Electronic Word-of-Mouth Versus Interpersonal Word-of-Mouth: Are All Forms of Word-of-Mouth Equally Influential?

Sometimes the human connection is the best form of advertising, all it takes is a study like this to prove it.

Word of Mouth

Customers are increasingly using social media when making purchasing decisions, and this paper seeks to explore in the influence that traditional word of mouth (WOM) and various forms of electronic word of mouth (eWOM) can have respectively. Meuter, Brown McCabe & Curran (2013), define WOM as, “any unpaid interpersonal communication between people, that affects attitude and purchase behaviour.” WOM recommendations come from personal connections and is therefore a key driver of success. Meuter, Brown McCabe & Curran (2013), define eWOM as, “any statement made by customers about a company that is available to many via the internet.” Social networking sites are aiding consumers in strengthening their networks, which means they have a wider audience (Meuter, Brown McCabe & Curran, 2013). This study was developed to investigate whether WOM is more influential then eWOM.

The Study

The study began with a qualitative phase, in which interviews were conducted with a small set of university students, who are desirable subjects due to their exposure to WOM and eWOM. Insights were taken from this step, such as the commonly used types of eWOM, and the key outcome variables were identified. The types of eWOM to be used in the study are Facebook, Yelp, and reviews on the businesses website. As well, the outcome variables to be used in the study are purchase intention, trust in WOM and attitude towards the firm.

Next they move onto the qualitative phase where students were the sample. The context of the survey scenario given was a restaurant located in a city that the respondent had never been. The only information given was from the four types of WOM. In order to compare the influence of each form of WOM, there were also different numbers of positive recommendations included. They outcome variables were each measured on a seven-point scale.

Interesting Findings

Overall, the study found that traditional WOM is more influential than eWOM. WOM was found to lead to customers having higher intentions of eating at the restaurant, higher levels of trust in WOM and more positive attitudes towards the restaurant. However, there was a difference in the impact that eWOM had. Facebook and Yelp were more influential than reviews on the company’s website. However, there was little difference between Facebook’s and Yelp’s outcomes which was interesting because of the personal connection that Facebook has. It proven that Facebook and Yelp were merely seen are unbiased sources of information. As well, it was found that the number of positive reviews from each WOM channel had little impact, which further proves that the platform is the influential component.


Real World Implications and Further Research

An interesting application of this study is how firms spend their marketing budgets. Companies spend a lot of time and energy on things like Facebook pages, but it was proven that interpersonal connections have the biggest overall impact. Firms can take this insight and apply it by encouraging more traditional WOM amongst consumers instead of focusing their entire effort on online tactics. Firms should especially not pursue new eWOM strategies at the expense of encouraging interpersonal eWOM. It is not that eWOM is completely ineffective, and eWOM strategies should still be maintained, but it is suggested that the focus merely be shifted to traditional WOM. A successful example of this is Bell, a Canadian telecommunications company, who through their Bell Let’s Talk campaign encourage customers to speak to each other about mental health, and by extension Bell (Quigley, 2016).

Bell-Lets-Talk-003-001For further research it would be interesting to see if providing negative instead of positive WOM would have the same pattern that was shown in this study or if the results would be entirely different because consumers would be viewing the information from a different perspective.

By Noa Zaifman



Matthew L. Meuter , Deborah Brown McCabe & James M. Curran (2013) Electronic Word-of-Mouth Versus Interpersonal Word-of-Mouth: Are All Forms of Word-of-Mouth Equally Influential?, Services Marketing Quarterly, 34:3, 240-256

Quigley, J. (2016, January, 27). Bell Let’s Talk Day lifted ‘cloak of secrecy’ around mental illness, say advocates. CBC News.

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