Since my graduate school experience is winding down I've changed my intended research project a bit to allow for time to collect and analyze the data before the May deadline. The new project will be examining the woefully understudied intersection of marketing and virtual agents. Virtual agents are any digital representation of a nonhuman entity, usually a computer program but also potentially a brand or a company (Think of Clippy from MS Word, or, more malevolently, HAL 9000.)
One of the things we see often with Facebook and/or Twitter is companies interacting with their consumers on a more individualized level. It may be one very busy person or a team of social network experts but either way, these interactions put a more human face on the company, and often that face is a virtual agent, a digital avatar through which the company interacts. My goal is to see whether the qualities of that avatar affect how people see the company or brand.
It was surprising to see just how little research there was on the subject. I suspect there is simply a backlog of articles on social networks still waiting to be published. One of the joys of the peer evaluation system I suppose. I'll provide periodic updates as things progress. The first step is to get all the IRB work ironed out. Have any opinions on the subject? Ever have a good (or bad) interaction with a company via Facebook or Twitter? Comment away!