Horsfall, Roberta (2018) Network marketing dietary supplements: a multi-method analysis of user’s experience and social media network structures. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Network marketing is an increasingly popular sales technique that holds both economic and public health implications for society. Using social media networking as a tool for this marketing method is a new and changing approach that has many benefits for distributors. The theoretical framework of contagion introduced by Berger (2013) was used within this study as it appeared to be a significant aspect within network marketing. Trust and word of mouth diffusion were also major components that were explored throughout the research, and how these factors associate with network marketing and the experience of representatives were considered. Gender differences and the role of motherhood were also examined as there appeared to be a connection between network marketing and family life.

The focus of the research was on the network marketing of dietary supplements, concentrating on three major companies – Forever Living, Juice Plus and Herbalife. The study took a mixed-method approach, gathering data using qualitative interviews alongside quantitative social media network analysis.

The qualitative section of the research involved ten semi-structured interviews with a representative from one of the relevant companies. The aim of the interviews was to observe the perceived experiences provided by individuals who use and distribute dietary merchandise through network marketing, and promote the products using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Thematic analysis was used to examine participant’s perceptions of their background in network marketing, in which three prominent themes were identified and discussed: reconstructing identity, representing a lifestyle, and mothers and network marketing.

It was concluded that many of the participants altered the way they wanted others to perceive their identities through social media in order to represent a desirable and successful lifestyle. It was also suggested that many mothers became a part of network marketing due to the flexible hours and a good work-family balance. This appeal was also used within the attraction marketing aspect of the technique as it encouraged other parents to also become representatives.

The study also took a quantitative approach, in which the novel software NodeXL was used to analyse social media networks in order to observe and understand network structures relating to the relevant companies. One graph relating to each company was created every week for five weeks, totalling fifteen diagrams demonstrating the social media structures. It was concluded that the analysis suggested extensive connectivity was only prevalent with very few Twitter users, including both retweeting others and being retweeted themselves, suggesting a structure with few successful individuals and many generating less success.

The data from both sections of the research was correlated in an attempt to gain an overall perspective of network marketing strategies, success and use of social media. The research project as a whole aimed to provide useful information regarding network marketer’s experiences, the use of social media as a tool within the network marketing world, and to understand how the role of contagion and influence relates to the topic.

There have been numerous studies carried out regarding social media as a marketing tool, however there is no previous literature focusing on the network marketing of dietary supplements and how social media networks are utilised within this setting. The recent development and growth of social media networking as a tool for marketing dietary supplements has significant public health and health behaviour implications. This notion and the issue that there are no known previous studies regarding this specific topic suggests that this research will be an important addition to the literature.

Horsfall FINAL THESIS.pdf - Accepted Version
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