Exploring the Potential of Social Media Strategies to Enhance Customer Loyalty and Brand Growth: A Case Study of Apple Incorporation

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Today, the business world is continuously experiencing the major transformations due to fast technological development pace, intensifying competition, escalating environmental complexities and changing needs and interests of customers. In all this hassle, the emergence of social media has almost transformed the marketing and communication strategies of almost all major multinational organizations. However, Apple is an interesting organization that has successfully maintained its market leadership positioning without ensuring an active presence at popular social media platforms. This online absence has attracted the attention of many researchers and analysts. This research study has been conducted the assess the social media usage pattern among Apple’s existing customers with regards to using online platforms for information collection purposes. The researcher collected the data from 488 Apple’s customers. Quantitative research technique was used to collect and analyse the data and statistical findings confirmed the significant influence of e-WOM engagement on the purchase intentions of Apple’s customers. Higher e-WOM engagement increases the influence on the purchase intentions. Moreover, positive social media perceptions and loyalty also increases the purchase intentions by ensuring an active engagement on these platforms. Overall, the findings suggested Apple recognize the changing patterns and capitalize the opportunities provided by online platforms by developing an innovative social media strategy.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Table of Contents
Abstract ii
List of tables. v
1        Chapter: Introduction. 1
1.1       Research Rationale. 1
1.2       Problem Discussion. 1
1.3       Research Purpose, Scope and Significance. 2
1.3.1        Research Aim and Objectives. 2
1.3.2        Research Questions. 3
1.4       Research Study Structure. 3
2        Chapter: Literature Review.. 4
2.1       Social media in contemporary era. 4
2.2       Social media adoption: Opportunities and Challenges. 4
2.2.1        Impact of e-WOM and social media strategies on the brand growth. 5
2.2.2        Impact of e-WOM and social media strategies on the customer engagement and loyalty. 7
2.2.3        Challenges associated with the e-WOM and social media adoption. 8
2.3       Apple’s social media strategies. 9
2.3.1        E-WOM: Apple’s indirect social media strategy. 10
2.4       Theoretical framework. 10
2.4.1        Methodology Outline. 11
3        Chapter: Research Methodology. 12
3.1       Research Paradigm.. 12
3.2       Research Design. 12
3.3       Research Strategy and Timeframe. 12
3.4       Research method. 13
3.4.1        Data collection and Sampling. 13
3.4.2        Data Analysis. 14
3.5       Ethical Considerations. 14
3.6       Research Limitations. 14
4        Chapter: Findings Presentation and Interpretation. 15
4.1       Reliability Test 15
4.2       Demographic Analysis. 15
4.3       Pearson Correlation. 17
4.3.1        Perceptions towards social media and purchase intentions. 18
4.3.2        E-WOM and purchase intentions. 18
4.3.3        Loyalty and purchase intentions. 19
4.4       Linear Regression. 19
4.4.1        Multiple Linear Regression. 20
4.5       ANOVA- Mean Comparison across Consumers’ Perceptions. 22
4.5.1        Mean Plot 23
4.6       ANOVA- Mean Comparison across Brand Loyalty. 23
4.6.1        Mean Plot 24
4.7       Percentage Analysis. 24
4.7.1        Perceptions towards social media. 25
4.7.2        Engagement in e-WOM... 27
5        Chapter 5: Discussion. 30
5.1       Analysis and Discussion. 30
6        Chapter: Conclusion and Recommendations. 34
6.1       Conclusion and Recommendations. 34
References. 36
Appendix. 41
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Table 1: Reliability test 15
Table 2: Gender 15
Table 3: Age. 16
Table 4: Experience. 16
Table 5: Perceived Importance. 17
Table 6: Correlation descriptives. 17
Table 7: Pearson Correlation. 18
Table 8: Model Summary 1. 19
Table 9: ANOVA 1. 19
Table 10: Regression co-efficient 1. 20
Table 11: Model summary 2. 20
Table 12: ANOVA 2. 21
Table 13: Regression co-effecient 2. 21
Table 14: ANOVA perceptions. 22
Table 15: ANOVA purchase intentions. 23
Table 16: Social media perceptions 1. 25
Table 17: Social media perceptions 2. 25
Table 18: Social media perceptions 3. 26
Table 19: Social media perceptions 4. 26
Table 20: Social media perceptions 5. 27
Table 21: e-WOM 1. 27
Table 22: e-WOM 2. 28
Table 23: e-WOM 3. 28
Table 24: e-WOM 4. 29
 
 
 
 
 
 
The introduction chapter will state the study rationale, research implications, aims and objectives and research questions. The researcher will discuss the underlying problem to provide the justification for choosing this study area.

1.1Research Rationale

Today, the strong influence of e-WOM and social media competitive intelligence has been widely recognized (Pham & Johnson, 2017). Organizations, and particularly, the market leaders are required to gain an adequate comprehension of these strategies to maximize the organizational performance in a highly competitive market and ensure their sustainability in the long run (Ismagilova et. al., 2017). Interestingly, in the era of social media, the Apple incorporation is an exclusive example that has successfully attained the market leadership position without relying on the social media marketing. Till date, the organization has no formal presence on these platforms (Cronk, 2014). However, the latest analysis suggests that the organization will be ultimately induced to integrate the social media strategies for preserving its market leadership position (Wasserman, 2012). This research will explore the need to adopt the social media marketing practices from the customers’ perspective. The results will assist Apple’s management to formulate effective social media strategies and make an optimal use of data available on various social media platforms. The management will adjust the decision-making strategies to ensure an optimum utilization of these platforms.

1.2Problem Discussion

The social media marketing is playing increasingly important role in determining the success or failure of contemporary business organizations.  Particularly, the last decade has observed an upsurge in usage of SMPs (social media platforms) by large multinational organizations to enhance their information broadcasting and communication process at international stage (Aral et al., 2013). The empirical evidence is widely available to confirm the impact on qualitative aspects of performance (Pham & Johnson, 2017). However, the Apple’s avoidance of social media strategies has grabbed the attention of various social media analysists and divided opinions are appearing about the social media avoidance strategy of Apple, where some regard it a unique style of Apple. For example, Shaughnessy (2012) commented that the strong brand image of apple suggests the company will be successful without dominating the social media. While some contend that Apple will be ultimately induced to ensure strong online presence. Like Wasserman (2012) commented that apple cannot resist integrating the social media strategies for long and eventually the management would be induced to realize the potential of effective social media strategies. Hence, the study will assess whether the social media adoption will enhance the Apple management’s ability to positively influence the purchase intentions of its customers. The research will further explore how the social media tools and strategies can assist the Apple to build a positive public perception among social media users about latest offerings.

1.3Research Purpose, Scope and Significance

The research study purpose is to analyse the importance of social media marketing in the context of Apple. The researcher will assess how the e-WOM influences the purchase intentions of Apple customers. identified themes will be used to assist the Apple’s management in the formulation of effective social media strategies. Hence, the research scope will be limited to the Apple organization. The case-study nature will weaken the generalizability element as proposed results will have specific implications in the context of the chosen case-study organization. The group having the highest interest in reviewing the underlying research findings will be the Apple’s management and marketing executives. The findings will make the theoretical contribution by explaining how large multinational organizations are exploiting their presence on social media and how the effective usage of data available on these platforms can further enhance the competitive position in the market. 

1.3.1Research Aim and Objectives

The main aim of the research is to enhance the ability of chosen organization in creating and capturing the value through social media platforms. Following objectives have been designed to achieve this aim:
  • To critically analyse the existing literature and identify important themes related to value creation and diffusion through social media platforms.
  • To understand the impact of e-WOM on the purchase intentions of Apple’s customers.
  • To understand how customer loyalty moderates the relationship between e-WOM and purchase intentions.
  • To analyse the potential of direct and indirect social media marketing for enhancing the Apple’s current marketing activities.
  • To propose useful recommendations to Apple management for practical implementation.

1.3.2Research Questions

The successful accomplishment of above stated research objectives will answer the following research questions:
Research Question 1: How do the e-WOM influences the purchase intentions of Apple’s customers?
Research Question 1a: How do the customer loyalty and customers’ perceptions towards the social media strategies moderate the relationship between e-WOM and purchase intentions?
Research Question 2: Should the Apple integrate the social media strategies to explore the effectiveness of social media platforms?

1.4Research Study Structure

The first chapter “Introduction” has stated the study rationale, research implications, aims and objectives and research questions. The second chapter "Literature review" will extract the important theoretical insights from a comprehensive review of the literature. The third chapter “Research Methodology” will outline the all methodological choices and share an overall plan to conduct empirical research. The fourth chapter “results” will present the key empirical findings followed by a detailed discussion of empirical research results considering the existing literature. Finally, the last chapter “conclusion and recommendations” will conclude all discussion and propose meaningful recommendations to Apple management and future researchers.
 
 
 
  This chapter will conduct a comprehensive review of the literature to extract the important theoretical insights. The researcher will review the scholarly articles, research papers, published dissertations and other reliable secondary data sources to provide the theoretical foundation to underlying research. Based on the critical literature review, the researcher will identify the theoretical framework. The identified model will be based to conduct the empirical research.

2.1Social media in contemporary era

In the contemporary era, the organizations are increasingly relying on the social media strategies to tackle the environmental challenges imposed by the mitigating global boundaries (Fuchs, 2017). The companies’ online presence is determining their ability to collaborate with the customers, consequently shaping their future success (ErdoÄŸmuÅŸ & Cicek, 2012). Larivière, et. al. (2013) have highlighted the need to explore the emerging concept of value embeddedness and the role of social media in its development. Today, the strong influence of e-WOM and social media competitive intelligence has become obvious (Schivinski & Dabrowski, 2016). Analysts contend that international organizations must broaden their understanding of social media strategies for ensuring a sustainable brand growth in the long run (Ismagilova et. al., 2017). E-business and marketing strategies are directly influencing the customers’ perceptions. Many studies have confirmed the substantial impact of e-WOM on customer loyalty (Kim & Ko, 2012; ErdoÄŸmuÅŸ & Cicek, 2012), and brand growth (Hudson & Thal, 2013). However, the integration of social media strategies involves various challenges besides offering tremendous opportunities (Fuchs, 2017). The next section will discuss those challenges and opportunities in the context of large, international organizations.

2.2Social media adoption: Opportunities and Challenges

The literature has highlighted many benefits offered by the social media integration, including its potential to develop the brand, enhance product/service interest, increase customer conversation and build brand loyalty etc. (Treem & Leonardi, 2013).  Considering the social media potential, companies operating at the global stage are trying to ensure active presence on all popular sites (Berthon et al. 2012). The review of fortune 500 organizations reveals that organizations have experienced a major shift in their traditional marketing strategies during last few years (Barnes, Lescault & Wright, 2013). The Massachusetts university reports that top fortune companies are increasingly willing to embed the innovation into their social media marketing strategies (Cronk, 2014). The innovative communication and collaboration with the customers have become a viable business tool for successful international organizations (Hudson & Thal, 2013).
Barnes, Lescault & Wright (2013) reviewed the recent trends of social media adoption by fortune 500 companies and reported that organizations are using Twitter for corporate communication, and collaborate with customers through Facebook. The analysis further revealed that the use of Twitter and Facebook has increased by 4 percent from 2012 to 2013. Out of 500, 69% of the fortune companies actively use the YouTube and 77% have an active presence on Twitter, 70% are active on the Facebook and 35% have active Google+ pages (Barnes, Lescault & Wright, 2013). The proactive organizations are actively revising the traditional marketing strategies to keep the pace with changing the environment (Berthon et al. 2012). The evolution and wider acceptance of the social networking sites have transformed the communication mediums in the corporate world. Modern marketing executives are placing higher importance to the customer engagement while integrating online marketing strategies (Ismagilova et. al., 2017).
Recently, the companies have started promoting the user generated content on different social media sites to encourage the customers to share their unique experiences and stories to win an entry into an online contest (Turban, Bolloju & Liang, 2011). The wide popularity of social networking sites has induced the international marketers to seek the creative and innovative communication ways (DeMers, 2014). The organizations prioritize the development of positive brand personality and integrate it into core marketing activities. However, the social media adoption has opened new venues in the field of international marketing (Kim and Ko, 2012). Many studies confirm the impact of successful social media strategies on the brand personality and growth (e.g. Schivinski & Dabrowski, 2016; Kim & Brymer, 2016). The underlying research will theoretically explore the impact of e-WOM and social media presence on the brand growth.

2.2.1Impact of e-WOM and social media strategies on the brand growth

The use of SMPs (social media platforms) for corporate and customer communication has raised from last decade. The MNCs are increasingly using these platforms to increase the brand awareness and target untapped markets at international stage (Aral et al., 2013). Considering the influence of e-WOM and electronic business strategies on the brand image and growth, the international organizations must recognize the power of digitalized information stream and positive and negative effects of e-WOM on overall performance (Ismagilova et. al., 2017). e-WOM affects the purchase intentions and overall brand image depending on the in-group or out-group communication. Various studies have confirmed the influence of adoption of online opinions on brand growth (e.g. Charo et al., 2015). However, to maximize the positive effect on the brand awareness, image and growth, the organizations must integrate the effective monitoring strategies on these platforms (Larivière, et. al. 2013).
Researchers propose that social media monitoring strategies offer useful information that can be utilized to enhance the brand image (Miller and Tucker, 2013). Therefore, the active monitoring of the user generated content at social media platforms can positively influence the organizations’ image at international stage (Miller and Tucker, 2013). Carey (2014) reported the findings of an online survey conducted by Oracle to highlight the increasing influence of social media strategies. The data was collected from 900 technology and marketing executives and results revealed that approximately 97% of executives’ top priority was to foster the social connectivity. With regards to the customer intimacy through social media strategies, around 91% of the participants regarded the social media networking sites as viable opportunity to foster the social connectivity and enhance the brand image (Carey, 2014).
Bataineh (2015) empirically analysed the impact of e-WOM on the purchase intentions. The data was collected from 244 respondents and findings confirmed that e-WOM has a statistically significant influence on the purchase intentions and brand image of the customers seeking online information. Cheung (2008) mentions that the buying decision and customer choice is developed on specific criteria that fulfil their needs. Hence, the degree to which the extracted information is relevant, clear, understandable and helpful, it will influence the consequent purchase intentions. Lee et al (2008) also empirically assessed the influence of e-WOM on the purchase intentions and proposed that the quantity of information extracted from different social media platforms influence the customers’ decision making process to purchase products/services. Moreover, the study also proposed that the negative e-WOM is more powerful than the positive e-WOM. The customers are likely to believe the negative comments shared on product review blogs and websites than the positive reviews (Lee at al. 2008).
 
Based on literature findings, the underlying research has formulated following hypothesis:
H1: The e-WOM as an indirect social media strategy of Apple influences the purchase intentions

2.2.2Impact of e-WOM and social media strategies on the customer engagement and loyalty

The transformation in e-business strategies has redefined the role of social media users from information consumers to information contributors (Larson and Watson, 2011). The consumers have become active information contributors that set the new market trends by influencing the opinions of people about companies and their offerings. The user generated content quickly spreads and results into extensive information sharing about brands through electronic word of mouth (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). Social media tools are being used to enhance the customer engagement (Benthaus, Risius & Beck, 2016). The international organizations monitor the online activities of their customers to professionalize the workflow and conduct a trend analysis for user engagement. However, management must ensure an alignment with the strategic objectives while adopting social media tools (Culnan et al., 2010).
Considering the escalating importance of social media marketing, the researchers are attempting to measure its impact on overall organizational performance (Ismagilova et. al., 2017). For example, Pham & Johnson (2017) assessed the impact of social media on sales strategies of international organizations. The “sales strategies” variable was operationalized by four components, customer targeting and prioritization, customer segmentation, selling models and relationship objectives and integration of multiple sales channels. Whereas, social media usage was operationalized as competitive intelligence, engagement and word of mouth. The findings confirmed the moderating impact of these dimensions on the relationship between outcomes of sales performance and sales strategy components.
Trainor et al. (2014) explored the impact of social media usage on customer relationship management capabilities of international organizations. The structural equation modelling technique was used to analyse the data collected from 308 organizations. The results proposed that social media activities significantly influence the customer relationship management abilities. Larivière, et al. (2013) proposed that strategically wise combination of digital devices facilitate the interaction between firm and consumers, and consequently creates innovative value that hasn’t been captured by commonly known value conceptualizations. Such popular value conceptualizations include customer engagement value, customer lifetime value and experiential value (Larivière, et al., 2013).
Chang and Wu (2014) collected the data from 502 Starbucks customers to explore the moderating impact of brand loyalty on the relationship between e-WOM and purchase intentions. The findings confirmed that vividness and consensus form the external attributions and information receivers perceive the information as credible. The findings further indicated that brand loyalty significantly moderated the impact of received information on purchase intentions. The results proposed that the brands must build the commitment and loyalty to exercise an effective control on the electronic information flow. Reza Jalilvand & Samiei (2012) also empirically confirmed that the e-WOM has a significant influence on the purchase intentions of customers, however, the impact varies across different levels of brand loyalty, which means that the more loyal customers will react differently to the negative e-WOM than the less loyal customers (Reza Jalilvand & Samiei, 2012).
Based on literature findings, the underlying research has formulated following hypothesis:
H2: The brand loyalty moderates the relationship between the e-WOM and purchase intentions of the Apple’s customers

2.2.3Challenges associated with the e-WOM and social media adoption

The studies confirm that enterprises with strong online presence are experiencing tangible returns from social media strategies (Trainor et al. 2014; Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010; Benthaus, Risius & Beck, 2016). However, many businesses report that the transition to a socially embedded environment involves multifaceted factors, such as industry nature, organizational structure, management willingness etc. (López & Sicilia, 2014). Due to the involvement of multiple contextual factors, it is difficult to measure the direct impact of social media strategies on the organizational performance (Yoo, Sanders & Moon, 2013). Management is increasingly willing to invest the resources and time in developing social media strategies, however, many enterprises are still struggling to successfully embed the social media into existing business models (Gupta & Harris, 2010).
The challenges in the social media embeddedness include the task of exploiting the enriched resources offered by social media and integrating those tools into business and marketing strategies by ensuring a strategic fit (Park and Lee, 2009). When organizations fail to monitor their e-WOM of different social media platforms, the negative impact on the brand image becomes uncontrollable. Literature is filled with examples where the power the negative e-WOM was under-estimated and consequently, organizations faced huge losses (Hornik et al. 2015). Although the integration of social media strategies has become inevitable, the management must recognize the positive and negative potential of electronic word of mouth before getting into the social media realm (Park and Lee, 2009). Hence, the challenges associated with the social media adoption discourage many organizations from adopting social media strategies:

2.3Apple’s social media strategies

In 2016, the apple incorporation secured the 3rd rank in fortune 500 companies. The organization is among the most admired organizations in the world (Dolata, 2017). Apple management has successfully developed its premium brand personality and has gained wider acceptance at the global stage. However, the interesting point is that is has accomplished this objective without using the social media. Despite the increased vitality of the social media marketing, the innovative marketing strategies have enabled the apple management to avoid measurable losses due to lack of active social media strategies (Shaughnessy, 2012). The company doesn’t have official Facebook or Twitter accounts for long and surprisingly, this fact has not affected their brand growth (Cronk, 2014).
The social media analysts have divided opinions in this regard. Some contend that this is the unique style of apple and their absence from the social media stage will not affect their brand growth in future. For example, Shaughnessy (2012) commented that the strong brand image of apple suggests the company will be successful without dominating the social media. Whereas, some argue that apple cannot resist integrating the social media strategies for long and eventually the management would be induced to realize the potential of effective social media strategies (Wasserman, 2012). For example, the Brian Solis who is the principal analyst of Altimeter group commented:
“The truth is, if they didn’t have that momentum going into this new, connected generation they would have to do it” (Cronk, 2014, p. 9).
Wasserman (2012) contended that the apple has strong momentum and a positive word of mouth that could be used to fully explore the potential of social networking sites. The researchers have proposed various reasons behind the absence from the social media. Contending on this note, Panagiotelis, Smith & Danaher (2014) argued that the Apple’s core competency is its high-quality product with unique features and premium brand positioning. The online presence may threaten the image as it increases the business’s vulnerability to various ethical concerns (Pfeffer, Zorbach & Carley, 2014). When organization throw themselves into the realm of social media, besides experiencing the tremendous opportunities, they face various challenges as well (Panagiotelis, Smith & Danaher, 2014). There are many examples where ineffective social media strategies jeopardized the brand and badly affected customer loyalty, causing an irreparable loss while management was attempting to launch an ideal online marketing strategy (Pfeffer, Zorbach & Carley, 2014). However, this is the one possible reason and more research is required to assess how Apple’s online presence and social media strategies are influencing its brand growth and customer loyalty.

2.3.1E-WOM: Apple’s indirect social media strategy

Although the organization has not a strong presence on social media platforms, the management has adopted an indirect social media strategy by monitoring the electronic word-of-mouth on various platforms (Lo Dolce, 2016). The organization is seeking to integrate the innovative social media strategies such as experiential marketing to maximize the potential of these platforms (Claveria, 2016). The review of social media literature has revealed that previous researchers have not adequately assessed the indirect social media strategies of the Apple and its impact on the brand growth and customer loyalty. The underlying study will attempt to assess the perceptions of Apple’s marketing executives as well as customers about the social media marketing and electronic word of mouth. From the review of the literature, the study has identified following a theoretical framework that will be based to conduct the empirical research.

2.4Theoretical framework

The underlying research will analyse the impact of online word of mouth on the brand growth and purchase intentions of Apple’s customers. The study will assess how Apple can use these social media platforms by monitoring the online word of mouth and enabling customers to openly share their experiences. The researcher will also explore how Apple management can adopt e-marketing strategies by using these platforms and fully utilize the social media potential by adopting indirect social media strategies such as experiential marketing. Based on above all discussion, the study has formulated the following hypotheses:
H1: The e-WOM influences the purchase intentions of the Apple’s customers
H1a: The brand loyalty moderates the impact of e-WOM on the purchase intentions.
H1b: Customers’ perceptions towards the social media platforms moderate the impact of e-WOM on the purchase intentions.

2.4.1Methodology Outline

The researcher will adopt the quantitative method approach. Under the guidance of positivist research philosophical approach, the researcher will collect the quantitative data from Apple’s customers to analyse the impact of e-WOM on purchase intentions. Moreover, a survey of customers will also assess the moderating impact of perceptions and brand loyalty on the relationship between e-WOM and purchase intentions. The results will offer meaningful information to the Apple’s management and marketing executives about current indirect social media strategies, their impact on the brand growth, and willingness to adopt the direct social media strategies, such as experiential marketing. The researcher will adopt the triangulation approach by relating the empirical findings with secondary research. The secondary research insights will be obtained from different newspapers, online magazines and other credible secondary sources. The comparison of primary and secondary insights considering the existing literature will enrich the analysis and strengthen the reliability and generalizability of the results.
 
 
 
 
  This chapter will provide an overview of the methodological outline. Different methodological elements will be explained and researcher will justify the methodological choices by demonstrating the alignment with objectives.

3.1Research Paradigm

The research paradigm provides the philosophical basis for the academic investigation. The academic researchers either choose the positivist, interpretive or pragmatic research paradigms to conduct the research (Creswell, 2013). Considering the research objectives, the underlying study has chosen the positivist research philosophy to explore the impact of social media strategies on purchase intentions. This research paradigm will allow the researcher to report findings on logical grounds. Moreover, the results will be supported by valid statistical evidence that will enhance the reliability and generalizability (Bryman and Bell, 2015). This philosophical approach will enable the researcher to conduct a comprehensive and objective evaluation of phenomenon in a chosen research context.

3.2Research Design

The research design provides the roadmap to whole research. Academic researchers choose different research designs to conduct the investigation. The exploratory design is chosen when the researcher has little knowledge about the underlying phenomenon. The explanatory design is chosen when the aim is to test a research claim and case-study design is chosen when researcher intends to conduct an investigation in the context of one organization (Yin, 2013). This study has chosen the case-study research design in the underlying case. The case-study research design will enable the researcher to explore different dimensions of social media effectiveness in the context of Apple. Moreover, it will allow the researcher to proposes recommendations that will have specific applicability for Apple organization.

3.3Research Strategy and Timeframe

The research strategy provides a step-wise guidance to conduct the academic investigation. The academic researchers can either choose the inductive or deductive research strategy or sometimes choose both to conduct the investigation. When research purpose is to introduce a new theory, then the inductive approach is chosen, and when research purpose is to test the relationship between identified variables, then the deductive approach is chosen (Zikmund et al. 2013). In the underlying case, the researcher intends to test the impact of e-WOM on the apple customers’ purchase intentions so that recommendations regarding the adoption of social media strategies could be made to Apple management. Hence, the deductive research strategy suits best in this regard. It will enable the researcher to direct the information flow from general to a specific conclusion. Moreover, the cross-sectional timeframe has been chosen that will enable the researcher to share the current snapshot of the customers’ perceptions, engagement and influence of e-WOM on the purchase intentions.

3.4Research method

The academic researchers either choose the qualitative, quantitative or mixed research method to conduct the empirical investigation. The selection of research method is made by carefully considering the research scope, purpose and objectives. In the underlying case, the research purpose is to understand the increasing importance of social media for Apple based on the customers’ perceptions (Bryman and Bell, 2015). The research also intends to quantify the impact of e-WOM on the purchase intentions of Apple’s customers. Moreover, the researcher has employed the positivist philosophical approach to construct the philosophical foundation, and deductive research strategy to direct the flow from general to specific. Considering the research objectives and these methodological choices, this study will employ the quantitative research method to conduct the investigation.

3.4.1Data collection and Sampling

The researcher will use the survey strategy to collect the data. The close-ended questionnaire will be developed and researcher will use the 5-point Likert scale for recording the results. Online data collection strategy will be used and study will collect the insights from around 500 Apple’s customers. The questionnaire forms will be e-mailed and link to the questionnaire will also be posted on different social media platforms. After taking the informed consent, the researcher will request the potential participant to send-back the filled questionnaire on the same e-mail address. The random sampling technique will be used to draw the responses. The reason for making this decision is that it is one of the most unbiased and reliable sampling strategies (Creswell, 2013).

3.4.2Data Analysis

The researcher will use the SPSS 22.0 to analyse the collected data. Firstly, a pilot study will be run to assess the value of Cronbach alpha. After confirming the instrument’s reliability, the researcher will complete data collection process. Percentage analysis will be run to get the meaningful information about the demographic characteristics of the respondents. Pearson Correlation test will be run to analyse the possible causal association among study variables, while regression results will assess the overall theoretical significance on the model. The comparison of means to highlight the useful patterns will be conducted by executing the ANOVA test. Finally, descriptive statistics will offer information about the customers’ perceptions towards the importance of different social media platforms. The discussion will be supported by the secondary research insights. The secondary research insights will be obtained from different newspapers, online magazines and other credible secondary sources.

3.5Ethical Considerations

The researcher will take the full consideration of important ethical concerns. Firstly, the researcher will communicate the research purpose to take informed consent. Participation will be totally voluntary. The underlying study has developed the precise and attainable research objectives, and all efforts will be made to accomplish the main aim of research. Privacy and confidentiality of respondents will be ensured. The data will only be used for the communicated research purpose. Access will be restricted to eradicate the chances of any misuse of collected data.

3.6Research Limitations

This research study has some limitations. Firstly, the researcher will collect the data from customers only. The insights from the Apple’s marketing executives would have offered useful insights. Moreover, the study intends to utilize the online data collection strategy that may result in low response rate or respondents may erroneously fill the questionnaires due to misunderstanding. The researcher will overcome this limitation by explaining the research purpose and questionnaire to potential respondents. Another limitation is that the small sample size may not represent the whole population. Due to case-study research nature, the research will have weak generalizability element as findings would be less applicable in a related research context. This chapter will present the key empirical findings followed by a detailed discussion of empirical research results considering the existing literature. The important statistical tests will be run to offer the statistical evidence. The quantitative nature will strengthen the reliability and generalizability element of reported results.

4.1Reliability Test

The researcher firstly conducted the reliability test by analysing the value of Cronbach alpha. SPSS 21.0 version was used for this purpose. Here is the result of reliability test:
Reliability Statistics
Cronbach's Alpha N of Items
.949 16
 
Table 1: Reliability test
The table shows that Cronbach alpha value is adequate. Total 16 items were inserted before running the reliability test. Minimum acceptable value for the Cronbach alpha is 0.949, which is greater than 0.7. It implies that the instrument is reliable, and can be used to report the reliable findings.
After confirming the questionnaire’s reliability, the demographic insights were extracted by conducting the percentage analysis. Next section will analyse the important demographic patterns of the study respondents.

4.2Demographic Analysis

The below table shares the proportion of male and female respondents.
Gender
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Male 341 69.9 69.9 69.9
Female 147 30.1 30.1 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
Table 2: Gender
The results suggest that 69.9 percent of respondents were males (341 out of 488) and 30.1 percent were females (147 out of 488). It suggests that the majority of respondents were males and females were comparatively in less proportion.
Age
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid less than 25 years 99 20.3 20.3 20.3
25-35 years 206 42.2 42.2 62.5
36-45 years 148 30.3 30.3 92.8
46-55 years 32 6.6 6.6 99.4
above 55 years 3 .6 .6 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
Table 3: Age
The results suggest that 20.3 percent of respondents were less than 25 years old (99out of 488), 42.2 percent were 5 to 35 years old (206 out of 488), 30.3 percent 36-45 years old (148 out of 488), 6.6 percent 46-55 years old and only 6 percent were above 55 years old. It suggests that the majority of respondents were young to middle aged within the age bracket of 25 to 45 years’ old.
 
Experience
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Less than 1 year 100 20.5 20.5 20.5
1-2 years 172 35.2 35.2 55.7
2.1-3 years 150 30.7 30.7 86.5
3.1-4 years 40 8.2 8.2 94.7
above 4 years 26 5.3 5.3 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
Table 4: Experience
The results suggest that 20.5 percent of respondents were having less than one-year experience, 35.2 percent were having 1-2 years’ experience, 30.7 were having 2.1-3 years’ experience, 8.2 percent had 3.1 to 4 years’ experience and only 5.3 percent were having above 4 years’ experience. Overall, the findings confirm that most of the respondents were having 1 to 3 years’ experience at different social media platforms.
Perceived Importance
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Facebook 146 29.9 29.9 29.9
Twitter 153 31.4 31.4 61.3
YouTube 135 27.7 27.7 88.9
Instagram 36 7.4 7.4 96.3
Other 18 3.7 3.7 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
Table 5: Perceived Importance
The perceived importance table suggests that Twitter was considered as the most popular social media platform (31.4 percent), followed by Facebook (29.9 percent) and YouTube (27.7 percent). The Instagram was comparatively less important than these platforms.
Overall, the demographic section indicates that most of the respondents were young and middle aged males, having less than 3 years’ experience on social media platforms and preferring Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as platforms to engage with the social media world. After conducting the demographic analysis, the study conducted the Pearson Correlation test to analyse the possible causation among chosen variables.

4.3Pearson Correlation

The Pearson Correlation descriptive statistics and significance values are given below:
Descriptive Statistics
  Mean Std. Deviation N
Perceptions Social Media 2.4180 .88241 488
e-WOM 2.5272 .97566 488
Loyalty 2.6066 .98248 488
Purchase Intentions 2.5184 .97522 488
 
Table 6: Correlation descriptives
The descriptive statistics table shows the mean values of all variables. The perceptions towards social media earned mean value of 2.4180, showing the respondents hold somehow positive perceptions, the e-WOM earned mean value of 2.5272, suggesting respondents don’t extensively depend on the online opinions, the 2.6066 for loyalty shows Apple needs to take initiatives for strengthening the loyalty through social media platforms and finally the purchase intentions (2.5184) show the respondents purchase intentions do not derive a strong influence from the social media involvement.
Table 7: Pearson Correlation
Correlations
  Perceptions Social Media e-WOM Loyalty Purchase Intentions
Perceptions Social Media Pearson Correlation 1 .817** .779** .718**
Sig. (2-tailed)   .000 .000 .000
N 488 488 488 488
e-WOM Pearson Correlation .817** 1 .808** .757**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000   .000 .000
N 488 488 488 488
Loyalty Pearson Correlation .779** .808** 1 .756**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000 .000   .000
N 488 488 488 488
Purchase Intentions Pearson Correlation .718** .757** .756** 1
Sig. (2-tailed) .000 .000 .000  
N 488 488 488 488
**. Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
 

4.3.1Perceptions towards social media and purchase intentions

The above table suggests that a strongly positive and statistically significant causal association prevails between perceptions towards social media and purchase intentions with corresponding values of (r=.718, p<.0005). It implies that when customers hold the positive perceptions towards the social media, they are more likely to have higher purchase intentions due to online social media activities and vice versa.

4.3.2E-WOM and purchase intentions

The above table suggests that a strongly positive and statistically significant causal association prevails between e-WOM engagement and purchase intentions with corresponding values of (r=.757, p<.0005). It implies that when customers ensure an active engagement on different social media platforms and adopt the online opinions, they are more likely to have higher purchase intentions due to online social media activities and vice versa.

4.3.3Loyalty and purchase intentions

The above table suggests that a strongly positive and statistically significant causal association prevails between loyalty and purchase intentions with corresponding values of (r=.756, p<.0005). It implies that when customers are more loyal, they are more likely to have higher purchase intentions.
After conducting the Pearson Correlation test, the researcher executed the linear regression test to assess the causal relationship between study variables.

4.4Linear Regression

The results of linear regression are given below:
Model Summary
Model R R Square Adjusted R Square Std. Error of the Estimate Change Statistics
R Square Change F Change df1 df2 Sig. F Change
1 .757a .573 .572 .63782 .573 652.516 1 486 .000
a. Predictors: (Constant), e-WOM
 
Table 8: Model Summary 1
The results suggest that the claim made by the research claim has the adequate statistical strength (R=75.7%). Whereas, adjusted R square value shows that the explanatory variable “e-WOM” explains the 57.2 percent variance in the purchase intentions while rest variance is caused by other factors.
ANOVAa
Model Sum of Squares Df Mean Square F Sig.
1 Regression 265.454 1 265.454 652.516 .000b
Residual 197.713 486 .407    
Total 463.167 487      
a. Dependent Variable: Purchase Intentions
b. Predictors: (Constant), e-WOM
 
Table 9: ANOVA 1
The ANOVA table shows that the overall theoretical model successfully attains the statistical significance. The F-statistic and Sig. values have confirmed the significance of values of F (1, 486) =652.516, p<0.0005.
Coefficientsa
Model Unstandardized Coefficients Standardized Coefficients T Sig.
B Std. Error Beta
1 (Constant) .606 .080   7.554 .000
e-WOM .757 .030 .757 25.544 .000
a. Dependent Variable: Purchase Intentions
 
Table 10: Regression co-efficient 1
The regression co-efficient table has again confirmed the statistically significant impact of the independent variable on the dependent variable with corresponding values of t=25.544, p<0.0005. The table has been used to develop the following regression equation:
Purchase intentions= 0.606 + (0.757 (e-WOM)
To get the in-depth insights, the researcher broke the independent variable e-WOM into in-group WOM, out-group WOM and e-WOM. The results are given below:

4.4.1Multiple Linear Regression

The results of multiple linear regression are given below:
Model Summary
Model R R Square Adjusted R Square Std. Error of the Estimate Change Statistics
R Square Change F Change df1 df2 Sig. F Change
1 .758a .575 .572 .63780 .575 218.200 3 484 .000
a. Predictors: (Constant), E_WOM, Out group WOM, In group WOM
 
Table 11: Model summary 2
The results suggest that the claim made by the research claim has the adequate statistical strength (R=75.8%). Whereas, adjusted R square value shows that the explanatory variables explain the 57.2 percent variance in the purchase intentions while rest variance is caused by other factors.
 
 
 
 
 
 
ANOVAa
Model Sum of Squares df Mean Square F Sig.
1 Regression 266.283 3 88.761 218.200 .000b
Residual 196.885 484 .407    
Total 463.167 487      
a. Dependent Variable: Purchase Intentions
b. Predictors: (Constant), E_WOM, Out group WOM, In group WOM
 
Table 12: ANOVA 2
The ANOVA table shows that the overall theoretical model successfully attains the statistical significance. The F-statistic and Sig. values have confirmed the significance of values of F (1, 484) =218.200, p<0.0005.
 
Coefficientsa
Model Unstandardized Coefficients Standardized Coefficients t Sig.
B Std. Error Beta
1 (Constant) .601 .080   7.489 .000
In group WOM .148 .035 .178 4.194 .000
Out group WOM .183 .034 .220 5.378 .000
E_WOM .426 .039 .460 10.960 .000
a. Dependent Variable: Purchase Intentions
 
Table 13: Regression co-effecient 2
The regression co-efficient table has confirmed the statistically significant impact of independent variables on the dependent variable with corresponding values of t=4.194, p<0.0005 for in-group WOM, t=5.378, p<0.0005 for out-group WOM and t=10.960, p<0.0005 for e-WOM. The table has been used to develop the following regression equation:
Purchase intentions= 0.601 + (0.148 (in group WOM) +0.183 (out group WOM) + 0.426 (e-WOM)
 
 
To analyse the moderating impact of consumer perceptions, the researcher conducted the ANOVA test. The results are given below:

4.5ANOVA- Mean Comparison across Consumers’ Perceptions

The table given below shows the mean comparison across consumers’ perceptions towards social media platforms.
ANOVA
Purchase Intentions 
  Sum of Squares df Mean Square F Sig.
Between Groups 254.549 19 13.397 30.055 .000
Within Groups 208.619 468 .446    
Total 463.167 487      
 
 
Table 14: ANOVA perceptions
The table confirms that the mean difference across different perception levels is statistically significant with corresponding values of F (19, 468) =30.055, p<0.0005. It implies that when consumers’ perceptions towards the social media platforms will be positive, their purchase intentions will more likely be influenced by social media activities.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

4.5.1Mean Plot

The mean plot has been drawn to visualize how mean of consumers’ perceptions increases with the increase in the mean values for purchase intentions.

After conducting the mean comparison, the researcher compared the means across different brand loyalty levels to assess whether the high brand loyalty results into higher mean for purchase intentions at social media platforms.

4.6ANOVA- Mean Comparison across Brand Loyalty

 
ANOVA
Purchase Intentions 
  Sum of Squares Df Mean Square F Sig.
Between Groups 290.672 16 18.167 49.605 .000
Within Groups 172.495 471 .366    
Total 463.167 487      
 
Table 15: ANOVA purchase intentions
The table confirms that the mean difference across different loyalty levels is statistically significant with corresponding values of F (16, 471) =49.605, p<0.0005. It implies that when consumers’ loyalty will be higher, their purchase intentions through social media platforms will also be higher.

4.6.1Mean Plot

The mean plot has been drawn to visualize how mean of loyalty increases with the increase in the mean values for purchase intentions.
 

4.7Percentage Analysis

After analysing the mean differences and extracting important theoretical insights by conducting Pearson correlation, linear regression and ANOVA, the researcher run the percentage analysis to analyse the respondents’ perceptions towards social media and engagement within in in-group and out-group word of mouth.

4.7.1Perceptions towards social media

Share and receive the information about new products
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Strongly disagree 123 25.2 25.2 25.2
Disagree 172 35.2 35.2 60.5
Neutral 132 27.0 27.0 87.5
Agree 48 9.8 9.8 97.3
Strongly agree 13 2.7 2.7 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
Table 16: Social media perceptions 1
When respondents were asked about whether they like to share the information about new Apple products on different social media platforms. Mostly, the respondents said that they don’t extensively rely on these platforms to share the information. The results confirm the weak presence of Apple on social media platforms. 64 percent respondents said that they don’t receive any significant information about new Apple products, neither do they use these platforms for sharing information. 27 percent respondents were neutral, showing to some extent they use these platforms to receive and share the information. Only 12 percent agreed that they use social media platforms for sharing information.
Information is reliable and trust worthy
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Strongly disagree 116 23.8 23.8 23.8
Disagree 139 28.5 28.5 52.3
Neutral 167 34.2 34.2 86.5
Agree 47 9.6 9.6 96.1
Strongly agree 19 3.9 3.9 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
Table 17: Social media perceptions 2
The almost same response was received when respondents were asked whether the information shared on these platforms about apple products is reliable and trust worthy. Once again, the data confirms the Apple’ weak online presence. The information shared through unofficial platforms is not considered reliable and trustworthy by 52 percent of respondents. 34 percent were neutral and 13 percent regarded the online information available on online platforms as reliable and trust worthy.
 
Share the problems and seek an immediate solution
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Strongly disagree 114 23.4 23.4 23.4
Disagree 125 25.6 25.6 49.0
Neutral 168 34.4 34.4 83.4
Agree 59 12.1 12.1 95.5
Strongly agree 22 4.5 4.5 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
Table 18: Social media perceptions 3
The mixed response was received when respondents were asked whether online platforms could be used to share the consumer problems and seek an immediate solution. 49 percent said that it is not necessary to use these platforms. 34.4 percent were neutral, suggesting these platforms could be used for this purpose to some extent, and around 17 percent fully agreed that these online platforms could be used for this purpose.
Instant customer service
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Strongly disagree 123 25.2 25.2 25.2
Disagree 129 26.4 26.4 51.6
Neutral 160 32.8 32.8 84.4
Agree 48 9.8 9.8 94.3
Strongly agree 28 5.7 5.7 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
Table 19: Social media perceptions 4
Overall, customers were not sure whether the online platforms could be used by Apple for providing the instant customer service. 51.6 percent people disagreed and contended that it is not necessary for Apple to use these platforms for providing the instant customer service. 32.8 percent were neutral and 15 percent agreed and recommended Apple to use these platforms for providing instant customer service.
Open information sharing enhances the customer trust as everyone is allowed to share the good/bad information
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Strongly disagree 122 25.0 25.0 25.0
Disagree 124 25.4 25.4 50.4
Neutral 166 34.0 34.0 84.4
Agree 53 10.9 10.9 95.3
Strongly agree 23 4.7 4.7 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
 
Table 20: Social media perceptions 5
The almost mixed response was received with an inclination towards disagreement when respondents were asked whether open information sharing enhances the customer trust as everyone is allowed to share the good/bad information. Overall, the results indicate that many Apple customers regard the Apple’s absence from social media as prestigious. However, a substantial minority recommends the Apple to use these platforms.

4.7.2Engagement in e-WOM

 
I actively share my opinions and experiences on social media platforms regarding the purchased products
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Strongly disagree 122 25.0 25.0 25.0
Disagree 118 24.2 24.2 49.2
Neutral 148 30.3 30.3 79.5
Agree 69 14.1 14.1 93.6
Strongly agree 31 6.4 6.4 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
Table 21: e-WOM 1
A mixed response was received when respondents were asked whether they actively share their opinions and experiences on social media platforms regarding the purchased products. Though, the inclination was towards disagreement, but there was a substantial minority that agreed to some extent, reflecting an evolving change in Apple consumers’ perceptions.
I adopt the online opinions shared by in-group people on social media platforms regarding purchase of new products
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Strongly disagree 123 25.2 25.2 25.2
Disagree 128 26.2 26.2 51.4
Neutral 128 26.2 26.2 77.7
Agree 88 18.0 18.0 95.7
Strongly agree 21 4.3 4.3 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
Table 22: e-WOM 2
A mixed response was received where almost half of the respondents contended that they do not adopt the online opinions from the in-group and remaining respondents agreed with it, confirming a passive (neutral) to active (agree and strongly agree) in group WOM engagement.
 
I adopt the online opinions shared by out-group people on social media platforms regarding purchase of new products
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Strongly disagree 125 25.6 25.6 25.6
Disagree 119 24.4 24.4 50.0
Neutral 145 29.7 29.7 79.7
Agree 74 15.2 15.2 94.9
Strongly agree 25 5.1 5.1 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
 
Table 23: e-WOM 3
The Same response was received for the out-group WOM engagement where a substantial minority (23 percent) fully agreed that they adopt out-group opinions on online platforms, 30 percent somehow agreed and rest showed disagreement.
 
 
 
 
I use different social media platforms to acquire the information about Apple’s products
  Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Strongly disagree 112 23.0 23.0 23.0
Disagree 116 23.8 23.8 46.7
Neutral 154 31.6 31.6 78.3
Agree 75 15.4 15.4 93.6
Strongly agree 31 6.4 6.4 100.0
Total 488 100.0 100.0  
 
 
Table 24: e-WOM 4
Lastly, respondents were asked whether they use different social media platforms to acquire the information about Apple’s products. Once again, the mixed response was received, suggesting the Apple management to devise social media strategies in response to the evolving perceptions towards social media marketing and engagement.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  After presenting the empirical results and providing the statistical evidence for the research claim, the researcher will extend the analysis by conducting a meaningful discussion considering the existing literature.

5.1Analysis and Discussion 

The analysis of presented empirical results has identified many important insights. Before starting the discussion, the researcher will summarize the key empirical findings to give an overview of the research claims made and empirically proven by underlying research.
This study intended to explore the current social media trends within the Apple’s existing consumers’ market. The researcher aimed to enhance the ability of Apple in creating and capturing the value through social media platforms. The study purpose was to help the Apple management in assessing how does the e-WOM influences the purchase intentions of Apple’s customers, how do the customer loyalty and customers’ perceptions towards the social media strategies moderate the relationship between e-WOM and purchase intentions, and finally, should Apple integrate the social media strategies to explore the effectiveness of social media platforms. The first do questions have been directly answered by the empirical findings based on the valid statistical evidence. Whereas, final research question would be answered after conducting the meaningful analysis of reported results considering the literature findings.
The empirical findings have highlighted useful insights for the Apple management. Although, the findings have not reported a major transition within the consumer behaviour as the majority of the Apple consumers still regard the organization's absence from social media as prestigious and unique style, a substantial minority regards the social media platform as an effective communication and marketing medium. For example, the adoption of online opinions from the in-group and out-group showed that 49 percent people disagreed about adopting online opinions about Apple's products. However, rest 51 percent didn't show clear disagreement. This group of respondents is divided into two categories. 29 percent showed a neutral attitude, which means that Apple management can convince this set through effective and innovative social media marketing. This set of the audience requires a slight push by the Apple online marketing team, and management can convince this set of audience to purchase new products. While, rest 22 percent clearly showed an agreement and contended that they actively adopt the opinions of in-group and out-group shared on different social media platforms. It is a substantial minority that Apple management cannot afford to lose due to lack of control over the negative word of mouth.
As mentioned by Chang & Wu (2014), the negative word of mouth is more powerful than the positive word of mouth and companies face serious loses when they cannot exercise effective control over of online word of mouth. The researchers further contended that organizations seeking to adopt the social media strategy must understand the power of positive and negative e-WOM. The underlying study confirmed the statistically significant influence of e-WOM engagement on the purchase intentions, confirming the results proposed by Park and Lee (2009). The researchers commented that when management fails to exercise effective monitoring of their e-WOM at different social media platforms, the negative influence on the perceived brand image becomes out of control. Social media integration enables the firm to exploit the vast opportunities available on these platforms (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). However, it is also argued that the effectiveness of this decision relies on the strategic fit between online marketing and business strategies (Part and Lee, 2009). For example, in the underlying case, the Apple has set its positioning in a unique manner. The organization as well as its customers associate the lack of social media presence as the distinctive ability of management to maintain the leadership without exploiting social media potential.
Hornik et al (2015) discussed examples of uncontrollable negative e-WOM that destroyed the firm image when management couldn’t recognize the true power of online word of mouth. In Apple’s situation, the case is a little different. Although, the researcher has confirmed the causal association between under study variables, the percentage analysis reveals that, at the moment, the majority of Apple customers rely on the main stream media, company website and other official sources to collect the information about the latest products. However, there is a substantial minority that relies on online platforms to seek the information. Moreover, the purchase intentions of this set of the audience also derive the influence from online platforms. The literature suggests that many organizations do not adopt the social media due to the associated challenges (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). In many cases, the organizations attempted to market their products by triggering a chain reaction of the positive online word of mouth. However, in reality, the organizations actually ended-up by an uncontrollable negative word of mouth (Reza Jalilvand & Samiei, 2012).
In Apple's case, the in-depth analysis of reported findings suggests that Apple management has full potential to adopt social media, but also wants to maintain the distinctiveness factor. In such situation, the management can promote the experiential marketing on online platforms. The recent trends also suggest the management to start preparing for a smooth shift into social media realm. For example, when respondents were asked whether they use different social media platforms for acquiring information about Apple products, a mixed response was received. The collected insights could be divided into three categories. In the first category, the respondents still rely on the information disseminated by the official platform and it accounts for only 46 percent. Then there is a category that relies on the company's official information sources and also adopt the online opinions. It accounts for 31 percent. Finally, 23 percent respondents shared that they rely on the social media platforms for acquiring information about latest Apple products.
These data patterns suggest that online absence of Apple will not threaten the survival of the organization in future. However, considering the market leadership position, it will be difficult for Apple management to maintain their leadership position in future without adopting effective social media strategies. The researcher also assessed the moderating impact of perceptions towards social media on the relationship between e-WOM and purchase intentions. The study confirmed that when consumers’ perceptions towards the online social media platforms are positive, they are more likely to engage within the online word of mouth. Moreover, their purchase intentions will also be more influenced by online opinions as they regard the social media sites as effective communication platform (Reza Jalilvand & Samiei, 2012). The findings confirm the results proposed by Ismagilova et. al. (2017), where the researchers confirmed the significant influence of online word of mouth on the purchase intentions. The previous studies proposed that e-WOM affects the perceived brand image and overall firm performance depending on the in-group or out-group communication.
 Charo et al. (2015) have also confirmed that online opinions influence the brand growth. Larivière, et. al. (2013) suggested that when organizations successfully enhance the positive influence of electronic word of mouth, the brand experiences the positive effects in form of enhanced brand awareness, improved brand image and escalated brand growth. The researchers further proposed that the e-WOM influences the purchase intentions of consumers that are active on these platforms. The current empirical results also supported the results proposed by Reza Jalilvand & Samiei (2012). The researchers empirically investigated the influence of online word of mouth engagement on the purchase intentions. The results confirmed the impact, however, the analysis also revealed that the influence differs according to the brand loyalty. It implied that the reaction of loyal customers to the negative word of mouth would be different from the customers that are not loyal (Reza Jalilvand & Samiei, 2012). In the underlying case, the study didn't specifically focus on the negative word of mouth. The results confirmed that the purchase intentions of the customers at higher loyalty levels would be more influenced by online opinions than the customers at comparatively lower brand loyalty levels.
Overall, the empirical findings confirm the growing importance of social media. The changing consumers’ interests and perceptions towards the social networking sites can induce the Apple management to develop effective social media strategies. However, currently, Apple is not required to make an immediate shift as it will hurt the exclusivity factor associated with the Apple’s perceived brand image. A smooth transition into the social media realm is required along with some uniqueness into social media communication and marketing strategies. Based on the statistical evidence, the study confirmed that e-WOM influences the purchase intentions of Apple’s customers. The research also confirmed that customer loyalty and perceptions towards the social media strategies moderate the relationship between e-WOM and purchase intentions. Finally, the in-depth analysis of empirical findings considering the existing literature confirms that Apple should integrate the social media strategies to explore the effectiveness of social media platforms, however, the shift should be gradual and smooth, considering the changing interests and preferences of its customers.
 
 
 
 
  After conducting the comprehensive discussion, the researcher will conclude the whole analysis based on key empirical findings. The researcher will also propose suggestions to the Apple management regarding social media presence. Finally, key study limitations will be discussed followed by future research suggestions.

6.1Conclusion and Recommendations

The underlying study has analysed the current trends and perceptions of Apple’s customers towards different social media platforms. The researcher derived the motivation from the debate, where, some researchers argue that Apple’s online absence would endanger the organization’s survival in near future, while other contend that absence from social media platforms will not hurt Apple, but will assist management in maintaining the exclusivity and distinctiveness. Based on the empirical results, the study concludes that Apple management should recognize the social media potential. However, its absence from these platforms will not threaten the business survival in near future as many Apple’s customers still regard this absence as unique brand characteristic. However, an unavoidable and substantial minority regards the social media networking sites as an effective platform to share the opinions and get the latest information about Apple products.
Although the organization does not currently have a formal online presence, the empirical results suggest the management to adopt an indirect social media strategy. The management can monitor the electronic word-of-mouth on various popular platforms.  The indirect, yet innovative online presence and smart use of social media tools and strategies can assist the Apple management to enhance the positive public perceptions among social media users. Meanwhile, an organization can maintain the exclusivity by avoiding the typical social media marketing and strategies used by the majority of the organizations. Many organizations faced the difficulty due to the uncontrollable influence of negative word of mouth as customers shared their negative experiences and opinions on different social media sites. Apple should take preventive measures to avoid any possible loss due to negative opinions. The social media information and customers’ reviews play an important role while evaluating a new product. Hence, innovative social media strategies should be developed and management should ensure a gradual shift by collaborating with its customers while introducing new products through popular social media platforms, particularly Twitter and Facebook.
Based on this conclusion, the underlying study suggests the Apple’s management to seriously consider the emerging power of social media. Even though in today’s date, the online absence is not hurting the Apple’s performance, but the evolving interest of Apple’s customers can create issues in future. To ensure a smooth transition, the Apple management must analyse the latest social media trends. To maintain the exclusivity, the Apple management can adopt innovative social media strategies, such as promoting experiential marketing in an innovative and unique manner. Moreover, the firm can collaborate with the customers by conducting surveys or arranging focus group sessions to analyse their changing perceptions towards the social media. The strong causal relationship between the online word of mouth and purchase intentions provides various opportunities that could be explored to maintain the leadership within the highly competitive market in future. Furthermore, the results also reveal that twitter was considered as the most popular social media platform, followed by Facebook and YouTube. Whereas, the Instagram was comparatively less important than these platforms. Apple management is recommended to take the Twitter and Facebook in specific consideration while formulating social media strategies.
This academic investigation was not without any methodological limitation. Firstly, the researcher targeted the Apple’s customers at random. The geographic dispersion suggests the future researchers analyse and compare the Apple customers’ perceptions in two specific areas (e.g. Beijing and London). Secondly, the researcher only employed the positivist approach. The respondents were given restricted options. The in-depth, unrestricted qualitative research can yield many useful insights. Moreover, the case-study research nature weakens the generalizability element. The empirical results will have limited applicability to the Apple’s customers and management. Future studies can collect the data from multiple organizations to explore the growing potential of social media and online word of mouth. Lastly, the future researchers are recommended to conduct a detailed theoretical analysis of Apple’s online presence on different social media platforms by qualitatively analysing the Apple consumers’ likes and comments on various posts marketing the Apple’s products through un-official channels. It will further help the Apple management in making the right decision and devising efficient social media strategies if they found it to be a wise decision. Aral, S., Dellarocas, C., & Godes, D. (2013). Introduction to the special issue—social media and business transformation: a framework for research. Information Systems Research, 24(1), 3-13.
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  Questionnaire
This research aims to collect the data from Apple’s customers to analyse the perceptions of the social media marketing, effectiveness of different social media platforms to share the experiences and impact of e-WOM on the brand loyalty and growth. Thank-you for your patience and time.
Demographic information
Q1: Gender?
  • Male
  • Female
Q2: Age?
  • Less than 25 years
  • 25-35 years
  • 36-45 years
  • 46-55 years
  • Above 55 years
Q3: How long you have been using Apple’s products?
  • Less than 1 year
  • 1-2 years
  • 2.1-3 years
  • 3.1-4 years
  • Above 4 years
Perceptions towards social media marketing
For following questions, please use the given scale:
Strongly agree (5), Agree (4), Neutral (3), Disagree (2), Strongly Disagree (1)
 
1. Social media platforms provide best opportunity to share the information about new products
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
2. The information shared on these platforms is reliable and trust worthy
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
 
3. These platforms provide opportunity to share the problems and seek an immediate solution
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
4. These platforms can be efficiently used to provide instant customer service
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
5. The open information sharing on these platforms by companies enhance the customer trust as everyone is allowed to share the good/bad information
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
Engagement in e-WOM
1. I actively share my opinions and experiences on social media platforms regarding the purchased products
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
2. I adopt the online opinions shared by in-group people on social media platforms regarding purchase of new products
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
3. I adopt the online opinions shared by out-group people on social media platforms regarding purchase of new products
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
4. I use different social media platforms to acquire the information about Apple’s products
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
 
Brand Loyalty
1. I only purchase the Apple’s products
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
2. I prefer the Apple over competitors and cannot think to replace it with another brand
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
3. I don’t bother considering other alternatives while making the purchase decision
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
4. I recommend the Apple products to others
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
Purchase Intentions
1. The customers’ negative experiences and opinions shared on different social media sites influence my intentions to purchase latest apple products
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
2. When I see the positive reviews about the latest offering on social media sites, it motivates me to purchase that product
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
3. The social media information and customers’ reviews play an important role while evaluating a new product.
 
1) Strongly Disagree
2) Disagree
3) Neutral
4) Agree
5) Strongly Agree
 
 
 
Other information
Please rate the social media platforms effectiveness to acquire useful information about a brand, based the level of importance:
 
 
 
1. Highly important
2. Important
3. Neutral
4. Unimportant
5. Totally unimportant
 
Facebook          
Twitter          
You-tube          
Instagram          
Other (mention)