Dissertation Committee Members Meet In-Person, From Abroad via Skype for Student’s Presentation on Social Media Topic

Dissertation Committee Members Meet In-Person, From Abroad via Skype for Student’s Presentation on Social Media Topic

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The following is a news release from The University of Southern Mississippi

Although some of its members were separated by continents and oceans, Lijie Zhou's dissertation committee came together June 14 - virtually and face-to-face - to review the University of Southern Mississippi graduate student's dissertation defense.

Zhou, who is completing requirements for a doctorate in mass communications, presented his topic, an eye-tracking study of Instagram messages, titled "Instagram Effect: How Visual Communication Strategies, Brand Familiarity, and Personal Relevance Influence Instagram Users' Responses to Brand Content," while bringing in via Skype his dissertation chairman, Dr. Fei Xue, and fellow committee member and School of Mass Communications and Journalism Director Dr. David R. Davies.

Xue is traveling in China, while Davies, who is also director of USM's British Studies program, is in London. Other committee members, including Dr. Chris Campbell, Dr. Mary Lou Sheffer and Dr. Loren Coleman, attended in-person as Zhou shared his Power Point presentation in a College Hall classroom on the Hattiesburg campus.

Zhou's two-part study investigates the effects of visual themes, visual perspective, personal relevance, and brand familiarity on brand constructions (attitude-toward-brand, brand love, brand respect, and three dimensions of brand image) on Instagram using an eye-tracking technique and a self-report questionnaire.

Results from the initial phase of the study showed that, overall, participants spent the longest time viewing and paid the most visual attention to Instagram posts with customer-centric images from a first-person perspective. In terms of pictures using the third-person view, posts with product-centric images received the longest fixation duration and the most fixation frequency. Moreover, participants' brand recognition performances were positively influenced by fixation frequency, but not by total fixation duration.

Findings from the study's second stage indicated that high relevance Instagram posts with the first-person angle and customer-centric images to promote a familiar brand received the most favorable attitude, strongest brand respect, and strongest feeling of sensuality toward the brand in all experimental conditions.

Noting the intersection of Zhou's topic and the technology used to bring committee members together, Campbell described the event as "truly a 21st century dissertation defense." Zhou concurred, marveling at the power and reach of social media tools and expressing hope that such arrangements for presentation and sharing of research become more commonplace in higher education.

"We were in the U.S. in the morning (9 a.m.), Dr. Davies was in London in the afternoon (3 p.m.) and Dr. Xue was in China at night (10 p.m.)," Zhou said. "How wonderful it is that people from different parts of the world can meet and discuss the same research project together, even if not together physically."

Zhou will join the faculty at Southern Utah University for the fall 2017 semester.

Xue and Davies say Zhou's research is innovative in topic and method, with insights on the evolving use of social media that have practical implications for anyone working with it who needs to better understand how to connect with audiences.

"The world of communication is rapidly changing, and the way we study media needs to evolve as well," Xue said. "It's been quite a journey working with him on the project, learning all aspects of visual communications on digital media. That I watched his final presentation via Skype is almost the perfect ending."

For more information about Zhou's research, email Lijie.Zhou@usm.edu. For information about the USM School of Mass Communications and Journalism, visit https://www.usm.edu/school-of-journalism-and-media-studies.