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The concept of brand community has been used to understand how consumers create value around brands online. Recently consumer researchers have begun to debate the relevance of this concept for understanding brand-related communication on social media. Based on a data set of 8949 tweets about Louis Vuitton gathered on Italian Twitter in 2013, this article addresses these discussions by developing the alternative concept of brand publics that differ from brand communities in three important ways. First, brand publics are social formations that are not based on interaction but on a continuous focus of interest and mediation. Second, participation in brand publics is not structured by discussion or deliberation but by individual or collective affect. Third, in brand publics consumers do not develop a collective identity around the focal brand; rather the brand is valuable as a medium that can offer publicity to a multitude of diverse situations of identity. The conclusion suggests that brand publics might be part of a social media–based consumer culture where publicity rather than identity has become a core value.
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Brand Public
ADAM ARVIDSSON
ALESSANDRO CALIANDRO
5The concept of brand community has been used to understand how consumers
create value around brands online. Recently consumer researchers have begun
to debate the relevance of this concept for understanding brand-related communi-
cation on social media. Based on a data set of 8949 tweets about Louis Vuitton
gathered on Italian Twitter in 2013, this article addresses these discussions by
10 developing the alternative concept of brand publics that differ from brand commu-
nities in three important ways. First, brand publics are social formations that are
not based on interaction but on a continuous focus of interest and mediation.
Second, participation in brand publics is not structured by discussion or delibera-
tion but by individual or collective affect. Third, in brand publics consumers do not
15 develop a collective identity around the focal brand; rather the brand is valuable as
a medium that can offer publicity to a multitude of diverse situations of identity.
The conclusion suggests that brand publics might be part of a social media–based
consumer culture where publicity rather than identity has become a core value.
Keywords: brand, brand community, netnography, social media, digital methods,
20 Twitter, fashion, Louis Vuitton
In this article we suggest that the ways in which con-
sumers create value around brands on social media can
be conceptualized as occurring in brand publics. A brand
public is an organized media space kept together by a con-
25 tinuity of practices of mediation. Brand publics result from
an aggregation of a large number of isolated expressions
that have a common focus. Contrary to brand communities,
they do not build on sustained forms of interaction or any
consistent collective identity.
30 For a long time, the concept of brand community has
provided a useful framework for understanding how social
interaction can become a source of value. In brand commu-
nities, people form enduring social bonds around brands
that add value by sustaining a common identity or experi-
35
ence. However, recent consumer research suggests that on
social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as on
blogs, relations among consumers or admirers of brands
are less structured and more fleeting and ephemeral. This
makes brand-related communication take forms that are
40
difficult to describe as communitarian (Kozinets 2013;
McQuarrie, Miller, and Phillips 2013).
These observations are supported by contemporary me-
dia research where the suggestion is that, overall, social
media are less conducive to the formation of the kinds of
45
enduring social bonds that are generally understood as the
foundation for communities. Instead, more fleeting forms
of association together with a publicity-oriented attitude
prevail (boyd and Ellison 2007; Raine and Wellman 2012).
In Mark Andrejevic’s words, social media discourse is
50
“less interactive than more private forms of communica-
tion .... [t]he imperative of social media is one of the hy-
per-production of opinions, observations and responses,
but as the flow of communication increases, it becomes in-
creasingly difficult to keep a coherent conversation going”
55
(Andrejevic 2013, 43). Indeed, there is growing evidence
that social media support a publicity-oriented consumer
culture, oriented around appearance and visibility rather
Adam Arvidsson (adam.arvidsson@unimi.it) is associate professor of
sociology and co-director of the Centre for Digital Ethnography at the
State University of Milan, via Conservatorio 7, 20122 Milan, Italy.
Alessandro Caliandro (alessandro.caliandro@unimi.it) is a postdoctoral
researcher in sociology and director of research at the Centre for Digital
Ethnography at the State University of Milan, via Conservatorio 7, 20122,
Milan, Italy. The authors acknowledge the helpful input of the editor, as-
sociate editors, and reviewers. In addition the authors thank colleagues at
the Centre for Digital Ethnography at the University of Milan and partici-
pants in the departmental seminar at the School of Management, Royal
Holloway College, University of London.
Laura Peracchio and Eileen Fischer served as editors, and Soren
Askegaard served as associate editor for this article.
Advance Access publication October 7, 2015
V
CThe Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Journal of Consumer Research, Inc. All rights reserved.
For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com Vol. 0 2015
DOI: 10.1093/jcr/ucv053
1
then identity and belonging, and where value co-creation is
structured by private or collective affects, rather than delib-
eration and common values. This literature has also
stressed how social media participation tends to give rise
5to publics rather than communities (Arvidsson et al. 2015;
Marwick 2015;Papacharissi 2014;Senft 2013).
In this article, we draw on this literature to suggest that,
on social media, brands can give rise to different kinds of
associations where value is added in different ways. We
10 call these brand publics. We suggest that brand publics dif-
fer from brand communities in three crucial ways. First,
communities are sustained by interaction, but brand publics
are sustained by mediation. People do not interact around
the focal brand. Instead, mediation devices like Twitter
15 hashtags aggregate a multitude of private perspectives on,
or experiences of the brand, which are given publicity in
the brand public. Second, communication in brand commu-
nities is structured by discussion or deliberation. In brand
publics, participation is structured either by private affects
20 like desire for visibility or an urge to share a point of view
or an experience, or by collective affects that drive waves
of imitation. In either case there is no deliberation. Third,
members of brand communities develop shared meanings
that they identify with. In brand publics no coherent collec-
25 tive identity is articulated around the focal brand. Rather
the public resonates brand-related meanings and identities
that are articulated elsewhere. These come from the
brand’s own marketing communications but also from the
diverse meanings that people associate with brands in the
30 multiplicity of practices and contexts that proliferate
throughout their everyday lives.
In this article, our purpose is to develop an empirically
grounded theory of brand publics, an “ideal type,” to use
Weber’s terminology (Weber 1978). To do this we build
35 our discussion on a data set of 8949 tweets gathered from
Italian Twitter conversations about the Louis Vuitton brand
in 2013. Louis Vuitton is admittedly a special case. As a
high-profile luxury fashion brand, it is likely to invite the
kind of conspicuous consumption that lends itself well to
40 the formation of brand publics. We discuss our reasons for
choosing this case in more detail in the methods section.
Suffice it to say for now that it lends itself well to our pur-
poses of theory construction: Louis Vuitton on Twitter
clearly showcases the features that we identify with brand
45 publics. Communication around other brands may be more
communitarian, even on social media, but establishing the
general relevance of our ideal type is beyond the scope of
this article.
In the next section we build theoretical foundations for
50 our argument. We briefly discuss the existing literature on
brand communities in order to draw out a number of fea-
tures that we will use as a contrasting backdrop in elaborat-
ing our theory of brand publics. We then go on to give a
first sketch of the concept of publics by drawing on classic
55 and contemporary media research. In the methods section
we describe our methodological strategy and discuss our
data and our methods of analysis. In the analysis we first
provide an account of the social structure of communica-
tions around Louis Vuitton on Twitter. We then go on to
60
present our analysis of the dynamics of participation and
the content of postings. In the discussion we build on
our analysis of the Louis Vuitton case to flesh out an ideal-
typical model of brand publics. In the conclusion we dis-
cuss the value that can be derived from participating in
65
brand publics, as well as the possible place of brand pub-
lics within a contemporary social media–fueled consumer
culture.
COMMUNITIES AND PUBLICS
The concept of brand community was pioneered by
70
Mun˜iz and O’Guinn in an article from 2001 that built on
precedents in consumer research (Arnould and Price 1993;
Schouten and McAlexander 1995), sociology (Wellman
and Leighton 1979), and cultural studies (Hall and
Jefferson 1975;Hebdidge 1979). Together with the parallel
75
concepts of consumer tribes (Cova, Kozinets, and Shankar
2007;Maffesoli 1996) and “subcultures of consumption”
(Schouten and McAlexander 1995), the concept of brand
community highlights how consumers and fans create
“structured sets of social relations” (Mun˜ iz and O’Guinn
80
2001, 412) and a coherent set of shared meanings around
brands or consumer practices. There are differences be-
tween these concepts. In the case of consumer tribes, these
social relations are less structured and more ephemeral;
like “subcultures of consumption,” the concept also tends
85
to focus on practices rather than brands (Canniford 2011b;
Cova and Pace 2006). However, all three concepts denote
phenomena where consumers create a “consciousness of
kind,” that is, a sense of common identity that sets off
members from others, “shared rituals and traditions” that
90
embody specific meaning systems, and a “sense of moral
obligation” that motivates contributions (Mun˜ iz and
O’Guinn, 2001).
From these features consumers derive value in different
ways (Schau, Mun˜iz, and Arnould 2009): they derive an
95
enhanced consumer experience (Cova and White 2010;
Schouten, McAlexander, and Koenig 2007), and they find
help and support in using the products associated with the
brand in focus (Schau et al. 2009). Most importantly they
develop “linking value” in terms of a common identity and
100
social support (Cova 1997;Cova and Cova 2002). In turn,
brand managers can use communities as a source of prod-
uct and brand innovation (McWilliam 2000;von Hippel
2004), experience co-creation (Caru` and Cova 2007;
Gro¨nroos 2006;Lusch and Vargo 2006), and word-of-
105
mouth marketing (Cova and Dalli 2009;Zwick, Bonsu,
and Darmody 2008). Brand communities make consumer
sociality into a source of both use and exchange value.
2JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
Mun˜iz and O’Guinn’s original article focused on brand
communities that were located in face-to-face interaction
(although they also analyzed brand-related websites).
Since then, a wide range of studies have used the concept
5to describe online consumer interaction (e.g., Mun˜iz and
Schau 2005;Schau et al. 2009,Shouten et al. 2007; cf.
Canniford 2011a). Recent scholarship has also focused on
the heterogeneous nature of some “complex communities”
and how such heterogeneity can work to ensure coopera-
10 tion and cohesion (Thomas, Price, and Schau 2013).
Together with the many nuances that the term community
has acquired in its century-long use within the mainstream
social sciences (Colglough and Sitaraman, 2005), the di-
versity and richness of recent research on online brand
15 communities has given the concept a variety of different
connotations. For our purposes it is important to highlight
three features generally associated with brand
communities.
First, brand communities are based on interaction: core
20 members interact, exchange opinions and ideas, and get to
know each other in some way. Interaction can be based on
face-to-face encounters or it can be a matter of the “com-
munity without propinquity” (Calhoun 1998) of mediated
interaction that marks most online brand communities or
25 some mixture of both. Obviously all members of a particu-
lar community need not know all other members, and inter-
action can be more or less frequent, building social bonds
that are more or less significant for individual members.
That brand communities are “based on interaction” does
30 not mean that everybody necessarily interacts with every-
body else all of the time. However that some do interact
around the brand is crucial. It is what makes the commu-
nity into a community, and it enables all members to de-
velop a sense of belonging, even if they do not participate
35 or do so only sporadically (McAlexander, Schultz, and
Koenig 2002, 38). The existence of interaction, if only
among a select group of core members, allows for active
participation as a possibility: it makes the brand commu-
nity into an “imagined community,” in Anderson’s terms
40 (Anderson 1982).
Second, brand communities provide members with a
sense of identity. Again this might be weak or strong, im-
portant or unimportant. It can also be a matter of a plurality
of identities ordered in some form of hierarchy (Schouten
45 and McAlexander 1995). Within brand communities there
is a coherent idea of the values and worldviews that mark,
or should mark, users. (In the absence of such coherence,
members can intervene to preserve basic continuity;
Thomas et al. 2013.) These foster “a sense of distinction
50 from non-users of the focal brand” (Canniford 2011b, 594)
and support identity work in ways that range from strong
“moral protagonism” (Luedicke, Thompson, and Giesler
2010) to a vague sense of recognition, as when a Saab
driver flashes her headlights at another Saab (Mun˜iz and
55 O’Guinn 2001).
Third, the social relations and the shared sense of iden-
tity that mark brand communities are constructed by mem-
bers in their interaction (although brand managers and
companies can contribute; Cova and Pace 2006). Once
60
again, even though not all members might participate, and
those who participate might do so more or less sporadi-
cally, the fact that some do participate is the basis for the
ability of brand communities to create “linking value” in
the form of a common identity and experience (Cova
65
1997). Consequently a lot of the activity that goes on in
brand communities is oriented toward the kinds of commu-
nicative action (Habermas 1984) that can build and de-
velop such common meanings through interaction: core
members of brand communities discuss, deliberate, or enter
70
into conflict with each other over the correct interpretation
of the brand and its values. On forums and mailing lists
they respond to and take issue with each other’s postings.
This means that the dynamics of brand communities are
structured by internal discussions among members (Brown,
75
Kozinets, and Sherry 2003,Kozinets 2001,2010;
McAlexander et al. 2002). Mathwick, Wiertz, and de
Ruyter (2008, 843) go as far as suggesting that a moral ob-
ligation to contribute to such ongoing deliberation is what
mainly motivates participation.
80
Brand Communities and Social Media
Consumer researchers have successfully located and ex-
plored brand communities in online communication.
Indeed, popular formats of online communication like
mailing lists, websites, forums, Listservs, and chat rooms
85
tend to favor the formation of communities (Kozinets
2002;Slater 1998). Howard Rheingold already famously
suggested that a flourishing of “virtual communities”
would result from the diffusion of Internet connectivity
(Rheingold 1993). However, recent consumer research
90
suggests that on the contemporary web, where forums,
Listservs, and mailing lists have found competition from
blogs and social media, alternative forms of brand- or con-
sumption-focused sociality also develop. In their study of
fashion bloggers, McQuarrie et al. (2013) argue that as
95
bloggers become famous they depart from the community
model of interaction: “The early interaction between blog-
ger and follower, then, is consistent with the [model] of
virtual community .... But this complex of behaviours
soon disappears as the blogger begins to build an audience.
100
As her audience grows larger, the blogger’s behaviour
changes. She stops interacting with her followers.” They
go on to suggest that “community is not the only thing that
consumers seek online” (McQuarrie et al. 2013, 146).
Bardhi and Eckhardt (2012) also note a “deference of
105
brand community” in the case or the Zipcar Internet-based
car-sharing service. Similarly, in his recent work Robert
Kozinets has suggested that the prevalence of social media,
blogs, and a wider diversity of technical formats makes it
ARVIDSSON AND CALIANDRO 3
necessary to also focus on noncommunitarian forms of
consumer sociality (Kozinets 2010, 87; Kozinets 2013).
Indeed, in their study of topic networks on Twitter, Smith
et al. (2014, n.p.) suggest that such noncommunitarian
5forms of association are rather the norm in brand-related
communication on this web domain.
When well-known products or services or popular subjects
like celebrities are discussed in Twitter, there is often com-
mentary from many disconnected participants .... Well-
10 known brands and other popular subjects can attract large
fragmented Twitter populations who tweet about it but not
to each other. The larger the population talking about a
brand, the less likely it is that participants are connected to
one another. Brand-mentioning participants focus on a topic,
15 but tend not to connect to each other.
This noncommunitarian nature of social media commu-
nication is supported by insights from contemporary media
and communications research. Several empirical studies,
both quantitative and qualitative, have shown that people
20 generally have loose relationships on social networks
(Colleoni, Rozza, and Arvidsson 2014;Hansen et al. 2011;
Kwak et al. 2010;Parks 2011;Van Dijck 2013). They do
so not only or even primarily to use social media to interact
and discuss with others, but as a means to maintain and
25 manage their own strategies of self-presentation (Marwick
2013;Marwick and boyd 2011). Communication on social
media seems to be mainly devoted to the sharing of private
concerns and perspectives, rather than to the collective
construction of identities: community, in other words,
30 might no longer be the “killer app” of the web (Zwick and
Bradshaw forthcoming).
Publics
Recent media and communications research has begun
to use the concept of “publics” to describe the forms of as-
35 sociation that develop on social media (Arvidsson 2013;
Bastos, Galdini-Raimundo, and Travitzki 2013;boyd
2006;Papacharissi 2014;Papacharissi and Oliveira, 2012).
While the concept of community has traditionally been
used to describe forms of social interaction, the concept of
40 publics has developed out of a focus on mediation. This
was the starting point for Gabriel Tarde, who introduced
the concept in modern social theory. While crowds have
existed throughout history, a public is formed when a
crowd is given a lasting direction or focus as it is aggre-
45 gated around a media device, such as a newspaper, or a
mediated event like a public affair or a celebrity.
Conversely, the public endures as long as this mechanism
of mediation operates: when the newspaper ceases publish-
ing, its public dissolves; when the theater performance
50 ends, the public disbands and joins the urban crowd (Tarde
[1898] 1967). This gives us a first defining characteristic
of publics: publics are artifacts of mediation, they are born
and kept together by media devices, in some form, and
they last as long as these media devices operate.
55
Conversely, one becomes a member of a public by accept-
ing the act of mediation: banally by paying attention
(Warner 2002).
To Tarde, publics support shared meaning systems with-
out interaction: A public is a “purely spiritual collectively,
60
a dispersion of individuals who are physically separated
and whose cohesion is entirely mental.” Their bond lies in
their simultaneous “awareness of sharing at a same time an
idea or a wish with a great number of men” (Tarde [1898],
1967, 53). Tarde’s definition is different to Habermas’s
65
(1984) use of “public sphere” by which he intends a space
of communicative interaction.
That publics do not develop out of interaction does not
mean that members are passive, however. According to
Tarde, members of a public engage in conversation that
70
occurs in private networks. Conversation elaborates and
reinforces themes of public mediation and consolidates
public opinion, but it is not itself public (Tarde [1898],
1967, 54). This duality between public communication and
private conversation was subsequently developed by Katz
75
and Lazarsfeld (1955) in their famous model of the “two-
step flow” of communication.
However, in social media publics, this clear distinction
no longer holds. Perspectives and experiences that develop
in private networks of conversation are themselves ren-
80
dered public, as social media enable users to share their
private views in tweets and postings, and to retweet those
of others while sometimes adding something of their own
(Page 2012). Devices like Twitter hashtags enable users to
initiate and sustain publics by associating their tweets with
85
a publicly searchable classification (like #Apple or
#Occupy; Papacharissi and Oliveira 2012). Often such pub-
lic sharing occurs without communicative interaction with
other members of the public taking place. It is a matter of
what Russell Belk (2014) has called pseudo-sharing:
90
Opinions, perspectives, and experiences are shared, but
this occurs without an expectation of reciprocity or the for-
mation of community. The possibility of re-mediation
without interaction leads to two important characteristics
of social media publics.
95
First, social media publics are in some sense similar to
crowds. To Tarde and his contemporaries, crowds were
physical aggregations that were energized by affectively
driven “waves” of imitation (think about the football crowd
that cheers as the home team scores), while publics are
100
built on enduring forms of mediation. On social media this
classic distinction between crowds and publics is blurred.
The rapid temporality of social media devices, in particular
when used on mobile platforms, allows for an experience
similar to that created by the physical co-presence that
105
characterized the crowd for Tarde (Stage 2013). A
tweet arrives and is quickly retweeted in ways similar
to how a member of the crowd imitates his neighbor.
4JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
The immediacy of social media participation means that
social media publics, like crowds, are largely driven by af-
fective affiliation rather than communicative interaction
(Zappavigna 2011). Driven by a common interest, enthusi-
5asm, or concern, participants imitate each other by re-
mediating their perspective on an event or issue (Borch
2012). Indeed, Zizzi Papacharissi suggests that social me-
dia publics are primarily affective publics where it is the
“affective aspects of messages [that] nurture and sustain in-
10 volvement, connection, and cohesion” (Papacharissi 2012,
279; Papacharissi 2014). Conversely, while social media
publics may develop shared meanings, these need not re-
sult from communicative action among participants but
can instead emerge from their pseudo-sharing of private
15 affects.
Indeed, and this is the second important characteristic,
the possibility for public re-mediation without interaction
creates a basic orientation toward publicity-oriented shar-
ing of personal views or perspectives (Papacharissi 2012).
20 In her earlier work on blogs, Papacharissi suggested that
political communication on blogs were marked by the
“narcissistic” sharing of private opinions, without the elab-
oration of a common perspective. She concluded that this
private sociality, as she termed it, leads to a new modality
25 of political participation where the nondeliberative, expres-
sive sharing of private experience or perspectives domina-
tes political discourse. Bennett and Segerberg (2012) have
developed these insights suggesting that social media–
based political publics (like the Occupy movement) are
30 primarily marked by the aggregation of inherently private
opinions and perspectives around mediation devices like
the #Occupy hashtags (cf. Juris 2012). They call this mo-
dality of association “connective” and distinguish it from
the kinds of “collective” action that has prevailed in mod-
35 ern political movements. Collective action creates common
meaning systems that become significant sources of iden-
tity. Connective action, in contrast, aggregates perspectives
and experiences that originate from a plurality of diverse
identities or practices. But these need not be elaborated
40 into a common identity specific to the public itself.
From this discussion we can deduce three heuristic ideas
about the differences between communities and publics
that will guide our analysis of Louis Vuitton on Twitter.
First, a brand community is sustained by interaction. A
45 brand public is characterized by a continuity of mediation
with little or no interaction taking place. Participants use a
common mediation device (like a hashtag) to create a com-
mon discursive focus by re-mediating a coherent set of
themes and topics. However they need not discuss, deliber-
50 ate, or otherwise engage in communicative interaction
around these themes or topics. Second, participation in
brand communities takes the form of communicative ac-
tion, of responding to and engaging with other members.
Brand publics, in contrast, are structured by collective
55 affective intensities. Participants imitate each other by
sharing their perspectives on a common issue or topic with-
out directly responding to or engaging with each other.
Third, in brand communities, members articulate a com-
mon identity. A brand public, however, is a place for the
60
public sharing of perspectives and experiences that derive
from a plurality of identities and practices, but these are
not elaborated into explicitly recognized common values
that can provide a source of identification. The overall
driver of participation is not identity but publicity.
65
METHODS AND DATA
In this article we aim at developing the concept of brand
public, not to test its overall relevance. To do so we have
chosen a case likely to exemplify the features that we asso-
ciate with this concept. Our choice was Louis Vuitton, a fa-
70
mous and highly conspicuous fashion brand. We chose to
focus on the area of fashion because fashion consumption
is particularly influenced, and the fashion market is to
some extent restructured by social media participation
(Dolbec and Fischer 2015). In the world of luxury fashion
75
brands, Louis Vuitton is among the brands that are central
to popular aspirations to conspicuous consumption
(Kapferer and Bastien 2009). Louis Vuitton is also among
the brands that generate the most online participation
(Friedman 2014;Kim and Ko 2010). We have focused on
80
Twitter because, along with Facebook, YouTube and
Instagram, this web domain is most conducive to fashion-
related communication (Phan, Thomas, and Heine 2011;
Smith et al. 2014). As in the case of most fashion brands,
communication around Louis Vuitton is heavily preoccu-
85
pied with issues of style, taste, and self-presentation (Arsel
and Bean 2013;Scaraboto and Fischer 2013;Tynan,
MacHennie, and Chuon 2009). These issues are central to
the kinds of consumer identity work that are crucial to
value creation in brand communities (Cova 1997;
90
Luedicke et al. 2010;Schau et al. 2009;Thompson 2011).
Together these factors make Louis Vuitton on Twitter a
good starting point for developing an ideal-typical account
of how valuable forms of consumer sociality and brand-re-
lated meaning making can unfold on social media. To
95
prove the general validity of that account, or to say any-
thing about the relative prevalence of brand publics vis-a`-
vis brand communities on the contemporary web is beyond
the scope of this article. Here we simply wish to develop a
new concept that might be useful for consumer researchers
100
looking at brand-related communication on the contempo-
rary web.
Netnography on Twitter
Our methodological strategy has aimed at performing a
qualitative analysis of a large data set. We wanted to recon-
105
struct the forms of sociality and the webs of significance
(Geertz 1988) that develop around Louis Vuitton on
ARVIDSSON AND CALIANDRO 5
Twitter. In essence we wanted to know how people interact
and what they talk about. In so doing we have taken inspi-
ration in the adaptation of interpretative text analysis and
participant observation to online environments known as
5“netnography” (Kozinets 2002,2010), as well as from the
“digital methods” tradition currently developing in the so-
cial sciences (Rogers 2013).
Netnography has been developed as a tool for under-
standing the cultures of online communication from the
10 point of view of participants (Kozinets 2010, 87).
Traditionally netnography has focused on mailing lists, fo-
rums, and websites (Kozinets 2013). We have developed
this approach to fit the environment of Twitter in three
ways: first, to netnography’s traditional focus on the webs
15 of significance that structure online communication, we
add an open-ended investigation of the social forms in
which such communication takes place, reminiscent of the
tradition of structural anthropology (Wellman 1988).
Second, since our focus is to study a social form with virtu-
20 ally no interaction, we have replaced netnography’s tradi-
tional focus on following debates and interactive
exchanges on forums and mailing lists with an analysis of
the kinds of material shared though hashtags and other me-
diation devices. In making these additions we have fol-
25 lowed Rogers’s call for “online groundedness,” by which
he means following the ways in which digital media natu-
rally structure data and seeking to understand the particular
social and cultural forms that emerge as sociality is medi-
ated by particular technologies. Third, to analyze the large
30 numbers of tweets in our data, we have combined auto-
matic analyses that use software with a traditional human
interpretative approach.
Data Sets and Samples
Our overall approach has been grounded and iterative. In
35 2012 we gathered and analyzed a first exploratory data set
by searching for the keyword Louis Vuitton Twitter. On
the basis of this first analysis we developed a series of the-
oretical and methodological intuitions that we deployed in
gathering two additional data sets in 2013. This time we
40 searched for tweets containing the keyword “Louis
Vuitton” (7814 tweets) and for tweets marked with the
hashtag #louisvuitton (2848 tweets), gathering a total of
8949 tweets in October and November (September 30 to
November 30, 2013: there was an overlap of 1713 tweets
45 between the two data sets).
Our discussion in this article draws on the two data sets
we gathered in 2013. Mostly we draw on the data set of
2848 tweets with the hashtag #louisvuitton. This gives us
an understanding of the public discourse that participants
50 actively associate with the Louis Vuitton brand. Our rea-
soning here is that because the #louisvuitton hashtag pro-
motes the public visibility of a tweet while at the same
time classifying it, tweets marked with the hashtag
#louisvuitton can be safely said to be intended to be visible
55
as public discourse that is pertinent to the brand. In other
words, the hashtag is a mediation device that creates a pub-
lic (Bastos et al. 2013;boyd, Golder, and Lotan 2010). Of
course simply searching for tweets with the #louisvuitton
hashtag does not give us access to all of the Twitter dis-
60
course that concerns Louis Vuitton. To address this limita-
tion we use the keyword data set. We gathered this by
searching for posting with the keyword “Louis Vuitton” on
Twitter. This data gives us an idea of the place of postings
marked with the hashtag #louisvuitton relative to overall
65
Twitter communications that mention the brand. From the
keyword data set we extracted a sample of the 495 tweets
that had been retweeted more than 10 times. This sample
was small enough to be subjected to meaningful qualitative
analysis, and it gave us an idea of how Louis Vuitton was
70
talked about more widely on Twitter. We mainly draw on
the keyword data set for comparative purposes. The lion’s
share of our analysis is based on the #louisvuitton data set.
Overall we have used keywords, hashtags, and retweets to
gather data and extract samples for analysis. These diverse
75
approaches have given us different points of view on
Twitter postings relevant to Louis Vuitton. Together they
strengthen our confidence in the validity of our analysis.
We chose to search for posting in Italian in order to ar-
rive at a data set of manageable size. (Searching for tweets
80
with the keyword Louis Vuitton in English would have
generated around 20,000 tweets per week.)
We have gathered our data using crawlers that interro-
gate the Search Application Programming Interface (API)
of Twitter. For further details and a discussion of the reli-
85
ability of crawlers and the Twitter API, consult the online
appendix.
Analysis
Overall we have chosen our analytical techniques in or-
der to achieve a qualitative analysis of a large data set. Our
90
interest has been to understand the social and cultural
forms that develop in this domain.
Our first step was to reconstruct the structure of commu-
nication around Louis Vuitton. To do this we first counted
the occurrence of postings and linked them to unique user
95
identities. We also performed social network analysis. This
consisted of an in-link analysis on retweets and mentions. A
python script extracted all tweets from the data sets contain-
ing @ or RT and calculated reciprocal links between users.
These were subsequently visualized with Gephi (https://
100
gephi.org/) (Bastian and Jacomy 2009). To get an idea of
the transformation of the social structure, we also subdivided
the data in biweekly data sets and performed a separate net-
work analysis for each set. We applied this technique to the
keyword as well as the #louisvuitton data sets.
105
To get an initial understanding of the “webs of signifi-
cance” that featured in communication around Louis
6JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
Vuitton, we performed co-hashtag analysis and URL ex-
traction on the #louisvuitton data set. Co-hashtag analysis
is based on analyzing the co-occurrence of hashtags within
individual tweets. Rather than simply counting the hash-
5tags, analyzing their co-occurrence provides insights on the
conceptual associations that emerge naturally from Twitter
use and how these vary or remain stable over time. Co-
hashtag analysis was developed by Nortje Marres and
Caroline Gertliz, building on the co-word analysis devel-
10 oped in citation metrics by Michel Callon (Callon,
Courtial, and Bauin 1983). Applied to Twitter traffic it en-
ables us “to determine not which terms are becoming popu-
lar, but which are becoming active, in terms of their
relations to other terms shifting through time” (Marres and
15 Gerlitz 2015, 15; cf. Marres 2013). Our analysis is based
on the co-occurrence of hashtags around the #louisvuitton
hashtag. We calculated the co-occurrence of all hashtags in
our data set using a custom-built python script. These were
visualized as a timeline (using the Excel timeline function).
20 To make our figures readable, we excluded hashtags that
occurred less than 10 times and hashtags that were only
featured during a single day. This way we arrived at a visu-
alization of the enduring conceptual associations that arose
around the #louisvuitton hashtag.
25 URL extraction allows for a simple overview of the im-
print of Twitter traffic on the web. This technique builds
on the fact that a significant amount of tweets contain
URLs that point at other web resources (Kwak et al. 2010).
Using a python script we extracted the URLs from all the
30 tweets in the #louisvuitton hashtag data set that we had
classified as news, sales, or self-presentation (see later). In
total we extracted 2379 URLs. Most of these pointed to
major web domains like Instagram and eBay. Those that
pointed to minor domains (like websites of women’s maga-
35 zines) were classified in macro categories like news, fash-
ion blogs, fashion magazines, and personal websites. The
URL extraction gave us a bird’s-eye view of the kind of
material that was shared in the Louis Vuitton public.
Qualitative Analysis. Our discussion of the content of
40 tweets builds on a qualitative analysis of the entire data set
of 2848 tweets with the hashtag #louisvuitton and a sample
of 495 retweets from the keyword data set. The authors
read these tweets and classified them according to the fol-
lowing criteria: whether they publicized bags or other
45 Louis Vuitton merchandise for sale (sales); whether they
conveyed information about Louis Vuitton and the world
of fashion in general (news), or whether they publicized in-
dividual points of view or experiences of the brand (self-
presentation)(Table 1). The classification criteria had de-
50 veloped out of our explorative study from 2012. They fit
the 2013 data sets well: only 1% of tweets were classified
as uncategorized. Disagreement among the two readers as
well as anomalies in the data set and other issues were dis-
cussed in weekly meetings throughout the analysis phase.
55
Once all tweets in the two samples had been classified,
we decided to give the tweets classified as self-presentation
more thorough attention. Our motive was that these tweets
conveyed material that was most pertinent to the identity
work of participants. We extracted a further subsample of
60
100 self-expressive tweets from the #louisvuitton data set
and reconstructed the context around each tweet. We looked
at the identity of the user by looking at other tweets and the
general presence on other social media. We looked at the na-
ture of the social network in which the tweet circulated (by
65
following @ mentions and other hashtags). We studied com-
ments and likes on the material that was shared (mostly pic-
tures). Overall this analysis gave us an idea of the practices
that structure the sharing of material relevant to user identity
All tweets were translated from Italian by the authors.
70
LOUIS VUITTON ON TWITTER
Our analysis was guided by the heuristic insight about
differences between communities and publics that we de-
scribed in the theory section. Consequently the first ques-
tion we asked about the data concerned the overall
75
structure of communication around Louis Vuitton on
Twitter. To address this we first looked at the keyword
data set. We relied on content analysis of the sample of
retweets, a network analysis of the whole sample, and an
identification of the most active accounts.
80
Overall we found that the brand figured in postings
about a plurality of different topics, like the purchase and
sale of bags, fashion, politics, quasi-sociological observa-
tions of other consumers, motherhood, sports, and news
about the brand itself. In these postings there was almost
85
no discussion or conversation. Overall the turnover of users
was high. Breaking down the data on a biweekly basis,
TABLE 1
ILLUSTRATION OF TAGGING CATEGORIES
“sales”
Definition: Tweets that publicize bags or other branded
merchandise for sale
Example: Authentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Cabas Mezzo
M51151 Tote Bag LV 3430 http://t.co/fZVLIqo0gj
#louisvuitton [Oct 29, 2013]
“news”
Definition: Tweets that convey news or information, mostly
relevant to the Louis Vuitton brand
Example: Louis Vuitton window display #louisvuitton
#windowdisplay #venice #venezia #fashion #italia
#travel ...http://t.co/0ElqtmcHPL [Oct 26, 2013]
“self- presentation”
Definition: Tweets that share personal opinions or experiences,
often by linking to a picture
Example: 20years that I shop and I still have nothing to wear!
#louisvuitton #miumiu #heels http://t.co/
oq6TTWk6tO [Oct 24, 2013]
ARVIDSSON AND CALIANDRO 7
we saw that none of the users who were among the 10 most
active (defined according to the number of tweets sent) or
among the 10 most popular (defined according to the num-
ber of mentions or retweets received) were still in those po-
5sitions in the following period. The only exceptions were
user accounts strictly linked to Louis Vuitton’s corporate
communications, like louisvuitton_it, louisvuitton, louis-
vuitton_us, or YouTube (where Louis Vuitton posts many
of its advertising videos).
10 Overall Louis Vuitton did not generate any communitar-
ian forms of sociality. People associated the brand name
with a plurality of different themes and topics. Users
posted once or twice and then disappeared. Postings rarely
received response and were seldom engaged with. There
15 was little in terms of enduring sets of social relationships
and virtually no discussion or deliberation at all.
#louisvuitton
The most prevalent enduring element was that a consis-
tently large number of tweets (22%) in the keyword sample
20 contained the #louisvuitton hashtag. People would often
use the #louisvuitton hashtag to classify their tweets pub-
licly as associated with the brand name. In order to under-
stand this better, we subjected the entire #louisvuitton
sample to the same combination of content and network
25 analysis.
As in the case of online communication around Louis
Vuitton in general, participation around the #louisvuitton
hashtag was sporadic. Louis Vuitton’s official accounts
and bots that retweet ads for Louis Vuitton merchandise
30 for sale had a constant presence. The overwhelming major-
ity of human users only tweeted once or twice in the period
we observed. The handful of active users who tweeted
around 10 times in the period that we followed also partici-
pated rather sporadically. Their tweets were spread out. A
35 fashion blogger tweeted once on October 2, once on
October 28, once on November 6, three times on
November 11, and once on November 28. They generally
did not engage with other users, neither through retweets
nor through mentions. Overall the percentage of retweets
40 was 4.5, an extremely low figure in our experience (cf.
Arvidsson et al. 2015). Our network analysis shows a
highly fragmented network: there were a number of clus-
ters of interaction, but no social relations formed around
the brand itself (Figure 1). Moreover those clusters were
45 centered on popular users, like famous fashion bloggers or
a model agency. Indeed, apart from Louis Vuitton’s offi-
cial account, all top 10 popular users were fashion celebrity
accounts, bloggers, a model account, and @marcjacobs.
This suggests that users often did not only or even princi-
50 pally use mentions to initiate or sustain conversations, but
they often deployed them as an additional tool for publiciz-
ing their tweets by addressing someone famous (a common
practice in self-branding on Twitter; cf. Marwick and boyd
2011). Overall no social relations formed around the
55
#louisvuitton hashtag. Rather participation took different
forms. The #louisvuitton hashtag provided a space where
an otherwise disconnected mass of users could sporadically
publicize observations and perspectives that they consid-
ered relevant to the brand. It sustained a public rather than
60
a community.
Even if there was no continuous interaction around the
brand, the #louisvuitton hashtag was associated with continu-
ous practices of mediation. In our qualitative analysis we
identified three recurrent kinds of actions that tweets publicly
65
associated with the Louis Vuitton brand could perform.
(Combined these accounted for 99% of the entire #louisvuit-
ton data set.) A tweet could publicize a bag for sale (54%); it
could make public an act of self-presentation (16%), or it
could publicize a piece of news (29%). Looking at the con-
70
tent of the last category we find that the material conveyed
can be divided into three areas: news about fashion shows
and about Louis Vuitton–related events in the world of fash-
ion (like the designer Marc Jacobs leaving the brand to start
his own collection); news about Louis Vuitton’s marketing
75
initiatives (like the shop window decorated by Sophia
Coppola at Le Bon Marche´ in Paris); and, to a lesser extent,
news about Louis Vuitton as a business (sales figures, profit
expectations, etc.). To get a more grounded idea of the kinds
of content that tweets could convey, we used URL extraction
80
and co-hashtag analysis.
Almost all tweets (83.5%) with the #louisvuitton hashtag
also shared information in the form of an URL that pointed
to another web resource. The kinds of material that people
shared further confirms our previous analysis: Tweets that
85
shared news mainly linked back to Louis Vuitton’s own
website (49%), reflecting the constant preoccupation with
the brand, its campaigns, and its products. The Apple App
store was second (13%), reflecting a period of intense traf-
fic around the launch of the “LV Pass” iPhone app, fol-
90
lowed by fashion magazines (11%), Twitter profiles (8%),
and ordinary newsmagazines (7%). As could be expected,
sales-oriented tweets mainly linked to eBay (73%). Self-
expressive tweets linked to Instagram (61%), Twitter pro-
files (24%), Facebook (3%), Pinterest (3%), personal
95
websites (6%), and fashion blogs (3%) were less common
choices. Overall the imprint on the web of the Louis
Vuitton public looked something like the depiction in
Figure 2.
Of the tweets associated with #louisvuitton, 83% also
100
used other hashtags. These divide in two clusters. A cluster
of frequent hashtags (used more than 20 times) relate to the
brand and the world of fashion in general, for example,
#PFW (Paris Fashion Week), #marcjacobs, #paris, #gucci.
The only frequently used hashtag that did not directly re-
105
late to the world of fashion was #vintage, which often was
featured in sales-oriented tweets. The second cluster con-
sisted of a long tail of hashtags that were used only once or
twice. To a large extent these conveyed geographic
8JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
(#barcelona), emotional (#wantit), or contextual
(#buongiorno [good morning]) context: they were markers
that served to give ambience or context to a tweet. They
were mainly used in self-expressive tweets on the part of
5users who would only post once or twice in the period we
surveyed.
Overall our analyses suggest that #louisvuitton was used
continuously to share information about the sale of bags
and other branded items (predominantly on eBay); to share
10 news about the brand and its campaigns (on the Louis
Vuitton official site), and to share photos of affectively sig-
nificant private moments, by linking to Instagram or back
to one’s Twitter profile. So even if there is very little in
terms of interaction, there is a continuity of mediation
15 around #louisvuitton. The same kinds of things were
shared throughout the period we studied. There was a con-
sistency of themes.
Hashtags, Imitation, and Collective Affect
Levels of participation were by no means constant.
20
Instead they intensified around significant events. In
October 2013 activity peaked around the Paris Fashion
Week and in particular the news that Marc Jacobs was
leaving Louis Vuitton. Traffic in November 2013 instead
peaked around the launch of the LVPass iPhone App
25
(#lvpass) and, later, the Invitation au Voyage promotional
video featuring David Bowie (Figure 3).
Members of the public launched new hashtags around
these events. Each persisted for a few days and then lost
importance and disappeared. If we look at one of these
30
events, the news of Marc Jacobs leaving Louis Vuitton at
the Paris Fashion Week, we can see there that the dynamic
driving sharing activity is very different from what would
result from the deliberative dynamics usually identified in
brand communities (Table 2).
FIGURE 1
NETWORK OF USERS OF THE #LOUISVUITTON HASHTAG
The network shows high levels of modularity indicative of a fragmented network. It is structured around a number of clusters each centered on a celebrity (like Marc
Jacobs or InStyleMelissa, an influential fashion blogger), but there is little or no communication in between clusters. This indicates that users mainly use mentions to
associate their tweets with celebrities and not to initiate or sustain interaction. @louisvuitton is the most connected user but remains a separate cluster. The official
brand account does not dominate communication in the public.
ARVIDSSON AND CALIANDRO 9
First of all, users do not interact with each other or ad-
dress each other’s tweets. (There is one case where the
fashion blogger InStyleMelissa’s tweet is retweeted by
two other users; however, she does not respond to this.
5The retweets might simply be part of a publicity-seeking
strategy.) Overall mentions (@) are not used to initiate
conversations or to respond to other users, but to rein-
force the hashtag (people use @louisvuitton in addition to
#louisvuitton and @marcjacobs in addition to #marcja-
10 cobs). Hashtags attract a cascade of imitations where
each user tweets his or her point of view (“In life as in
fashion everybody is necessary, nobody is indispensable,”
“It is confirmed,” “The Good-Bye show: fantastic,” etc.).
Often these private perspectives convey strong emotion
15 (“Marc you can not leave us like this: I am crying”).
Additional hashtags (and to some extent mentions) are
used to give context and ambience to tweets (#godsaveli-
vestreaming, #pfw, #sadness). Overall the driving dy-
namic is not discussion or conversation. Rather hashtags
20 like #marcjacobs embody a collective affective ambience
(Zappavigna 2011) that spurs members of the public (that
is, people who follow the #louisvuitton hashtag) to
retweet it while adding their private perspective or expe-
riences. The resulting dynamic is one of imitation without
25
interaction: people retweet hashtags without entering in
discussion or deliberation with others. This ability of
hashtags to trigger waves of collective imitation has been
well documented in other studies of Twitter-based com-
munication (Arvidsson et al. 2015;Papacharissi 2014).
30
Even when there are no trending hashtags, however, par-
ticipation in the public remains generally oriented to the
nondeliberative sharing (or pseudo-sharing) of private af-
fects. The most important such private affect is the desire
for publicity.
35
Publicity
That users do not interact around #louisvuitton does not
mean there is no interaction at all. Interaction among users
takes place in personal networks that happen momentarily
to make use of the #louisvuitton hashtag. For example, dur-
40
ing a few days in November 2013, networks of teenage ce-
lebrity seekers whose main activity is retweeting appeals
like “follow me and I follow you” to their peers, kept using
the #louisvuitton hashtag.
I need 14 followers to get to 1000 #rt seguimi e ti seguo
45
#LouisVuitton. [Nov 08, 2013]
FIGURE 2
COMPOSITION OF URLS IN TWEETS WITH THE #LOUISVUITTON HASHTAG
31,1%
18,4%
9,7%
8,3%
8,0%
7,3%
6,3%
4,5%
3,0% 1,0%
1,0% 0,7% 0,4% 0,3%
LV official website (31,1%)
Ebay (18,4%)
Instagram (9,7%)
App store (8,3%)
Twitter (8,0%)
Fashion magazine/blog (7,3%)
Spam (6,3%)
News magazine (4,5%)
Youtube (3,0%)
Facebook (1,0%)
Other magazines (1,0%)
Personal website (0,7%)
Online shop (0,4%)
Pinterest (0,3%)
Distribution of URLs occurring two times or more in the #louisvuitton data set. The Louis Vuitton official site and eBay are the most common destinations. Instagram
and Twitter are resources for posting pictures. Fashion blogs and magazines make up the third most popular area. Other social media and personal websites are rare
destinations. The many URLs that point to the Apple App store come from a peak in postings around the launch of the Louis Vuitton LVPass iPhone App.
10 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
(seguimi e ti seguo ¼“follow me and I follow you,” a fre-
quent add-on to these kinds of tweets, either as a hashtag or
simply as a phrase)
On other occasions networks of Instagram friends used
5the #louisvuitton hashtag when distributing selfies featur-
ing a branded product. But using the #louisvuitton hashtag
is not by itself a way to initiate interaction with others. It is
a way to publicize a piece of information.
In part this is a technological artifact: hashtags work to
10 give public visibility to tweets and make them potentially
directed at everybody with an interest in matters related to
the theme of the hashtag. They are not communitarian de-
vices (Page 2012, 181). A tweet marked with
the #louisvuitton hashtag is rather publicity oriented in
15
the same way as an advertisement in a mainstream news-
paper is oriented toward generic publicity (Wernick
1991).
This publicity orientation is obvious in the case of
sales-oriented tweets where the content is simply the
20
name of the product for sale, often with the add-on “au-
thentic” or “genuine,” and a link to the place where the
product can be bought, mostly eBay. These tweets are
simply about publicizing a commercial opportunity to a
generic public of potentially interested buyers. However
25
they are also very similar to the majority of self-expres-
sive tweets.
Some of these self-expressive tweets are simply obser-
vations where a personal perspective or attitude is shared
FIGURE 3
TRAFFIC VOLUME AND CO-OCCURRENCE OF HASHTAGS AROUND THE #LOUISVUITTON HASHTAG
(a)
(b)
0
50
100
150
200
250
#LV
#SOFIACOPPOLA
#LVLIVE
#PARIS
#MILANO
#BORSE
#LOUBOUTIN
#FASHION
#MARCJACOBS
#PFW
#PFW(137)
#MARCJACOBS(39)
#FASHION(17)
#SOFIACOPPOLA(9)
#PARIS (3)
#LVLIVE(3 )
#LV(3)
X louboun
X borse
Xmilano
#PFW(10)
#MARCJACO BS(3 )
#FASHI ON(1)
Xsoacoppola
#PARIS (2)
#LVLIVE(2 )
#LV(1)
X louboun
X borse
Xmilano
#PFW( 5)
#MARCJACO BS(2 )
#FASHI ON(2)
X sofiacoppola
Xparis
Xlvlive
Xlv
#LOUBOUTIN (5)
#BORSE( 5)
#MILANO (5)
#PFW( 2)
#MARCJACO BS(2 )
#FASHI ON(3)
X sofiacoppola
Xparis
Xlvlive
#LV(1)
#LOUBOUTIN (5)
#BORSE( 5)
#MILANO (5)
X pfw
X marcjacobs
#FASHI ON(2)
X sofiacoppola
#PARI S(6)
#LVLIV E(6)
#LV(4)
X louboun
X borse
Xmilano
X pfw
Xmarcjacobs
#FASHI ON(2)
X sofiacoppola
#PARI S(3)
Xlvlive
Xlv
X louboun
X borse
Xmilano
X pfw
Xmarcjacobs
Xfashion
Xsofiacoppola
Xparis
Xlvlive
#LV(7)
X louboun
X borse
Xmilano
# APPEA RING
X disappearing
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
45
#FESTIVITA'
#LV
#NICOLASGH ESQUI
#RT
#DAVIDBOWIE
#GUCCI
#LVPASS
#LVPA SS( 37)
#GUCCI(2)
X davidbowie
X rt
#NICOLASGHESQUI(2)
#LV(1)
X fesvità
#LVPASS(36)
#GUCCI(1)
X davidbowie
X rt
#NICOLASGHESQUI(2)
#LV(3)
X fesvità
# APPEARING
X disappearing
#LVPASS(18)
#GUCCI(1)
X davidbowie
#RT(11)
#NICOLASGHESQUI(1)
X lv
X fesvità
X lvpass
X gucci
X davidbowie
X rt
X nicolasghesqui
#LV(5)
#FESTIVITA '(15)
X lvpass
X gucci
X davidbowie
X rt
X nicolasghesqui
#LV(5)
#FESTIVITA '(15)
X lvpass
X gucci
X davidbowie
X rt
X nicolasghesqui
#LV(5)
#FESTIVITA '(15)
The picture correlates traffic volume with the liveliness of hashtags associated with Louis Vuitton (the Y-axis measures daily volume of traffic). During the first half
of the month, captions mark presence (#) or absence (X) of the 10 hashtags that were most popular at the first day of the month. During the second half of the month,
captions mark the presence or absence of the 10 hashtags that were most popular on the last day of the month. The result is illustrative and gives the idea of peaks in
traffic organized around the temporary prevalence of clusters of trending hashtags.
ARVIDSSON AND CALIANDRO 11
with the public. These can be simple expressions of
desire:
Give me a Sophia Coppola Bag too? #louisvuitton. [Oct 01,
2013]
5They can also be more or less insightful and often ironic
comments or observations.
They say that at #louisvuitton they burn what they don’t sell
to keep the prices up #ONM @OraNaMinamu [Oct 01,
2013] [Note: #ONM, OraNaMinamu, is an ironic account
10 used to publicize “news that nobody cares about.”]
However the majority of expressive tweets contain a
URL that points to a picture uploaded to Instagram,
Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter. The tweets serve to give
publicity to the picture and to frame the picture by associ-
15 ating it with a number of hashtags that convey a geographic
and cultural location (as in #paris) and provide an affective
frame (as in #passion, #inlove). This way the tweet pro-
vides an interpretative frame around the picture that invites
a particular reading with particular connotations.
20 Some pictures are photos of Louis Vuitton products, shop
windows, or installations, like the giant suitcase put up on
the Red Square in Moscow in 2013. These reproduce offi-
cial brand communications with a comment or an ambient
hashtag added on by users. Most, however, are pictures of
25 users where branded items feature prominently. A small per-
centage (3%) of these tweets refers to fashion blogs. Most
depict personal desires and perspectives, or everyday life sit-
uations that users somehow deem to be associated with the
Louis Vuitton brand (Figure 4 and Table 3). So while fash-
30
ion is a prevalent theme in news-related tweets, expressive
tweets tend to publicize a wide range of experiences of the
brand that come from a variety of everyday life situations.
These pictures reproduce the brand in a plurality of situ-
ations (birthday celebrations, graduation, departure, an
35
evening out with friends, starting the day, buying a bag).
These situations are all rooted in contexts of interaction
that are themselves not centered on the brand: graduating,
leaving for Prague, having a birthday. Yet the pictures tes-
tify that users considered these situations to be somehow
40
pertinent to the Louis Vuitton brand. Along with other
elements, like other items of branded merchandise or sig-
nificant locations (like airports or a famous shopping
street), the brand marks the event as significant
(Lury 1999). This function is repeated at the level of medi-
45
ation where the #louisvuitton hashtag together with other
hashtags (#frenzy, #rome, #gallerie) both frame the event
and give it public visibility.
This visibility operates at two levels. First, the Louis
Vuitton brand features as a material device in a plurality of
50
private networks of conversation where it enters into a plu-
rality of diverse contexts of identity work. It makes events
somehow worthy of a picture. Second, the #louisvuitton
hashtag provides a space where these significant events
can be given public visibility. This way the hashtag
TABLE 2
FIRST TWEETS WITH HASHTAG #MARCJACOBS ON WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2013, FOLLOWING THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF HIS
DECISION TO LEAVE LOUIS VUITTON AT THE PARIS FASHION WEEK
User Message Time stamp
Fabiomariadamat In fashion like in life everyone is necessary no one is indispensable #marcjacobs
#LouisVuitton #lvmh #SS14 #goodbye
Oct 02, 2013
Jekajk #Confirmed! #MarcJacobs leaves #LouisVuitton e #NicolasGhesquiere takes his
place - http://t.co/pWjQg5MI14
Oct 02, 2013
SteMaut The last show Fantastic! #LouisVuitton #MarcJacobs #pfw #godsaveillivestreaming
#lameraviglia http://t.co/UhYxIVZ0WT
Oct 02, 2013
InStyleMelissa The Finale!!!! @louisvuitton #louisvuitton #pfw #fashion #marcjacobs http://t.co/sldBRi3yXg Oct 02, 2013
IAMFASHlON RT @InStyleMelissa: Final!!!! @louisvuitton #louisvuitton #pfw #fashion #marcjacobs http://
t.co/FnYlr6D2qZ?
Oct 02, 2013
lusciouslips76 RT @IAMFASHlON: @InStyleMelissa: Final!!!! @louisvuitton #louisvuitton #pfw #fashion
#marcjacobs http://t.co/FnYlr6D2qZ?
Oct 02, 2013
Modaholic “#MarcJacobs leaves #LouisVuitton.But does anyone have news about #Galliano?” Oct 02, 2013
TherealLeiweb #LouisVuitton . #MarcJacobs leaves Vuitton and presents Victorian luxury: http://t.co/
tKpgxrtg0T @LouisVuitton #vuitton #pfw
Oct 02, 2013
honey_1049 #MarcJacobs you can’t leave us like that. I’m crying! You can’t go! You can’t leave
#LouisVuitton . #sadness #fashion
Oct 02, 2013
Solofateshop Who knows what will change with the brand! Confirmed: @marcjacobs Is Leaving
@LouisVuitton http://t.co/GIPZKLQCKF #MarcJacob #fashion #louisvuitton
Oct 02, 2013
Grazia Marc Jacobs, goodbye to Vuitton http://t.co/fljazOXkka #marcjacobs #louisvuitton Oct 02, 2013
Fashionsackerl “#sofiacoppola #at #louisvuitton #ss14 #marcjacobs #fashionSACKERL Credit:
zoemagazine http://t.co/RG3aPTOasR”
Oct 02, 2013
Fashionismyway CLOSED FOR MOURNING. #MARCJACOBS #LOUISVUITTON Oct 02, 2013
Ciarachanel88 RT @Grazia: Marc Jacobs, Goodbye Vuitton http://t.co/fljazOXkka #marcjacobs
#louisvuitton
Oct 02, 2013
12 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
aggregates and publicizes the associations around the brand
that occur in everyday brand use. The hashtag itself is a
medium that gives publicity to events and meanings that
result from such private conversation by transforming them
5into elements of a Louis Vuitton brand public. (Following
or searching for the hashtag #louisvuitton, these postings
appear in one’s Twitter feed.) What we have is something
very similar to what Zizzi Papacharissi (2009) describes as
private sociality: the public sharing of private affects. As a
10 material object, the brand confers an affective ambience on
an event or occasion, which makes it deserving of public-
ity. As a mediation device (#louisvuitton), it provides pub-
licity to these events.
Identity
15 The situations depicted in the pictures posted to the
Louis Vuitton brand public are clearly relevant to the iden-
tity work of posters. The act of publicizing them with the
#louisvuitton hashtag at the same time tends to classify the
posters as people for whom the Louis Vuitton brand is rele-
20
vant or significant. The act of posting a picture shapes the
public image of the poster. However, the diverse experi-
ences and perspective of the brand that are shared around
the #louisvuitton hashtag are never elaborated into a com-
mon set of values or a collective identity. They can be ag-
25
gregated into a limited set of separate themes, but this
heterogeneity is never resolved into a higher order identity
(cf. Thomas et al. 2013).
One such persistent theme is that of authenticity. This is
perhaps to be expected because the issue of authenticity is im-
30
portant to the aura of luxury brands, and in particular luxury
fashion brands (Beverland 2005). Indeed, the issue of authen-
ticity is a common focus to Louis Vuitton’s official commu-
nications that dominate retweets in the brand public. They all
present the brand as a unique and irreproducible object, set
35
in circumstances that confer a unique aura to it, by associat-
ing it with historically and culturally significant spaces
FIGURE 4
COLLAGE OF PICTURES EXTRACTED FROM TWITTER AND INSTAGRAM
ARVIDSSON AND CALIANDRO 13
(Paris, Venice, the Louis Vuitton bag in the Red Square in
Moscow) or with unique or charismatic individuals (David
Bowie, Sophia Coppola), and by generally developing an aes-
thetic that presents Louis Vuitton products as uniquely crafted
5artifacts or, indeed, works of art. There are also particular
pragmatic reasons: Louis Vuitton is among the most copied
brands in the world, and e-commerce sales are particularly
risky in this respect. (Google Auto Complete gives replica as
the seventh most associated keyword with Louis Vuitton:
10
with more than 5 million queries in the United States as of
TABLE 3
INTERPRETATIONS OF PICTURES IN FIGURE 4
Picture 1.
Accompanying tweet: 9 days and finally you’ll be mine #Lousivuitton #LV #bagporn
Interpretation The user publicizes her Twitter profile with a screenshot from her iPhone, reproducing, in turn, a picture of a Louis
Vuitton bag found online. The text makes public the user’s anticipation for the bag (maybe it will be a birthday gift).
The tag #bagporn gives a carnal touch to her consumer desire and introduces an ironic self-reflexive note. The
user makes public her desire for a Louis Vuitton bag but also her awareness of herself as a fashion victim.
Picture 2.
Accompanying tweet: Giovani #giuriste crescono #outfit #LouisVuitton #alma #maxmara #zara
Interpretation Picture of young woman with a Louis Vuitton bag photographed from different angles. The text could be interpreted
as “young lawyers grow up” (#guriste appears to be a hashtag used by a group of young female law students).
This suggests that the Louis Vuitton bag is presented as a transition to ‘adulthood’ or professional status. Indeed, it
is common for graduates from more elite courses (like law) to receive an expensive bag as an examination gift.
The event is shared with the peer community (#giuriste) and publicized to the overall Louis Vuitton public.
Picture 3.
Accompanying tweet: After the symposium@louisvuitton last breakfast with @alessandraairo and @xlessio #paris #jjlovesparis #louisvuitton.
Interpretation The text of the tweet invites two users to share remembrance of a geographically and culturally located common ex-
perience, the last breakfast after the symposium, @ louisvuitton (presumably an event organized by Louis Vuitton
during the Paris fashion show) the tag jjlovesparis (referring back to the pseudonym of the user, Jou Jou, a fashion
blogger) charges the event with a personal affective investment and the picture presents two Louis Vuitton bags as
central to the act of having breakfast in an elegant Paris cafe´, presumably with two friends (although only one hand
is visible in the picture). This tweet intends publicizing the affectively charged remembrance of a social activity that
is represented as having evolved on the premises of the brand, so to speak.
Picture 4.
Accompanying tweet: let’s say that one night in the centre #Galleria #Duomo Milano #fotosceme #stupore #attricemancata
Interpretation The user publicizes her Twitter profile with a picture of herself in front of the Louis Vuitton window in the Galleria
Vittorio Emanuele, close to the Duomo in Milan (the first three hashtags provide this location). The last three hash-
tags give ambience to the event; she is playing at taking a goofy picture (fotosceme ¼silly pictures), impersonating
surprise (stupore). She could have been an actress (attricemancata). The brand is used to publicize the sharing of
an ironic and goofy moment, presumably recognized by a small circle of friends who participated in the act or who
know the users to be prone to such acts (there are no comments on the profile, however).
Picture 5.
Accompanying tweet: “The art of travel” #LouisVuitton Let’s go, Verona I’m coming ....http://t.co/PBhEKMVprO
Interpretation The fashion blogger Elena Frignani publicizes the fact that she has been invited to the opening of the Invitation au
Voyage Louis Vuitton campaign in Verona. The photo of the invitation is put on her Twitter profile. The posting re-
ceives one comment from someone she probably knows: “Give my regards to the director.” She answers, “Your
relative? I’ll see her tomorrow morning.”
Picture 6.
Accompanying tweet: Good Morning #dellaclasseedialtremusiche #mammecoitacchiaspillo #chanel #frenzy #louisvuitton #roma #tittisworld
#tittisjob
Interpretation Tittiaury posts a picture of her hand holding a Louis Vuitton purse. Hashtags give context. This is a moment in her
life: (tittisworld, tittisjob) she is a mother but still fashion conscious (she associates her picture with the fashion blog
mammecoitacchiaspillo, mothersinhighheels), she loves luxury brands (Chanel), she is in Rome, and she is in a
hurry (frenzy). The picture receives four comments: People she presumably knows respond to her good morning
greeting.
Picture 7.
Accompanying tweet: Ready for Paris! #travel #viaggi #parigi #paris #vacanza #weekend #louisvuitton
Interpretation The Fashion blogger mammecoitacchiaspillo publicizes her luggage as she is leaving for Paris. Two of the otherwise
quite ordinary bags are Louis Vuitton. She is going on a weekend holiday.
Picture 8.
Accompanying tweet: Off to #prague in #LV #louisvuitton @louisvuitton
#giomorigoestoprague
#giomori
GioMoriMilano (stylist and host at the Just Cavalli Club according to his Instagram profile) publicizes his departure for
Prague, posting a picture of himself at the Linate airport with a Louis Vuitton bag.
Interpretation
Picture 9.
Accompanying tweet: Art of traveling p. 2 next stop Napoli. #louisvuitton
Interpretation A picture geo-localized at the Milan central station uses a pun on the Louis Vuitton campaign to publicize the fact that
the user is about to board a train to Naples. Two comments (from his friend) ask him, “When are you coming?”
14 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
March 8, 2013.) Indeed, 30.2% of sales-oriented tweets con-
tain the word (or hashtag) “genuine” or “authentic.”
This constant need to emphasize the authenticity of bags
for sale indicates that this is an issue continuously in
5focus. However the focus on authenticity extends outside
sales-oriented discourse to mark a significant part of the per-
sonal opinions that are shared in the brand public. Here the
authenticity of people using the brand seems to be con-
stantly at issue and far from settled. To some extent this
10 takes the form, common to brand communities (Schouten
and McAlexander 1995), of correcting or policing improper
usage of the brand: this can be a matter of pointing at inade-
quate presumptions on the part of users of fake bags.
People with a #LouisVuitton models that don’t exist?
15 Convinced that we think that its real! #sieteilTOP#amenonfate-
fessa [Nov 08, 2013] [#sieteilTOP#amenonfatefessa ¼
#youarethetop#atleastdontactlikeidiots]
It can also be a matter of singling out inadequate ways
of using authentic bags:
20 excuse me but you cant take out a paper nail file from your
#louisvuitton. No you can’t. [Nov 08, 2013]
A significant minority of tweets question the authentic-
ity of the brand itself:
All the fake #LouisVuitton make me sick. but also the real
25 ones ....[Nov 08, 2013]
So there aren’t any original brands anymore? Why do I ask
this #LouisVuitton [Nov 08, 2013]
The most vulgar, chavvy and copied brand on earth:
#LouisVuitton [Nov 08, 2013]
30
Indeed, along with the theme of authenticity there is a
persistent focus on extending the domain of associations
connected with the brand into the realm of irony and sub-
version (Figure 5). The Louis Vuitton brand is pasted
onto objects like cake, a virtual rendering of a Barbie
35
doll, chocolates, or other inappropriate objects.
Alternatively, the brand is deployed in ironic installations
where a Louis Vuitton bag is transformed into the face of
Zombie, is combined with a hand exposing a raised mid-
dlefinger,orthelogoissimplypastedontoaplaincloth
40
bag.
These tweets do not develop a coherent alternative or
doppelga¨nger image of the brand (Thompson,
Rindfleisch, and Arsel 2006). Rather they simply publi-
cize associations between the brand and meanings that
45
arise from a plurality of more or less critical or ironic dis-
courses rooted in many diverse practices and contexts.
Indeed, there are many other ways in which users make
public associations with the brand: Some tweets connect
the brand to anti-immigrant themes, where it comes to
50
stand for the supposed wealth on the part of Roma beggars
(a persistent theme in anti-immigration postings on
Twitter).
FIGURE 5
SUBVERSIVE ASSOCIATIONS
Legend: 1. Louis Vuitton cake (Instagram); 2. Louis Vuitton brand combined with a hand exposing a raised middle finger (Instagram); 3. Louis Vuitton chocolates (Twitter);
4. Louis Vuitton bag transformed into the face of Zombie (Pinterest); 5. Louis Vuitton Barbie (Pinterest); 6. Louis Vuitton trash bag (Twitter), with the add-on “Only in Dubai!”
ARVIDSSON AND CALIANDRO 15
The gypsy at the traffic light with her #LouisVuitton
really stands out ?????? #noncepiumondo [Oct 05,
2013]
Louis Vuitton is associated with the absurd costs and lux-
5ury lifestyle of the world of fashion.
RT @AleCavaOfficial: #LouisVuitton tonight the campaign
starts: “a kidney for fashion.” Donate a kidney or two and
you’ll get a coupon? [Nov 08, 2013]
These are all associations that arise from private conversa-
10 tion networks and are publicized using the #louisvuitton
hashtag. They are not elaborated in the public organized
around that hashtag. Indeed, the associations formed
around the brand in the #louisvuitton public reflect the
wide variety of associations attributed to the brand in a di-
15 versity of ordinary discourses and practices. We find this
diversity of associations also outside of the #louisvuitton
public by looking at the plurality of discourses in which
the keyword Louis Vuitton figures.
For example, teenage users who chat to each other on
20 Twitter frequently use Louis Vuitton (often simply the
word, not the hashtag) to reinforce derogatory comments
on girls:
The truth is that you are just as false as your fake Louis
Vuitton #sotrue #pessima [Oct 06, 2013]
25 The ‘you’re beautiful’ that you write on each others pictures
are just as fake as you are Louis Vuitton bags [Oct 08,
2013]
In political discourse Louis Vuitton is associated with
the excesses of the “caste” (casta is a popular Italian term
30 for the corrupt and self-centered political class):
I’m thinking of a Porsche with Louis Vuitton seats and
parties with escorts. Apicella wouldn’t you like
that?#masterpiece [Nov 24, 2013] [Note: Mariano Apicella
was kind of Berlusconi’s personal bard. He engaged
35 in duets with the former prime minister, himself a for-
mer nightclub crooner, performing schmalzy Italian
schlagers.]
Indeed, these tweets do not so much tell us about Louis
Vuitton as much as they tell us about the diverse contexts
40 that make up the Italian society in which they have been
generated. Contrary to what we might expect in a brand
community, there is no development of common values or
a collective identity around the focal brand. Rather the
brand acquires its meaning through an assembly of di-
45 verse associations that originate in a variety of contexts or
practices that, in turn, derive from a diverse range of ev-
eryday life situations. This assembly charges the brand
with the potential to enhance and empower certain forms
of expression, but it does not make the brand a reference
50 for collective belonging. In the brand public, the brand be-
comes a vehicle for publicity rather than a source of
identity.
BRAND PUBLIC
Admittedly, Louis Vuitton constitutes a special case. As
55
a prestigious fashion brand it is highly conducive to the
kind of conspicuous consumption where visibility and pub-
licity play a major role. At the same time, many of the phe-
nomena we have observed around Louis Vuitton on
Twitter resemble what an emerging literature has identified
60
as key features of social media–based participatory culture.
In this section we draw on these communalities to develop
an ideal-typical definition of brand public.
What defines a brand public? What keeps it together in
the absence of interaction? First of all, a public is primarily
65
a discursive phenomenon, not a form of interaction. People
might interact in other networks and contexts and post
meanings or perspectives that derive from their interac-
tions—from what Tarde would have called their “private
conversations” in the public. They might also post individ-
70
ual perspectives that have been fashioned in solitude or
elaborated with the imaginary of other Twitter users in
mind. But the public as such does not provide a space for
interaction or community. Instead, a public is to be under-
stood as an organized discursive space. The organization is
75
performed by a hashtag, or some other mediation device,
which is able to attract and aggregate contributions of a
certain kind. In order to create a public, a mediation device
needs to be able to attract and sustain a continuity of cer-
tain kinds of practices. Indeed, the #louisvuitton hashtag
80
aggregates certain kinds of postings. A large number of
people post about Louis Vuitton, independently of each
other, and most only post once or twice. Yet their postings
are about the same things: they are about the sale of bags,
they are reactions to or repostings of the brand’s own com-
85
munication campaigns, and they consist of the public shar-
ing of a number of private movements where the brand
figures. And while new themes can be introduced mirror-
ing external events like the Paris Fashion Week or Louis
Vuitton’s advertising campaigns, this variation constitutes
90
liveliness around a basic continuity where the prevalence
of sales, news, and self-presentation remain central. This
leads us to a first definition. A brand public is an organized
media space kept together by a continuity of practices of
mediation that are centered on a mediation device such as
95
a hashtag.
However this continuity is not guaranteed by the deliber-
ative creation of common values or common rituals. It is
rather an effect of diverse meanings that have solidified
over time as actors with diverse endowments of discursive
100
power—from Louis Vuitton’s corporate communications
to teenagers who use the brand name to insult girls—have
managed to anchor the brand in an imaginary that shows
some basic coherence. In the public the brand brings to-
gether diverse perspectives and experiences without neces-
105
sarily bringing them into dialogue with each other. It is a
matter of what Celia Lury calls the “brand as assemblage,”
16 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
rather than the brand as identity: the brand as representa-
tive of an imaginary that mirrors the diversity and variety
of the mass of its users and which over time comes to de-
velop its own “topological” rules of continuity (Lury
52004).
This construction of an assembly of meanings without
the deliberative creation of common values resembles the
function of the kinds of empty signifiers—#Occupy, the
Che Guevara T-shirt, the Facebook logo hand painted on a
10 placard—that operate as aggregating devices in recent so-
cial movements and contribute to drive a mass of otherwise
disconnected individuals to contribute with their perspec-
tives (Bennett and Segerberg 2012). Like #louisvuitton,
these empty signifiers do not stand for any elaborate val-
15 ues, but they manage to aggregate certain kinds of compat-
ible expressions. This way brand publics can be understood
as an additional manifestation of the connective logic of
co-creation identified in social movement studies.
Hashtags are devices to which people can connect their
20 personal experiences or perspectives without these being
integrated into higher order collective values. As in the
case of social movements like Occupy, the overall meaning
of the brand results from this logic of aggregation (Juris
2012). While there are no explicit rules for what kind of
25 expressions can be included in these aggregations, the his-
torical weight of past aggregations creates a selective bias.
By means of the meanings that have solidified around
it, the brand becomes a platform for action that encour-
ages and attracts certain form of self-expression and not
30 others (Arvidsson 2006). This leads us to a second defini-
tion: brand publics are made up of structured aggregations
of heterogeneous meanings without the formation of col-
lective values.
This connective logic of aggregation is coupled to a mo-
35 dality of participation that is different from what we would
find in brand communities. Participation is both more wide-
spread and more sporadic. Generally more people partici-
pate in brand publics than in brand communities, but they
participate only once or twice: there are no core members
40 who keep coming back regularly. People also participate
without interacting. Instead they are driven by affective
ambiences embodied in mediation devices. To some extent
this happen as trending hashtags are able to drive waves of
imitative behaviors. As we saw in the case of Marc Jacob’s
45 farewell during the Paris Fashion Week, trending hashtags
invite imitation as people retweet them, adding on their
own perspectives or comments. The result is that participa-
tion is energized as the collective ambience embodied by
the hashtag activates otherwise dormant members and trig-
50 gers them to participate. The resulting dynamic is more
similar to that of a crowd than to that of a community.
Once again this resembles the dynamic of participation that
has been observed in several contexts of social media use,
from fashion blogs (Stage 2013) via political mobilization
55 (Papacharissi 2014) to online fan culture (Arvidsson et al.
2015). Indeed, Zappavigna identifies such “ambient affilia-
tion” where users imitate each other in connecting their pri-
vate perspectives to a hashtag as typical of the dynamics of
participation on Twitter overall. In ambient affiliation,
60
“users may not have interacted directly and likely do not
know each other, and may not interact again” (Zappavigna
2011, 802).
While external events and trending hashtags sometimes
energize participation, normal participation is mainly
65
driven by ambient affiliation triggered by the brand itself.
The Louis Vuitton brand seems to be able to render a
number of everyday situations worthy of publicity. The
brand “marks them” as significant; to use Lury’s expres-
sion, it fills these situations with a certain gravitas that
70
makes them a suitable object of a picture to be subse-
quently published on Instagram and publicized as a tweet
with the #louisvuitton hashtag. This way the use of the
brand resembles the kind of “brandedness” that Nakassis
(2012) discusses in relation to his fieldwork on young
75
male consumers in Tamil Nadhu: generic logos that look
like those of global brands but are not quite the same are
worn as visual symbols without a referent: as empty signi-
fiers that are able to enhance the visibility of a garment or
intensify the experience of a situation. This function of
80
the brand as something that renders a situation worthy of
publicity by its very presence—the selfie at the airport
with the Louis Vuitton bag, publicized with the hashtag
#louisvuitton—is enhanced by low barriers to media par-
ticipation enabled by camera equipped smartphones.
85
Theresultisabrandpublicwherethebranditself,when
used in certain situations, embodies an affect strong
enough to trigger participation. Our third defining defini-
tion is that in brand publics participation is not structured
by interaction but by private or collective affect.
90
From the point of view of participants, the function of
the brand public is not to supply a focus for identification,
but a vehicle for visibility and publicity. In the Louis
Vuitton brand public, the brand does not itself constitute a
focus for the elaboration of a specific identity. Contrary to
95
what has been identified in the case of many brand com-
munities, there is no elaboration of a common value sys-
tem around the brand, no rituals and traditions, no (or at
least very little and very sporadic) moral protagonism, no
linking value for short. Unlike the seminal studies of
100
Harley Davidson (Schouten and McAlexander 1995),
Apple (Mun˜iz and Schau 2005), or Hummer (Luedicke
et al. 2010) that have defined how we understand the dy-
namics of brand-focused identity work, it is impossible to
deduce from our data what it means to be a Louis Vuitton
105
consumer or fan or how Louis Vuitton users are distinct
from others. Rather to use the brand Louis Vuitton can
mean many different things. There is a certain coherence
to the things that the brand can mean: a limited set of
themes—authenticity, subversion, publicity—remain co-
110
present. But these are never resolved into a common set
ARVIDSSON AND CALIANDRO 17
of values. The heterogeneity remains; it is never resolved
(Thomas et al. 2013). This does not mean, however, that
nothing of value happens. Rather people use social media
to speak of the Louis Vuitton brand in other ways, which
5are nevertheless valuable to them. They do not use the
brand as a focus for interaction; nor do they use it to de-
velop social relations or a particular collective identity.
Instead the brand principally functions as a medium that
is able to give publicity to a variety of identities and expe-
10 riences that originate in the myriad of networks of conver-
sation that make up everyday life, and where the brand
itself might be just a peripheral ingredient. This media
function operates by extending the marking function that
brands, as material devices, already operate in the lives of
15 consumers, onto social media platforms like Twitter and
Instagram. The brand marks a situation as significant two
times, a first time by its material presence in real life, and
a second time in the form of a branded hashtag (like #lou-
isvuitton) attached to a picture uploaded to Instagram and
20 tweeted to the brand public. This leads to the fourth and
final dimension of analysis: brand publics add publicity
value to brands.
In Max Weber’s usage, the ideal type is not to be under-
stood as a representation of reality but rather as a concep-
25 tual tool that facilitates its navigation, much like a map or
acompass(Weber 1978). We understand the concept of
brand public in a similar way. It synthesizes a way of
relating to brands that is different from what we are
familiar with from the brand community literature.
30 The two concepts are best understood as points of orienta-
tion: dimensions of brand public and dimensions of brand
community can coexist empirically, or one might be more
pronounced than the other in particular cases (Table 4).
With this caveat in mind we would like to conclude by
35 comparing the two concepts along the four dimensions
just discussed.
CONCLUSION: PUBLICITY VALUE.
Brand communities are integral parts of a circuit of
value that has been well documented in consumer research.
40
Simply put, participants derive linking value in the form of
common knowledge and a common identity. This is valu-
able to them because it provides a response to the alien-
ation and fragmentation inherent in postmodern consumer
society (Firat and Schultz 1997). Brand managers, in turn,
45
can draw on the meanings that participating consumers cre-
ate to add dimensions of value to the brand.
Brand publics might be part of a different circuit of
value, which in turn might very well be integral to a more
publicity-oriented consumer culture. While a detailed theo-
50
rization of this circuit of publicity value lies beyond the
scope of this article, we would like to conclude our study
by offering some grounded perspectives for such further
research.
That brands and other consumable items serve as media
55
for visibility and publicity is of course not new. Werner
Sombart already identified this as a key driver of the de-
velopment of modern consumer society, and Veblen de-
veloped this aspect into a general theory of conspicuous
consumption (Sombart [1913] 1967; Veblen 1899). In
60
addition, Celia Lury’s work has pointed at the media func-
tion that brands normally operate in everyday consump-
tion. Brands and logos are able to mark situations and
moments as significant and heighten their visibility (Lury
2004). It would seem logical that these aspects be particu-
65
larly pronounced for certain kinds of consumer goods like
fashion brands and expensive handbags. In short, public-
ity has been there as a dimension of the value that con-
sumers derive from certain brands and consumer goods
throughout modern consumer culture. Possibly this
70
dimension has grown in importance in the postmodern
promotional culture that has developed as a key aspect of
advanced consumer societies since the 1970s (Wernick
1991).
However, as consumer practices are mediated through
75
the technological nexus of social media and camera-
enabled smartphones, they tend to become further oriented
toward visibility and self-presentation. This has not only
rendered the photographic dimension integral to many
areas of consumer practice but has created a widespread
80
orientation toward publicity-oriented photography, toward
“documenting the self for the consumption of others”
(Schwartz 2010, 165; Winston 2013). Indeed, some argue
that an orientation to publicity and self-branding is the nat-
ural outcome of the spread of social media and its related
85
“culture of connectivity” (Marwick 2013; van Dijck 2103).
Add to this a generally more liquid consumer culture where
consumers form more fleeting attachments to brands and
practices (Bauman 2000; Eckhardt and Bardh 2015), where
brands and other marketplace myths are less able to anchor
90
consumer identity (Arsel and Thompson 2011), and where
TABLE 4
BRAND COMMUNITY AND BRAND PUBLIC
Brand community Brand public
Social form Structured set of
relations sustained by
interaction
Common discursive
focus sustained by
mediation
Mode of
participation
Participation structured
by interaction among
members
Participation structured
by private or collective
affect
Form of
identity
A common
understanding of the
brand promotes
collective identity and
a sense of belonging
An aggregation of
diverse perspectives
on the brand where
heterogeneity remains
unresolved
Form of
value
The brand is a source of
identity and linking
value
The brand is a medium
for publicity
18 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
an orientation to the singularity of experience prevails
(Jameson 2015), it might very well be that the scales are
tilting away from identity and toward publicity as the main
added value that at least certain brands can convey.
5The circuit of publicity value is different from the circuit
of linking value in important respects. From the point of
view of brand managers, publicity value builds on a greater
mass of weaker contributions. Rather than core members
making significant investments in time and energy to de-
10 velop brand identity or brand-related innovation (van
Hippel 2004), brand publics allow for the harvesting of a
mass of temporary and small contributions. This way the
circuit of publicity value should be understood as part of
the contemporary resurgence of crowd-based value crea-
15 tion, along with crowd sourcing and crowd funding. Brand
managers can harvest innovation and, importantly, quanti-
fiable forms of brand reputation from a large mass of dis-
connected individuals who contribute only sporadically
(Arvidsson and Paitersen 2013).
20 From the point of view of consumers, the value derived
as well as the work done is similarly lighter. Camera-en-
abled smartphone make it easy to snap a picture and post
it to Instagram, to the point that motivations for participa-
tion might simply be explained by pointing at the agentic
25 qualities of such new communication technologies (cf.
Latour 1990), although empirical studies show that at
least “fame seekers” on Instagram invest significant
amounts of time in curating the images that they post;
Marwick 2015). However it is also possible to imagine
30 additional sources of value. The publicity achieved by
participating in brand publics can in some cases be part of
a general economy of micro-celebrity where it can be con-
verted into reputational status or social media fame,
which can be capitalized on in other pursuits. (Evidence
35 from studies of freelance workers, for example, shows
that they put a lot of effort in curating their social media
presence, including representations of consumption, in or-
der to create a marketable personal brand; Gandini 2015;
Marwick 2013). In other words, publicity can be used as
40 an exchange value in a generalized economy of reputa-
tion. For others it might simply be the experience of being
seen, the satisfaction, widespread among Instagram users,
of knowing that others, also perfect strangers, acknowl-
edge you and “like” you (Marwick 2015). Publicity also
45 operates as use value. As in the case of the reputation
economy overall, publicity represents a more liquid and
experience-oriented form of the social capital that com-
munities, including brand communities, have traditionally
been able to convey. It is the form that trust, recognition,
50 and linking value takes when interacting with strangers.
In this sense, publicity as an aspect of brand value would
not simply be an effect of a new emphasis on visibility in-
troduced by new technologies, but also related to the fact
that social media has extended the reach of, however spo-
55 radic, social interaction beyond the boundaries of
community. Seeking and acknowledging publicity be-
comes a natural way of interacting with strangers on so-
cial media, in particular when “social buttons” such as
“likes” make the experience objective and measurable
60
(Gerlitz and Lury 2014). How this plays out in the field of
brands and consumer practice is an interesting question
for further research.
DATA COLLECTION INFORMATION
The second author collected the data together with a re-
65
search assistant. Data collection period was from October 1
to November 31, 2013. Data were collected using a py-
thon-based crawler interrogating the Search API of
Twitter. The first and second authors analyzed the data.
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In Digital Methods, Richard Rogers proposes a methodological outlook for social and cultural scholarly research on the Web that seeks to move Internet research beyond the study of online culture. It is not a toolkit for Internet research, or operating instructions for a software package; it deals with broader questions. How can we study social media to learn something about society rather than about social media use? Rogers proposes repurposing Web-native techniques for research into cultural change and societal conditions. We can learn to reapply such “methods of the medium” as crawling and crowd sourcing, PageRank and similar algorithms, tag clouds and other visualizations; we can learn how they handle hits, likes, tags, date stamps, and other Web-native objects. By “thinking along” with devices and the objects they handle, digital research methods can follow the evolving methods of the medium. Rogers uses this new methodological outlook to examine such topics as the findings of inquiries into 9/11 search results, the recognition of climate change skeptics by climate-change-related Web sites, and the censorship of the Iranian Web. With Digital Methods, Rogers introduces a new vision and method for Internet research and at the same time applies them to the Web's objects of study, from tiny particles (hyperlinks) to large masses (social media).