Finding or Receiving Information? How Content Acquisition Affects Word of Mouth

While a vast amount of literature has been focused on the factors that determine why some people share more information online than others, only limited attention is spent on the context that influences the information distribution. This article focuses on the acquisition context. How do people get aware of the content? Do they find it themselves, or do they get it through others?

The concept of Word of Mouth has been relevant for over a long time and the presence of technology has made the sharing even easier. Content characteristics that drive information sharing are positivity, arousal, and controversy (Chen & Berger, 2013).

With respect to context, the communication channel (Barasch & Berger, 2014), has been found to be related to information sharing. These contextual factors occur, however, after the person has become aware of the information and is not related to the stage before that; the acquisition stage.

This research found that how the people become acquainting with the information, also influences how they evaluate the information. Where sometimes people find the information themselves (e.g. browsing websites, reading newspapers), others receive the information (e.g. email, social media, conversations). The content of the information remains the same, only the context of the information acquisition changes.

It appears that when an individual feels like he or she has found the information himself, he also feels more related to the piece of information. Thus, this strengthens the notion that people make associations between themselves and things they own. Consequently, this association increases trust and self-certainty. The more certain people are of themselves, the less time they spent on processing the information, in contrast people with low self-esteem carefully  process the information before transmitting it. Therefore, the self-association, reduces the processing of information and increases sharing.

Firms have spent little attention to the acquisition method while applying the concept of word of mouth. However many possibilities arise from this article. First, in longer chains of information sharing, the quality of the content needs to be higher because individuals are sensitive to the characteristics of the content when re-sharing received information. Also, the personality traits of individuals might also be used by firms when determining strategies for viral campaigns. Coming back to the concept of self/esteem, firms can try to determine the level of self-esteem among individuals.

A different aspect of sharing information is that of transmitting and re-transmitting. The one who finds the information first, and decides to share it is transmitting the information. In contrast, someone who receives the information, has to decide to re-transmit the information. Are there different effects for the types of transmission? The article found that content characteristics have a weaker effect on transmission than on re-transmission. Also, the effect of social proof is found stronger for transmission than for re-transmission. This could mean that different variables have different impacts, and transmission and re-transmission are driven by different variables.


Barasch, Alixandra, and Jonah Berger (2014), “Broadcasting and Narrowcasting: How Audience Size Affects What People Share,” Journal of Marketing Research, 51 (3), 286-299.

Chen, Zoey, and Jonah Berger (2013), “When, Why, and How Controversy Causes Conversation,” Journal of Consumer Research, 40 (3), 580-593.

Chen, Zoey and Jonah Berger (2016), How Content Acquisition Affects Word of Mouth, Journal of Consumer Research


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