The brand persona: operationalizing a synthesis of brand equity and social capital
The human brand in social media presents an understudied phenomenon, particularly in the sports domain. The current study focused on sports fans’ perceptions of athlete brands as presented on Twitter. The analysis assessed the rated likeability of athletes based on the social media content attributed to athlete brands. The current study examined this relationship in the context of interacting variables including message tone, group status, and fan identification. Utilizing social identity theory, the overall aim was to understand interaction effects to enhance the ability of scholars and industry practitioners to investigate the phenomenon of human branding in media. Furthermore, the current study intended to expand the brand persona concept to include the social and branding functions represented by humans in media. The current study utilized an experiment with a survey measure. Participants were presented with stimuli via tweets from athletes. The tweets varied on message tone (positive or negative) and group status (ingroup or outgroup), and respondents were categorized as high-level or low-level fans, resulting in a 2x2x2 design. Results indicated a significant main effect of fan identification level on likeability ratings such that those with higher levels of fan identification were more likely to rate athletes as likeable. There was an interaction effect of fan identification and group status with the positive message condition such that fan identification and group status may influence likeability when tweets are positive. There was also a significant main effect of message tone on likeability ratings such that those shown positive tweets by athletes were more likely to rate athletes as likeable compared with those shown negative tweets. Finally, results revealed a three-way interaction such that influence of message tone was potentially greater for those who were exposed to an ingroup tweet, but only among high-level fans. There was a greater difference in likeability ratings between negative and positive conditions for those presented with ingroup tweets, which suggests that tweets from athlete brands may have more impact on high-level fans. Thus, social media posts from athletes of a favorite team or rival team prompt stronger reactions from high-level fans than low-level fans.