An impact assessment of social media and the use of online commentary, with specific reference to consumer purchase behavior within the Chinese hospitality industry.


An impact assessment of social media and the use of online commentary, with specific reference to consumer purchase behavior within the Chinese hospitality industry.

TL4010 – Research Methodology: Philosophy and Practice.

University of Central Lancashire

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Research rationale

Since the inception of the internet, the business world has constantly been transformed into a competitive facet under which the best survives. Siaw and Yu (2004) for example posit that in the banking industry, the internet changed the entire operations. A crucial point that they present is that the internet has made globalisation of firm extremely easy. Firm are now competing on a global scale in the international markets. It is thus important for any firm to embrace online platforms for sustainability in business as customers are becoming digitalised and are shifting to online platforms (Varnali, 2010: Yannopoulos, 2011). This concept of consumer gaining ground over advertisers has been well addressed by Labrecque et al. (2013). The major point elaborated by Labrecque et al. (2013) is that with the coming of websites, consumers have taken over the role marketers played and are now the central point of business. Modern consumers influence their own lives and in turn firms have become customer-centric. This means firms need to engage customers through various platforms, to identify their needs and meet these needs.

Online social media has specifically been a valuable resource to companies since it allows for a better interaction with users. Various authors concur that the social media is more than a platform as it has become a marketing strategy. Hajli (2014) for example observes that social media bridges the gap between the modern consumers and firms. It offers a common ground for interaction. Ioanas and Stoica (2014) on the other hand emphasize on the ability of online social media to enhance communication where millions of consumers are able to share information about products and services. Therefore is factual to posit that firms also engaging their customers online are more likely to succeed. As such, this research intends to investigate an important area in business that affects the success of contemporary businesses. Other researchers have investigated this area before such as Ioanas and Stoica (2014), Hajli (2014), Saluja and Singh (2014) who focused their study to New Delhi among others. However, there has not been a single study that has handled the Chinese hospitality industry as a whole. Further the facet of social media commentary has been lightly explored by the aforementioned studies.

This study therefore, firstly offers and addition to the existent body of knowledge and secondly seeks to benefit firms operating in the Chinese hospitality industry. For starters, as mentioned earlier, there are other studies that have been conducted in this field and thus this study will serve as an addition. This will be through addressing the general impact that Social media and social media commentary has on consumer purchase behaviour. The specificity of the study, that is, to the Chinese hospitality industry will be beneficial to businesses operational in this industry as they will be informed. In addition, it can be extremely hard for a firm to explore all the literature discussing social media and consumers and come up with a comprehensive marketing strategy. However, through the literature review, this study makes this process by comprehensively covering the researches done in this field. Lastly, through the analysis of extant literature, the researcher is able to acquire diverse knowledge in the field under investigation.

Research design

Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2009) have analysed the general designs of research studies and categorised them into different groupings. The figure below summarise the different options available.

Figure 1: Research option available (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2009)

Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2009) have gone ahead and explained the different between the general philosophies, that is, positivism, realism and interpretivism. The positivist view is that research can be done through observable reality and lead to law-like generalisations. On the other hand, the realist view is that scientific inquiry needs to reflect reality as opposed to idealism. As such, it considers an existence of reality beyond the capacity of the human mind. Lastly, the interpretivist view is that the scientific inquiry into the social and business world is a complex reality that cannot be narrowed down to general trends or laws.

In light of the discussed philosophies, this research applies the positivist approach. The major reason is because the researcher intends to establish a causal relationship between social media and social media commentary and consumer purchase behaviour. Such a relationship cannot be established by interpretivism or realism.

Additionally, the research intends to prove the applicability of positions other theories have taken in the Chinese hospitality industry and therefore applies the deductive approach (Blackstone, 2012). Curwin and Slater (2007) differentiate inductive and deductive approach by the fact that in inductive approach the general direction of the study is from narrow observations to generalisations and the deductive approach is the opposite. The following diagram represents Blackstone’s (2012) interpretation of the deductive approach that the study follows

Figure 2: An illustration of the deductive approach (Blackstone, 2012)

Besides the deductive approach, the study intends to use the survey method as the strategy. Sapsford (2006) notes survey research is versatile, efficient and can be generalised. In addition it can be used to cover wide populations without significant cost and time implications. As such, the researcher deems this strategy as fit. Besides, other strategies would not accomplish the objectives laid down for this paper because of their specific nature. The other closely related strategies available to research according to Saunders et al. (2009) are experimental research; where causal links are studied by adjusting independent variables. There is also case study which is an investigation in to a specific phenomenon and which differs from survey strategy in that the limit of data collection is more confined to the case. In addition, Action strategy refers to when the researcher is part of the sample population under study and where the research is actively implemented in the process. Others include ethnographic approaches, archival approach and grounded theory.

Questionnaire survey

Using survey questionnaire survey, the researcher intends to collect data from the Chinese hospitality industry. Lastly, since the research intends to look into measurable characteristics, it applies a quantitative stance. Taylor (2005) while differentiating qualitative and quantitative methods notes that quantitative researches are associated with the application of questionnaires since they offer measurable variables. On the other hand, interviews are associated with qualitative methods due to their open-ended nature. As mentioned earlier, the researcher intends to apply questionnaire survey as the method of data collection. The following section addresses the design and implementation of questionnaire survey.

Prior to conducting the questionnaire survey, the researcher designs a research instrument – questionnaire – based on the research aims and objectives and thus facilitating the research results. In addition to this the researcher is supposed to carry out a pre-test study.A best practice research done by Kelley et al., (2003) further elaborates this by identifying the inevitable steps in the conduct of a research survey. Firstly after the aims and objectives, Kelley et al., (2003) prioritises the laying out and design of a questionnaire. Following this is the conduct of a pilot study. A pilot study is elaborated as enabling the researcher to improve the design of the questionnaire such that the final questionnaire shall capture all the elements needed to address the research objective. Additionally as Archer, Macdonald and Spencer (2009) note, the pilot study helps to reduce ambiguity and maintain clarity in the questions to such a level that the entire respondents can clearly understand the instructions.

The questionnaire is separated into three parts; part A consists of warm-up questions that serve to introduce the respondent and to help them to ease into the questions (Mathers, Hunn and Fox, 2009). Part B of the questionnaire addresses the objectives of the study. The last part – part C – gathers the demographic information of the respondents. In accordance to Salkind (2010), demographic information is usually an independent variable in the research given that it cannot be manipulated in any way. Salkind (2010) continues to note that demographic information enables the researcher to determine if the sample selected is an actual representation of the larger population through comparison on the elements being captured. The questions in the main body are coded using the likert scale while some are close-ended questions. The likert scale is described by Ary, Jacobs and Razavieh (2009) is a scale used to measure the attitudes of the respondents towards statements regarding the subject under study. A likert scale is has five points of measurement that range from strongly disagree to strongly agree and the respondent is supposed to pick one for each question. The main body of the questionnaire addresses the objectives as following:

Questionnaire design for the main body

The expertness of online comments and consumer purchase behavior

Bartlett (2014) analyses the role on online reviews in the realm of online shopping. The main point expressed in the indispensible nature of online comments since they legitimize e-commerce. Further, online commentaries have taken over and even sabotaged the role previously played by salespersons. The nature of online reviews is so important that some e-commerce platforms offer recognition to customers that are constantly reviewing products. For example Amazon, an online retail firm, has customer that are ranked as ‘Top reviewers’ because of their reliable nature of conducting reviews. They are featured in an yearly recognition program called ‘Hall of Famer’ (Bartlett, 2014). SO important are online commentaries and their intelligence that there appears a need for firms to conduct online reputation management. As such, in order to address this area the questionnaire seeks to demystify the following using a likert scale. Firstly, “A high level of expertise on comments at Sina weibo can inform my purchase decision”, secondly, “The quality of comments is regarded as more reliable and it would therefore influence my purchase decision”. Lastly, “I trust comments whose authors have profile pictures and many followers more when making decisions about hotels”. As such, in order to address this are a, the questionnaire seeks to demystify the following using a likert scale:

1A high level of expertise on comments at Sina weibo can inform my purchase decision
2The quality of comments is regarded as more reliable and it would therefore influence my purchase decision
3I trust those comments with pictures and many interactions more when making decisions about hotels
Expertness of Online Comments Questionnaire

The quantity of comments and their influence consumer purchase behavior

Katawetawaraks and Wang (2011) in their study of factors affecting customer behaviour when doing purchases online reveal a crucial point, that is, customer reviews are beneficial when a buyer is indecisive. A majority of customer will look at what other users of the product said before making a purchase. This is beside being influenced by website factors such as convenience and security. Ganesh et al. (2010) equate online reviews to traditional word of mouth marketing that passed information between individuals. In light of this discussion, the questionnaire seeks to inquire as to the extent which a respondent is influence by online comments and whether their numbers affect such a respondent’s buying decision. This subsection was coded using close-ended questions including “Do you prefer to focus on the information with more comments when browsing the hotel information in the Sina weibo?” and “To what extent the do comments on the Jijiang hotel in Sina weibo affect your decision to order the hotel?”.

To further ascertain the influence of comments on purchase behaviour in the Chinese industry, the questionnaire inquires as to whether the comments act as a source of new information. As such the questionnaire seeks to demystify the following questions using a likert scale.

1More comments from weibo users increase my knowledge of the hotel
2More positive comments improves my preference of the hotel
3The number of comments from Sina weibo has strong influence on my choice of the hotel
Quality of comments Questionnaire

The perceived credibility of the critics and their influence consumer purchase behaviours.

In this section, the questionnaire intends to establish the extent of trusting critics and its influence on customer purchase behaviour. Using a likert scale the researcher intends to demystify the criteria used to attach credibility to a critic. The statements here include by his personal information in the weibo, by the grade of the critic in the weibo, by the times of comments and by the experience of the critic. A yes on no question is used to determine if a critic influences a purchase decision.

To analyse whether the information receiver’s knowldge or experience may mediate the relationship between online comments and consumer purchase behaviours

This is the last section of the questionnaire and the intent is to offer an insight of the mediating effect of a customer’s knowledge and experience to online comments and purchase behaviours. This subsection is in reliance to the research done by Jamil and Hasnu (2013) under which they address the position of a receiver’s knowledge in contrast to online comments and purchase decisions. The same research addresses trust, reliance and perceived worth of online comments. The likert-coded questions here address this issue in the context of the Chinese hospitality industry.

1I can differentiate between genuine and misleading comments about hotels at Sina Weibo
2I would rely more on personal experience than on comments at Sina Weibo for a hotel i know
3I consult other sources of information alongside comments at Sina Weibo
Knowledge and Experience Questionnaire

Data collection

The collection of primary data in this study, as aforementioned, is through the use of questionnaires. As such, the researcher intends to distribute the questionnaires to the sample population excluding any individual involved in the pilot study. The sample population shall be selected form the customers of Jin Jiang International Hotels who use Sina Weibo. The total questionnaires that shall be distributed are 150 with an expectation of 100 valid questionnaires returned. The returned usable questionnaires -100 – shall be taken as representative of the entire population because the researcher is limited by time and resources to investigate a larger population. The questionnaires are going to be delivered physically at the vicinity of the hotel. Before being handed over to the respondent, the researcher will seek to establish whether a customer is a user of Sina Weibo in order to reduce the number of invalid questionnaires. In addition, the sample size shall be selected using the convenience sampling method. Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2009) note that under convenience sampling, the sample is selected based on willingness and ease of access of the respondent. The researcher shall allow the respondent a short period of time to respond to the question before taking back the questionnaires. Incomplete questionnaires shall be regarded as invalid. The use of questionnaires however is criticised by Nicholls, Jones and Jenkins (2013) because it can cause a respondent to over emphasize their actual feelings due to social pressure to do so. Also, they questionnaires limit the researcher from asking additional questions that clarify answers given in the main questions.

In order to ensure validity and reliability, the researcher undertook some measures. Firstly, Saunders et al. (2009) refers to reliability as the ability of the instruments used to measure exactly what they need to measure such that there can be a replication of findings should other tools be used. This shall be ensured through the conduct of a pilot study that refined the questions and their relevance. Validity, on the other hand, according to Saunder et al. (2009), refers to whether the findings of the study are really what they appear to be about. The research in this case will focus on internal validity and this shall be ensured by matching the questionnaire with the objectives of the study. As such, the generalisability of this research  may be limited to the case being studied.

Data analysis

The analysis of the primary data collected shall be through the use of SPSS (statistical packages for social sciences) and MS excel. According to Gerrish and Lacey (2015) in reference to the design of research note that there is need to pre-plan what an SPSS test will analyse for each specific section. This can be extrapolated to other tests tools that the researcher intends to use. Firstly, the demographic data shall be analysed suing charts and graphs found in MS excel. This will enable the researcher depict the different representative groups of the population in terms of gender, age and educational level. In regard to questionnaires in the main body and the warm up questions, a combination of SPSS and MS excel shall be used. SPSS shall be used for exclusively the questions that were coded using the likert scale. In this manner, a correlation analysis – to depict the strength of relationships between different – shall be possible. Additionally, using SPSS, the data is tested of standard variation, frequency and mean variations.

Strongly disagreeDisagreeNeutralAgreeStrongly agree
Five-point Likert Scale

When the mean is higher than 3, it means most of the respondents agree to the specific question. By comparing means the general trends can be predicted. This is significant in determining the inclination of the most of the responses and how varied other responses are from the mean (using standard deviation).  Frequency is tested to establish the number of times each response from the likert scale appears. Wagner (2013) advocates for the use of IBM SPSS in social science researches since it combines several indispensible tools to analyse data. The same sentiments are shared by Tolmie, Muijs and McAteer (2011) who point out the software as both accurate and simple enough for an average researcher to use. In summary, question 8-10 will be analysed using MS excel. Sections a,c, question 6 in section d and section e shall be analysed using SPSS, whilst questions 1 and 2 in part 1, questions in section b and question 5 and 7 in section d are going to be analysed using MS Excel.


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