Written by: Farrah Fawzy
Word-of-mouth is considered to be one of the most powerful and trusted sources of product and experience information for consumers. Consumers tend to trust the opinions of peers and individuals similar to themselves over marketing generated content which only aims to make them purchase the product. However, in recent years the usage of social media has grown tremendously which has caused a shift from traditional WOM behavior to an electronic element resulting in a substantial research stream—electronic WOM (eWOM). eWOM allows consumers to socially interact with one another, exchange product-related information, and make in- formed purchase decisions via computer-mediated conversations. (King, Racherla & Bush, 2014).
The purpose of this paper is to discuss the 4 main reasons why people participate in eWOM.
The digital age has caused dramatic and drastic shift in the one-way flow of information model which had existed pre internet era and one of it’s broadest implications is that companies have, at least partially, lost control of power over their activities. (Hennig-thurau, Hofacker & Bloching 2013). The empowerment motivation refers to people using social media to exert their influence or power on other people or companies (Muntinga, Moorman and Smit 2011). The social media landscape of ubiquitous connectivity, enabled through mobile devices, in turn has not only enhanced access to information but also allowed consumers to create content and amplify their voices, across the globe, to anyone willing to listen. (Labrecque et al, 2013).
Consumer-generated content which is what creates eWOM is internet focused thus available to Internet users around the world making it even stronger as it affects consumers on a global scale. eWOM communication is created and delivered by consumers themselves making it a more credible non-commercial source of information for consumers (Mangold & Faulds, 2009). Companies are also said to be moving towards using consumer-to-consumer communications as opposed to company-to-consumer communications to disseminate information about their own products or services (De Bruyn, 2008). Not even the best advertisement can match a personal recommendation in credibility. Armelli and Villanueva (2009) argue WOM is almost unbeatable in its power to influence and persuade. Social media empowers consumers to share their views and exert their individual and collective influence on other consumers as well as on brands (Kim & Johnson, 2016) which resulted in consumers no longer being passive recipients of product information but active generators and distributors of such information (Stewart & Pavlou, 2002). Christodoulides (2009) argues that consumers are now wired and capitalize on social networks to derive power from one another. Consumers now have higher control over their eWOM behavior because of new media technologies, which allow consumers to choose when, where and how to consume media content such as eWOM communication in user-generated media. (Daugherty, Eastin, and Bright 2008) Also, consumers are now aware that eWOM conversations are asynchronous and are able to reach a vast number of people in a short period of time in comparison to traditional WOM which leads to greater awareness (King, Racherla & Bush, 2014). Furthermore, Krishnamurthy & Kucuk, (2009) argue that consumers nowadays often organize anti- brand sites, which is a clear manifestation of online consumer power as the presence of online tools and information has led to a new level of consumer activism. User generated network via social media may have more influence than other sources because it is transmitted by a trust-worthy information source embedded in a consumer's personal network (Chu & Kim, 2011; Corrigan, 2013). Examples include not just Google, Amazon, eBay and other big Internet players, but many other firms whose businesses are not directly Web-related, such as Zara, Mercadona and Starbucks. (Armelli&Villanueva ,2009) .The influence of eWOM on social media may be greater than traditional WOM because eWOM messages can easily and quickly reach global audiences who share similar interests in a product or brand (Christodoulides, Michaelidou, & Argyriou, 2012). Finally, negative consumer comments can influence the way a company and its image are perceived due to the fact that public articulations may be used by consumers as an instrument of power. Therefore, eWOM communication provides a mechanism to shift power from companies to consumers. (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004).
The urge to do good
Social media now is used to build and develop trust, such as consumer trust in brands (Bertrand 2013). Applying the work of Engel et al. (1993, p. 158), eWOM communication on Web-based opinion platforms may be initiated because of a desire to help other consumers with their buying decisions, to save others from negative experiences, or both. (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004).Social media empowers consumers to easily share and receive information and knowledge about products from their friends, family and other consumers online (Liang et al. 2011). Engel, Blackwell, & Miniard (1993) argue that consumers engage in WOM activities out of concern for other; a genuine desire to help a friend or relative make a better purchase decision. Sundaram, Mitra, & Webster (1998) also argue that it comes out of Altruism motives in which consumers engage in the act of doing something for others without anticipating any reward in return. There are a number of social media that facilitate these activities, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Individuals apply different social media tools, such as online forums and communities, recommendations, ratings and reviews, to interact with other users online. (Hajli, 2013). Social WOM enables consumers to access social support by communicating and interacting with others in real time and to better evaluate products (Liang et al. 2011). Moreover, on those platforms where consumers have social interaction, members can become familiar with one another, providing a possible source of trust (Lu et al. 2010). When a user perceives that other members have been caring and helpful in providing useful information, then acquiring or sharing valuable shopping information with others would be obligatory . (Liang et al. 2011). This information, generated through online consumer reviews using social media websites, is extremely valuable for consumers prior to making purchasing decisions (Do-Hyung et al. 2007). The networking of individuals through social media provides shared values, leading to a positive impact on trust (Wu et al. 2010). By using social media, consumers can create content and offer valuable advice to others (Füller et al. 2009). In fact, individuals are attracted online to exchange information and receive social and informational support (Ridings & Gefen 2004). Emotional and informational support are two dimensions of social support in an online context (Liang et al. 2011). Informational support refers to providing messages, in the form of recommendations, advice, or knowledge, that could be helpful for solving problems. This serves as a support mechanism for social interactions in online communities as it provides solutions, plans, or interpretation. (Liang et al. 2011). Towards these ends, when individuals join online communities and participate in a group, they also seek social support and friendship in the community (Ridings & Gefen 2004).
Integration and Social Interaction
Social interaction denotes people contributing to brand-related social media platforms in order to meet like-minded others, and interact and talk with them about a particular brand. (Muntinga, Moorman and Smit 2011). Christodoulides (2009) states that internet allows consumers to satisfy their social needs through sharing of consumption related experiences. The integration and social interaction motivation covers various media gratifications that are related to other people. Examples of sub motivations are gaining a sense of belonging; connecting with friends, family and society; seeking support/emotional support; and substituting real-life companionship (Muntinga, Moorman and Smit 2011). Fournier, & Avery (2011 argue that online communities offer opportunities for in-depth discussion of shared interests, strengthening group bonds which in turn serves one of the most basic human motivations: the desire to feel accepted, to fit in, and to belong. Boyd (2008) argues that social identification plays a major role in people’s contributions to social networking sites; and Daugherty et al. (2008) found that social interaction was an important motivator of creating user-generated content. Social identity as a motivation to contribute to brand-related content refers to people noting a ‘critical demarcation between users of their brand and users of other brands’ (Muñiz & O’Guinn 2001, p. 418). A common interest in certain brand makes people have stronger connection with one another which in turn generates a sense of attachment. Helping denotes contributing to brand-related content to help and get help from each other (Muntinga, Moorman and Smit 2011). One characteristic of eWOM behavior on Web- based opinion platforms is that consumers become part of a virtual community through their articulations thus affiliation with a virtual community can represent a social benefit to a consumer for reasons of identification and social integration (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004). Similarly, consumers may write comments on opinion platforms as such behavior signifies their participation in and presence with the virtual community of platform users and enables them to receive social benefits from this community membership. (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004). The social function assists consumers in seeking out activities that are perceived as favorable by important others and gives them the opportunity to associate with friends. (Daugherty et al., 2008). Affiliation with a virtual community can represent a social benefit to a consumer for reasons of identification and social integration; thus, it can be presumed that consumers engage in eWOM communication to participate in and belong to online communities (McWilliam, 2000; Oliver, 1999).
The brand's value is derived from consumption experience; hence, such experiences are positive. The exchange that takes place is perceived as fair: the brand offers a good experience and, in return, the consumer engages in value co-creation. (Arkonsuo & Leppiman, 2015). The customer is motivated to engage in eWOM communication to give the company “something in return” for a good experience (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004). The helping the company motivation is the result of a consumer’s satisfaction with a product and his or her subsequent desire to help the company (Sundaram et al., 1998). The consumer considers the company a social institution worthy of support (in the form of eWOM communication (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004). By giving positive online WOM, the consumers help and promote the brand. (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004). It is argued that the level of interest or involvement in a brand (Engel, Blackwell, and Miniard 1993) and excitement about a product consumption experience (Sundaram, Mitra and Webster 1998) stimulate WOM. Colliander and Wein (2012) argue that there are six themes consumers employ when defending a brand. These themes are advocating, justifying, trivializing, stalling, vouching and doubting.
An example of brand defense would be the case with North Face when an angry customer complained about a damaged jacket. However, another customer defends the store by referring to the company’s legal rights:
“The Consumer Sales Act applies. They have the right to try to fix the product three times (or is it two?) before giving you a new one. This applies to all stuff you buy” (Anonymous post, Family Forum, October 2, 2010). (Colliander and Wein ,2012)
Discussion and Conclusion
The purpose of this paper is to explore consumers’ motivations for expressing their viewpoints on Web-based consumer-opinion platforms (i.e., eWOM communication). Consequently, it has been found that consumers socially interact through social media channels in form of online forums, communities, ratings, reviews and recommendations which empowers them to generate content and influence others. These interactions provide different values for both business and consumers. Also, it was found that social media empowers participants to generate content through these online communities which in turn generates online social support for their peers and establishes trust in the networks used. (Hajli, 2013). Consumers were also found to have significant contributions to brands’ performance through the co-creation of value via their social interactions. Consumers are now content generators through social media. These insights provide brand managers with insights needed to enable them to direct their marketing endeavors more effectively, and how they can better make use of consumers’ motivations and behaviors.
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