present study, however, assessed credibility toward specific blogs. This might cause a weak or irrelevant relations hip between the variables and blog credibility. Fifth, in terms of experimental procedure, it was difficult to assure that every subject had focused thoroughly on the stimul us blogs without interference from other conditions. The s ubjects could have bee n distracted by their circumstances because they were not controlled for by the researcher in the present study by utilizing a laboratory environment for the experiment.

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75 Finally, the present study investigated group differences in blog credibility relati ve to interactivity, blogger credibility and information quality rather than evaluating the relationships between blog credibility and those factors. The experimental treatment (exposing different levels of blogs to subjects) was conducted to confirm the perceptual variance that existed between the subjects. For that reason, however, the degree of the relationships among the three variables and blog credibility could not be explored. Suggestions for F uture R esearch The present study should be replicate d to include more brands and product categories using advanced techniques to generalize the results. To do so, some suggestions were presented in this part for future research. First, it is quite obvious that there have been limited studies concerning W eb credibility. Even though many researchers have addressed source credibility theories and studies, most such studies have focused on traditional media. Even in new media studies, it is difficult to find unique and distinguishable criteria used to facilit ate the assessment of Web credibility. In the future, a more deliberate comparison of traditional and new media should be reflected in the evaluation of media credibility. Beyond the source credibility factors relative to the message sender, its receive r, the media, and the message, another aspect of source credibility factors of a social level may help the researcher explain blog credibility. Blogging can be interpreted as something of an online socialization procedure. Because of this characteristi c, the variables that apply to socialization at the interpersonal level should also be considered as possible influencers on blog credibility. When those factors are explored simultaneously, the quality of blog credibility studies might be improved.

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76 Fin ally, when the influences of the variables are investigated further using more general samples and subjects, researche r s might be able to build a more robust model of blog credibility and thus assess more accurately its impact on peoples perceptions towar d brands.

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84 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Ji Young B ang graduat ed with a bachelors degree in a dvertising and p ublic relations from Ewha Womans University, one of the most prestigious colleges of mass communications in Korea. She c ompleted her Master of Arts in m ass c ommunication with a specialty in public relations from the University of Florida in 2009. During her graduate stud ies she focused on corporate social responsibility and online media. After graduation, s he plans to continue her public relations career in Korea by becoming involved in practical areas of public relations