Traditional (personal) word-of-mouth (WOM) differs from electronic word-of-mouth on social sites (sWOM). Both types of WOM share certain characteristics, but sWOM gives consumers the opportunity to share information at a time and place that are most convenient for them. Therefore you would expect that consumers feel more comfortable to share their opinions and experiences but this is not the case.
Differences between WOM and sWOM
A difference in willingness to provide sWOM and WOM could be due to the fact that sWOM is written and broadcast to an individual’s social network (one-to-many communication), whereas traditional WOM is usually one-to-one communication.
Another difference between both types of WOM is perceived social risk. sWOM is provided within a network of family, friends, schoolmates, and acquaintances where people have to built and maintain a certain reputation. A recommendation within this kind of network induces a greater social risk than traditional WOM where you can pick the person you talk to. Traditional WOM is usually shared with one or a few others and allows customization of the message. There is a natural limit to the responsibility one assumes and the social risk to which the person is exposed. This is not the case with sWOM. Within a social network the nature of ties (ranging from close friends to work acquaintances) differs, which makes tailoring a message to various audiences within this network complicated. Besides this, social risk also increases because the communicator in sWOM identifiable.
Social risk and self-enhancement
Because of the greater social risk associated with sWOM consumers are generally less willing to offer sWOM in comparison to traditional WOM even for their favorite brands. Consumers feel more vulnerable to the judgment of others when broadcasting their opinions to a larger group of people with varying degrees of closeness.
Perceived social risk mediates the effect of communication mode (WOM vs. sWOM) and salience of social risk further increases the differences between consumers’ willingness to provide sWOM and WOM.
Self-enhancement also effects people’s willingness to provide sWOM and refers to people’s desire to see themselves in a positive frame and present themselves favorably to others. sWOM is more sensitive to self-enhancement motives, which indicates that when self-enhancement need was low, the willingness to offer sWOM was lower than WOM. However, this effect was reversed when self-enhancement was high, meaning that participants were more willing to provide sWOM than WOM in this situation.
Implications for marketers
These findings indicate that marketers should heighten consumers’ need to self-enhance because this can encourage word of mouth referral in a firms favor. Additionally, they should also take steps to ensure that consumers do not feel threatened by social judgment and sanction as a result of sWOM. This could be done, for example, by providing opportunities for consumers to selectively share their opinions with members of their social network.
However, this study solely looked at positive word-of-mouth. Therefore, it would be interesting to explore if the results of this study can be generalized for a negative word-of-mouth context. If this is the case, firms that reduce perceptions of social risk and increase consumers’ need for self-enhancement, face a larger downside.
Eisingerich, A. B., Chun, H. H., Liu, Y., Jia, H. M., & Bell, S. J. (2015). Why recommend a brand face-to-face but not on Facebook? How word-of-mouth on online social sites differs from traditional word-of-mouth. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(1), 120-128.