Ireland’s agri-food and drink sector: The correlation between eWOM initiatives and employee brand advocacy
Keenan Gaylard, Aisling
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The Irish agri-food and drink sector has a rich heritage. It is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, employing 8.4% of the working population and generating an annual turnover of €27.5bn. SMEs within the sector use social media (SM) to build brand awareness, customer relations, and sales. These goals are effective when employees adopt and use electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) because they feel trusted, satisfied, and motivated by the support employers provide. The research question evaluates whether employees adoption and use of eWOM correlates to brand advocacy. This study avails of four theories: Venkatesh et al.’s (2012) Unified Theory of Adoption and Usage Technology (UTAUT2) Model, Guesalaga’s (2016) Conceptual Framework on Social Media Usage in Sales and Badrinarayanan, Sierra, (2018) Front-Line Employee Brand Advocacy Conceptual Model and Social Exchange Theory (SET) (Homans, 1958). Constructs of interest include: social influence, facilitating conditions, employee effort, employer motivation, and engaging SM community. This research employs a triangulation approach involving two stages. The first stage comprises of a survey to a random sample of SMEs within Ireland’s agri-food and drink sector. The 150 online questionnaires have been analysed using partial least squares structural equations modelling (PLS-SEM) software Smart-PLS. The second stage involves semi-structured interviews, probing the quantitative analysis. The findings confirm an employee’s behavioural intentions, adoption and use of eWOM are the outcomes of employee effort, and employer motivation. Social influence and facilitating conditions did not influence employee adoption and use of eWOM. Business environments and colleagues do not play a major role in an employee’s adoption and use of work-related SM. Employees who adopt and use eWOM initiatives are self-appointed brand ambassadors. The rejected constructs of social influence and facilitating conditions should be omitted from future adoption and use models relating to eWOM. The moderator, engaging SM community, influences eWOM adoption and use. However, there is no effect on employee brand advocacy, which indicates having an engaged SM community does not correlate to employee brand advocacy. The findings confirm the high predictive power of the constructs eWOM adoption and use and employee brand advocacy for the proposed conceptual model. From an employee perspective, there is little guidance regarding the SM strategy; employers need to set SM goals for their employees to achieve. Time is the biggest detriment to employees using eWOM and employers do not acknowledge employees’ SM efforts. Training in using SM to promote their brand is essential. SMEs also need support in dealing with negative eWOM and how to analyse eWOM in terms of engagement and interactions. The findings are limited to the Irish agri-food and drink sector, their employees, and the proposed conceptual model. Beyond the variables conceptualised in this model, there are other untested variables that may improve the model’s power. There may be research models, other than UTAUT2, that also explain employee behavioural intentions with regards to their use of SM. Regarding future research, the proposed framework resulting from this study could be tested in other contexts. It may be constructive to evaluate whether the size of an employee’s personal SM network influences brand advocacy and to focus on the employer perspective. Future analysis with PLS using FIMIX-PLS would test the sub population to identify whether there is a difference in the adoption and use of eWOM.
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