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Document Type

Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Communication

Year Degree Awarded

2017

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

Dr. Erica Scharrer

Second Advisor

Dr. Jarice Hanson

Third Advisor

Dr. Florence Sullivan

Subject Categories

Mass Communication

Abstract

This dissertation examines online product reviews posted by members of an online beauty social network called MakeupAlley (commonly referred to by its members as MUA). A mixed method study involving quantitative and qualitative content analyses of MUA product reviews was conducted to explore and test a framework identified here as a “duality” at work in MUA product reviews – specifically, a help / hurt duality framework.

The help / hurt duality framework is tested by examining the extent to which MUA enables its members to (1) help one another circumvent advertising by distinguishing “good” or effective products from “bad” or ineffective ones, while at the same time (2) inadvertently hurt one another by recommending the purchase of arguably unnecessary products. By encouraging others to purchase these products, reviewers contribute to a highly commercialized, materialist culture. MUA members thus participate in continuing the status quo in which beauty and appearance are chief markers of satisfaction and success.

I propose that both sides of the duality framework – the help side and the hurt side –co-exist in MUA product reviews. That is, MUA is a notably consumerist, commercial entity in and of itself, and by its very existence “hurts” consumers by drawing attention to and perpetuating discussion about products those consumers do not need. At the same time, MUA product reviews appear to be 100% consumer-generated and MUA does not edit content, thus providing a (“helpful”) forum for members to drive the nature and purpose of the MUA site by way of the content they themselves produce and choose to make public.

In sum, the purpose MUA serves for consumers, the agency MUA-ers have in shaping that purpose in the form of their reviews, and the overarching role MUA and MUA-ers have on others’ purchasing decisions and behaviors make for a complex and multi-faceted relationship between the site and its members that is both “helpful” and “hurtful” at the same time – a complexity deserving of study. The framework of a duality at work in online product reviews, both supported and complicated by media and cultural studies theories as well as consumer psychology, is explored in this dissertation.

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