The Internet and Information Search

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In this chapter the chosen method of this study is presented and justified. The process for data collection is described following the way the data is analyzed. The quality of our chosen method is argued and lastly, a summary of the method is given.

Research Approach

To gain a deeper knowledge about how blogs and bloggers affect the consumer decision pro-cess, this thesis analyzed what influences consumers to use blogs as an information source. This study was conducted through a qualitative, exploratory approach. Silverman (2006, pg.44) claims, “[…] one real strength of qualitative research is that it can use naturally occurring data to find the sequences (‘how’) in which participants’ meanings (‘what’) are deployed and thereby establish the character of some phenomenon”. Therefore, we were able to understand the reader’s perception of blogs and how their attitudes are influenced and shaped by blogs.
This study was limited to Swedish blogs due to geographical limitations. Previous studies on the topic have, to a large extent, conducted quantitative studies researching blog influence on consumer behavior on a group level. However, to be able to understand why consumers behave in a certain way and how they are influenced by blogs, one cannot quantify the consumers’ thoughts and experiences of their behavior. In order to understand consumer behavior, it is nec-essary to see each consumer as being individually influenced in everyday life. Therefore, an interpretivist research philosophy was implemented in this thesis in order to grasp the consum-ers’ perceptions of their own information search behavior. According to Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2009, pg.324), using an interpretivist philosophy allow the researchers to “[…] un-derstand the meanings that participants ascribe to various phenomena”.
The existing literature regarding blogs confirms that consumer’s behavior is in fact influenced by blogs, allowing us to develop an understanding of why this social construction occurs through the consumer’s perspective. The study had partly a theoretical position prior to the data collection since the interview questions were derived based on previous research, which would intend the study to have a deductive approach (Saunders, et al., 2009). However, this study was focusing on an in-depth analysis with a flexible structure in order to understand the consumers’ perspective of their own intentions, suggesting an inductive approach (Saunders, et al., 2009). Therefore, a combination of the approaches was implemented, deriving an abductive approach for this study (Saunders, et al., 2009).

Research Design

There is not one standard or accepted structure within qualitative research; several aspects vary from study to study depending on the type of research developed by the researcher (Creswell, 2007). According to Bryman and Bell (2003), there are five different designs for qualitative research: experimental, cross-sectional, longitudinal, case study and comparative. The selection of design is dependent on the purpose of the study. Since the purpose of this thesis is to inves-tigate how blogs influence consumer information search and is addressed from a consumer’s perspective, a multiple case study was the most appropriate design for this study.
Case studies are used to illustrate how a culture works and involves a detailed and intensive analysis of an issue examined through one or more cases within a particular setting (Bryman & Bell, 2003; Creswell, 2007). A case study can be assigned to an organization, location, person or an event (Bryman & Bell, 2003). Since we are looking from a consumer’s perspective, our case study involved the study of people and because every individual is affected differently it is crucial to look at more than one case, therefore we used a multiple case study approach. Additionally, our study focused only on how Swedish consumers are affected by the use of blogs. As Bryman and Bell (2003) argue, case studies are usually most appropriate when a single geographic location is being investigated and is applied to qualitative studies; hence a case study design is most fitting for this thesis.
Along with a case study design, an exploratory study was used. Saunders, et al. (2009) explains there are three distinct classifications of research purposes: exploratory, descriptive and explan-atory. An exploratory study intends to understand a problem in a new light and to find out new insights for a more clear understanding (Saunders, et al., 2009). The choice to use an exploratory study was made based on the fact to seek new realization from consumer’s perspective on why they search for information from blogs. Saunders, et al. (2009) suggest there are three ways to conduct an exploratory study: literature search, focus group interviews and interviews with ex-perts on the topic. To carry out the exploratory study, interviews were conducted with experi-enced and relevant respondents to this topic. The interview questions were based on the theory and the purpose of this study. The respondent was allowed to evolve their answers making the interview flexible and adaptable to change based on the interviewee’s thoughts and experiences. The interviews had a broad entry but were progressively narrowed by the focus of the research question and the interviewee’s experiences and thoughts. Selection of samples and interviews are discussed further in this chapter.

Data Collection

To answer the research questions and to fulfill the purpose of this study, primary data was col-lected and existing literature was reviewed. Researchers collect primary data by themselves for the reason to gather valid, reliable and relevant data for the research questions and purpose. Existing literature is reviewed to reanalyze data that has already been collected and is useful to partially answer the research question (Creswell, 2007; Saunders, et al., 2009).

Primary Data

To differentiate data collection techniques and data analysis procedures, researchers use the terms quantitative and qualitative data (Saunders, et al., 2009). With a qualitative approach the researcher often conduct interviews or categorize data. Through interviews, researchers gather data to support the research question and purpose of the study (Creswell, 2007; Saunders, et al., 2009). In order to understand why consumers read lifestyle blogs and the influence it has on them, primary data was collected through personal interviews in this study (Creswell, 2007). To gather the primary data, we sought to interview individuals that share extensive and rich answers to the topic of this study. The individuals were identified based on the criteria that they are experienced with reading lifestyle blogs at least once in a week.

Literature Review

By reviewing existing literature one can compare data in earlier research and thereby find un-foreseen or unexpected discoveries within the topic (Creswell, 2007; Saunders, et al., 2009). To fulfill the purpose of this study, previous literature was collected, mainly through the Jönköping University Library and the Jönköping University database. The process of searching for litera-ture started with typing in keywords such as consumer behavior and/or blog influences and from the list of hits, the abstracts was read to determine if the literature was relevant for this study or not. Although, due to time and resource restrictions, not all of the existing literature was taken into consideration, resulting in a chance of missing out on literature that could have further assisted this study.
In some cases of the literature search a total of approximately 70 000 hits were found. To narrow down the literature search several keywords were used, namely: information search, influential characteristics and reading blogs. Thereby the number of hits was decreased to 60 hits. To decide which abstracts we chose to read out of all 60 hits, total 6 articles were found that were most relevant based on the title. Literature was chosen based on the criteria that it was relevant to the subject for this study and that the foundation of the work was a peer-reviewed literature that was of high quality and was vastly cited, in order to increase this study’s reliability. Liter-ature with sufficient high quality standards has a given purpose with an intention to research a topic, a data collection section of some kind and that the findings are presented and discussed in relation to the state of the knowledge.

Selection of Cases

For many research questions and objectives there is no possibility to collect all available data. In particular, the attempt to analyze them is difficult because of time, money and access re-strictions. Through sampling techniques, one can reduce the amount of data that is needed, which can be achieved by considering only the data available from sub-groups (Saunders, et al., 2009).
Bloglovin is an online platform that allows individuals to discover blogs and also read and organize all their favorite blogs in one place. The platform is available online and can be used on phone or computer, and is used monthly by more than 25 million blog readers worldwide (bloglovin, 2015). There are over 35 million existing blogs (Wright, 2006) and we chose to narrow the study’s purpose by analyzing the top 10 most read blogs in Sweden due to time and resource shortages. The top 10 Swedish blogs are all under the category of lifestyle blogs that contain opinions of an individual about their everyday life (bloglovin, 2015). The decision to interview people who read lifestyle blogs was made based on the popularity of that particular category. The samples of interviewees were individuals who read lifestyle blogs at least once a week and therefore have enough experience of blogs. Thus, the data is informative and reliable. Due to geographical limitations, all our respondents resided in Sweden.
A snowball sampling technique (Sanders, et al., 2009) was used through our own social network because of the difficulty to identify individuals who matched our requirements. The sampling technique started by firstly contacting two individuals that we knew read lifestyle blogs at least once a week. Secondly, these individuals were asked to identify people who fit into our selection criteria and additional three respondents were found. Thirdly, there were only two new respond-ents who found one new respondent each to join this study. Lastly, this identification process stopped when the data collection reached saturation point and the respondents did not add new insights about the topic according to the authors. By using a snowball sampling technique, we were able to find eight respondents from all different parts of Sweden that were currently living in a middle-size city in the southern part of Sweden.
One could argue that with the snowball technique the study’s sample could result in a homoge-neous sample and the respondents are most likely to identify other potential respondents who are similar to them. For this study the occurrence was not a problem because our aim was to sample individuals who had own subjective experience of reading lifestyle blogs at least once a week.

Data Collection

To be able to explore more in depth thoughts and experiences of the consumers and the blog influence on their behavior, the interviews for this study had semi-structured approach in the form of a personal interviews (Saunders, et al., 2009). A set of nine questions was used in each interview. However, to focus on each individual better and have variety, every interview had own additional questions that varied from interview to interview (Creswell, 2007). Each inter-view started with personal background questions about the respondent: age, sex and education (see table 1).
Thereafter, the interviews continued with questions to narrow the discussion with an intention to focus entirely on the study’s research questions and purpose. In some cases the respondent answered concretely to each question, but in most cases the interview proceeded more freely, resulting in more of a conversation atmosphere rather than an interview. The interviews ranged from 30 to 45 minutes, and although all of the respondents were Swedish, the interviews were conducted in English. All the interviews took place in a medium sized Swedish city and were conducted within three weeks time in mid spring in the year of 2015. The interviews were rec-orded on a computer with recording software, while the interviewer simultaneously took notes.
The respondents who chose to participate in this study were all Swedish between the ages of 21 and 24 (see table 1). All of the respondents were undergraduate students in their last year of university. All the respondents fulfilled the requirements of reading lifestyle blogs at least once a week and read different types of blogs focused on a specific topic within the lifestyle blog genre (see table 2).

Pilot Testing

Prior to performing the interviews, pilot interviews were conducted. According to Saunders, et al. (2009), a pilot test is used to ensure that the respondents understand all the questions asked in the interviews and that there is no issue of recording data. The pilot interviews were con-ducted with three respondents. Saunders, et al. (2009) expresses that the number of people used for the pilot test should be sufficient to the amount of people interviewed for the actual data collection. Since we interviewed a total of eight respondents, three people made a suitable pilot sample. After the interview, the interviewer had a discussion with the respondents about their perception of the questions and suggestions for changes and improvements. Based on the com-ments received at the pilot test, the questions were tailored to improve the quality of the data collected during the interviews.

Development of Interview Questions

Below is a list of the nine questions included in each interview with a short description on how each question was developed in relation to the theoretical framework considered in this study.
Blackwell, et al. (2006) and Kotler and Keller (2012) divided the consumer decision process into five stages: need identification, information search and evaluation of alternatives, purchase and post-purchase. This study was based on the attempt to understand the affect of blogs on consumer information search. To understand what sources the respondents use to search for information, the following question opened the interview:

Where do you search for inspiration to look and/or buy fashion and/or lifestyle products?

After the respondent described where they search for information, we narrowed the focus on blogs as an information tool. Hutton and Fosdick (2011) state that consumers read blogs to seek certain information of entertainment but also to read about recommendations and news. To test Hutton and Fosdick’s (2011) perception of blog readers and to gain insights of the respondent’s main intentions of reading blogs, the following question was asked:

Why do you read blogs?

Recently, the Internet has changed the way people receive and search for information (Peterson Merino, 2003). Therefore, we found it important to understand how people find the specific blogs they read. Whether it is from the popularity of the blogger, through social media or from deliberately searching for a specific topic. Hence we asked the respondents the following ques-tion:

How did you find these blogs?

Because of the rapid growth of blogs, easy accessibility of online information and people per-ceiving blogs as a more credible source of information compared to traditional media (Un-derhill, 1999; Johnson & Kaye, 2004), we wanted the respondents to describe the specific char-acteristics that blogs have that traditional media lacks. Therefore the following question was asked:

Why do you believe that you prefer blogs (if you prefer) for information search rather than reading a magazine or other to look at other sources?

Chiang and Hsieh (2011) found the following factors of blogs influence consumer behavior: interactivity, convenience, real time conversation, popularity, specialization and the availability of blogs. This study’s purpose is to find the specific characteristics of blogs that is influencing consumer’s pre-purchase information search. However, contrary to Chiang and Hsieh (2011), this study used a qualitative method in order to not affect the respondent’s initial thoughts. To be able to go further into analyzing what factors are influencing the respondent, we asked why readers keep going back to a particular blog, so the following two questions were asked:
What are intriguing characteristic of reading the blogs?
Hsu, Lin and Chiang (2013) stated that blog readers’ attitudes and intentions of online shopping are significantly influenced by bloggers. In order to understand how the respondents use blogs as an information search tool and to further understand the bloggers significant influences upon the respondent, a real-life situation was necessary. This allowed the respondents to elaborate on a specific time they used blogs for a certain outcome. While they explain using the blog as an information tool, they could also mention features of that specific blog, which relates to the characteristics of blogs, therefore the following question was asked:

Give one example when you deliberately read a blog to search for product information and try to explain why you choose that specific blog.

To support the existing literature that there are two types of Internet-based information search that consumer’s experience, specific and general (Hoffman & Novak, 1996), we wanted to find out if the reason respondents read blogs connected to information search. Also, to continue the discussion on blog characteristics, we asked the following question:

Why do you think individuals read blogs?

Lövheim (2011) studied blogs in Sweden in order to distinguish their common characteristics, her findings showed that the top-ranked blogs were perceived as popular and professional. To acknowledge that certain blogs have more readers than others, perhaps there are common char-acteristics of the most read blogs that might be preferred by readers. In order to understand the respondent’s perception of the most popular blogs and discover the characteristics these blogs entail, in relation to Löveheim’s (2011) findings, we ended the interview by asking:
Why do you think that certain blogs have a greater amount of readers?

Table of Contents
1 Introduction 
1.1 Background of Problem
1.2 Problem
1.3 Purpose
1.4 Disposition
2 Theoretical Frame of Reference
2.1 Consumer Decision Process
2.2 Factors that Influence Consumer Decision Process
2.3 The Internet and Information Search
2.4 Online Communication
2.5 Blogs
2.6 Existing Literature on Blogs
2.7 Summary of Theoretical Framework
3 Method 
3.1 Research Approach
3.2 Research Design
3.3 Data Collection
3.4 Selection of Cases
3.5 Data Collection
3.6 Development of Interview Questions
3.7 Data Analysis
3.8 Quality of Method
3.9 Summary of Method
4 Empirical Findings 
4.1 Interview – Respondent 1
4.2 Interview – Respondent 2
4.3 Interview – Respondent 3
4.4 Interview – Respondent 4
4.5 Interview – Respondent 5
4.6 Interview – Respondent 6
4.7 Interview – Respondent 7
4.8 Interview – Respondent 8
5 Analysis
5.1 Information Search
5.2 Blog Characteristics
5.3 Blog Influences
6 Discussion 
7 Conclusion 
7.1 Limitations
7.2 Future Research
Blog Influence on Consumer Information Search From a Consumer’s Perspective

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