Each can help or hurt: Word of mouth influence in social network brand communities

Do you remember earlier this year when an infamous Swedish fashion company was very passionately and publicly criticized for a photograph including an afro American child and a sweater with an admittedly very controversial logo? This major PR fail lastly even lead to physical aggression in one of the brand’s stores in South Africa, but is only one of many recent examples where customers make use of their viral online voice (don’t get me started on German car manufacturers).

But what about you, do you follow your favorite brands on Instagram and Facebook? Do you maybe secretly bash or boost them yourself?

Power to the (online) people

Researchers have now found new insights into how negative or positive opinions of others influence our own behavior in such social network brand communities (fancy language for Facebook & Instagram page) and how this relationship is affected by the goal instrumentality of the community itself. Goal what? I knooow, but it actually sounds more complicated than it is – if you’re for example someone looking for like-minded people crushing on the newest Gucci coup (Drones on the runway, hello!) you pursue a different goal when clicking the heart and like buttons (what they call social-goal community) than someone wanting insight into the intuitiveness of the new Google Pixel’s menu (functional-goal community). Makes sense, right? So basically, goal instrumentality just means whether or not you find what you’re looking for on those  pages.

They found that both bashing and boosting have more severe implications if you’re more the Gucci type, meaning that opinions of fellow admirers will most likely enhance your own activity within the community (gimme those likes), whilst reading some douche bag hater comment is likely to kill the mood (get me outta here!). This is related to this notorious goal instrumentality – if your goal is to share those googly eyes then obviously other worshippers will help you reach that goal more than some questions about your fav brand’s sourcing choices (although maybe legit). If you do happen to stumble across some idiot who dares to disagree with your passion, consumers in those social-goal communities tend to have more negative reactions (First of all, ?!#*§) – I mean you gotta fight for what you love, right. And they need research for that, I know.

lacoste insta


If you’re however more the Pixel type (not judging, you wanna know what you pay those franklins for), some sassy statements may just be what you’re looking for – after all it can’t ALL be puppies and kittens and if you feel like pure glorification, might as well watch the newest marketing spot.

Okay, cool. And?

And why am I telling you this? First of all, you can fill the awkward silence when the small talk is over with the annoying colleague who just made partner sounding super sophisticated (who’s the star now?). And second, if you stumble across a second Gucci Facebook page for functional info only, you’ll know why. Or even better, if you work in digital you can shine in the next weekly meeting à la “You know, bad reviews are actually not always bad for us – maybe we just need a clear separation between social-goal and functional-goal communities and communicate this purpose to increase the customer’s goal instrumentality.”. Can you imagine your boss’ face?

In either way, it’s also shown now that deleting negative comments cannot be the solution – it decreases credibility considerably and can even harm your goal fulfillment. Take this, social media teams and let us rant (but also drool) in peace.

Nobody’s perfect

But despite these interesting insights, there’s also a few points those researchers didn’t think of – what if I for example, don’t follow a specific goal in hitting the ‘Like’ button and just want to be sure to always have the latest news and hottest content about new collections and collaborations (or maybe even surprise discounts)? Is this really a functional goal? And also, assuming that I follow a social goal of approval by my fellow brand admirers – what if we all agree that the latest collection was more toss than take, like in the picture below? It happens to the best. Isn’t the bashing then also part of my goal fulfillment if everyone agrees?

LV insta

For next time…

Maybe it would be helpful to further distinguish between certain types within these communities – hardcore fans who actually read through the comments and are ready to defend their fav brand come what may, “normal” people who mostly want to be up to date and enjoy content, but will not start a fight over the label to defend their passion and more passive users who hit the thumbs up ages ago, but are not really attached to the brand. Also concerning the studied industry a bit more variety would be interesting, since all of the four studies were treating an automotive context. Whilst I love fast cars myself, this is still a quite specific context and it would be interesting to see if the results hold up for other contexts such as fashion, lifestyle or tech brands.



Relling, M., Schnittka, O., Sattler, H., & Johnen, M. (2016). Each can help or hurt: Negative and positive word of mouth in social network brand communities. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 33(1), 42–58.

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