The advancement of the Internet allows everyone to share opinions and experiences related to products with complete strangers. Electronic Word of Mouth (eWOM) is a relative new concept but already highlights an increasing importance in shaping consumer purchase behaviour. There has been a lot of research on the effectiveness of eWOM, but little attention has been given to why consumers spread positive eWOM.
Difference WOM and eWOM
eWOM differs from traditional word-of-mouth (WOM) in many ways. For example, eWOM involves multi-way exchanges of information in asynchronous mode and various technologies. Other examples are that eWOM is more accessible and measurable than traditional WOM. The measurement of eWOM is made possible due to advanced technologies and increased quantities of eWOM. A good example of a company that still relies on traditional WOM is BzzAgent (https://www.bzzagent.com/). A good industry where eWOM becomes increasingly important is healthcare.
Theoretical Insights and Practical Relevance
The authors find four perspectives that explain why consumers spread eWOM in online consumer-opinion platforms, based on the social psychology literature: egoism, collectivism, altruism and principlism. In short, egoism refers to serving the public good to benefit oneself. Collectivism means serving the public good to benefit a group. Altruism refers to serving the public good to benefit one or more others. Lastly, principlism refers to serving the public good to uphold a principle (typically a moral principle). An additional variable that is taken in their conceptual model is knowledge self-efficacy, which is a personal judgement of one’s capability to execute actions required for designated types of performances. The last hypotheses is then stated as ‘the higher the knowledge self-efficacy, the higher the tendency to spread eWOM’.
I believe that the latter hypotheses is most interesting because it can be, more than the other perspectives, influenced by companies. The challenge for companies is to provide a broad variety of product related information and interact with consumers. This should increase consumers’ level of expertise and mastery of experiences, thus increasing self-efficacy and the motivation to provide eWOM, which in the end can increase purchase intentions. I’d like to hear your opinion on this!
The statistical results show that sense of belonging (construct of collectivism), reputation (construct of egoism) and enjoyment of helping (construct of altruism) have significant effects. Sense of belonging had the most impact on consumers’ eWOM intention. Thus, for companies it is important to take into account social factors to affect consumers’ eWOM intention. When companies foster this, consumers can benefit from the community, which help them with their purchase decisions.
Source: Cheung & Lee (2012)
Conclusion and Further Reading
Though there are some significant findings that open up possibilities for companies to actively affect consumers’ eWOM intention, it should be noted that there are still other constructs that need to be taken into account (for example, rewards, costs and social influence) as well as the exploration of motives that drive users to spread negative eWOM. An interesting paper (for further reading) from Willemsen (2013) highlights the challenges of eWOM, as a consumer decision aid, from two perspectives, namely the consumer perspective and the company perspective.
Cheung, C.M.K., Lee, M.K.O. (2012) ‘What Drives Consumers To Spread Electronic Word Of Mouth In Online Consumer-Opinion Platforms, Decision Support Systems, vol. 53 (1): pp. 218-225.
Willemsen (2013) ‘Electronic Word of Mouth: Challenges for Consumers and Companies’, retrieved from: http://www.uva.nl/binaries/content/assets/uva/en/research/phd/summaries/2013/06/summary-willemsen.pdf