WOM and Social Media (Lit Review, Johnson)

Article Reviewed: WOM and social media: Presaging future directions for research and practice


The concept of word of mouth (WOM) has been a topic that has generated an increase in attention from many, especially in regards to the impact it has on brands through the use of social media.  Despite previous belief, this case study suggests that the impact WOM has is less than many have been lead to assume.  In this report, the current state of WOM and its place in marketing are reassessed to determine the true implications WOM has through online channels and to separate false, previously stated claims.  Future predictions, directions and best practices are also evaluated for marketers to take into consideration to be used through an online platform.

WOM and social media: Presaging future directions for research and practice

Literature Review

Julia Johnson

The concept of WOM is not a new one.  For as long as people have been conversing, WOM has been impacting people’s decision making through many different avenues.  However, it has only recently been gaining more and more interest especially in the field of marketing, as people are becoming more involved and connected with the speed and reach that the internet and social media now offer the public (Kimmel and Kitchen, 2014, p.1). Being that WOM of not a concrete subject, it can better be defined as a fluid communication that evolves and is transformed via the ebb and flow of conversations that shift from online to offline to online contexts, and jump from one social media platform to others (Kimmel and Kitchen, 2014, p.10). Due to the technological advancements in today’s age, the old saying “there is power in numbers” has never meant more.  Because of this, marketers and brand managers have taken a great interest in leveraging online consumer conversations to attain their marketing objectives.

The idea of WOM influence and appearance was first introduced by William H. Whyte, Jr. in his article ‘The Web of Word of Mouth.’  Whyte stated “the ownership of such consumer goods reflected patterns of social communication within the neighborhoods-that people who talked together about products and services showed similar purchase and usage behaviors; that is, they were influenced by others in consumption-related decisions” (Kimmel and Kitchen, 2014, p. 2). Then, in 1955, Katz and Lazarsfeld took this further, determining that WOM was a ‘two-step flow’ model of communication that was determined mainly by opinion leaders.  This began the understanding of how consumers possessed the ability to influence other’s attitudes and behaviors in regards to the marketplace.

Today, WOM is understood to be a primary source of information for consumer buying decisions with the ability to shape consumer expectations, pre0suage attitudes, and post-usage perceptions of a product or service.  The application of traditional media advertising and one-way communication has diminished, shifting the focus to two-way communication.  According to Edelman, “as consumers worldwide are disillusioned by the relentless bombardment from traditionally mass-mediated marketing messages, they are turning to each other for insight into brands, products, and services, in large part because of the perceived greater trustworthiness of the advice they receive from interpersonal relations” (Kimmel and Kitchen, 2014, p.3). This has become incredibly easy with online social networking channels, creating eWOM.

Although companies are beginning to understand the impact that eWOM can have on their brands, it is evident that most have carried out minimal effort to connect with their customers and leverage consumer conversations and what little they are doing, they are doing without a social media strategy or policy.   While most companies have created an online presence, they have failed to reach a level of online maturity that stimulates and supports WOM among the consumers. WOM has been described as ‘the most important marketing element that exists’, ‘more powerful than all of the other marketing methods put together’ and ‘the ultimate test of customer relationship’. Thus, it is important for companies to understand WOM and how to most effectively create positive WOM (PWOM) among their brand (Kimmel and Kitchen, 2014, p.5)

In ‘How Word-of-Mouth Advertising Works’, Dichter sought to identify what motivates a person to talk positively about a product and to engage in WOM.  He concluded that product, self, other and message involvement are the top reasons and people tend not to speak favorable about a product or service unless they are getting something in return (Kimmel and Kitchen, 2014, p.6).  In addition, it was once thought that the main drive for WOM was extreme satisfaction and dissatisfaction.  However, further study has determined that these two factors are less important than other factors in prompting consumer conversations.

A more in-depth study by Henning-Thurau concluded that there are eight reasons consumers give eWOM.  These factors include venting negative feelings, concern for other consumers, social benefits, economic incentives, helping the company, advice seeking, platform assistance and extraversion/positive self enhancement.  Further study showed that these also played into the frequency consumers visited websites in order to gain the opinions and read comments provided by others.  Thurau then classified consumers into four segments according to the dirivers most likely to promt them to transmit eWOM.  These are as follows: self-interested helpers (driven primarily by economic incentives, multiple motive consumers (motivated by a large number of drivers), consumer advocates (motivated by their concern for others, and true altruists (driven to help companies and other consumers) (Kimmel and Kitchen, 2014, p.7).

In addition to this, it is important for marketers to note the impact of positive word of mouth (PWOM) as opposed to negative word of mouth.  According to Keller Fay’s TalkTrack, nearly two-thirds of brand-related discussions portray products favorably, as opposed to less than 10% that feature products negatively; a 6:1 ratio.  Also, 89% of more than 20,000 consumers surveyed recalled positive instances of WOM as opposed to negative instances (Kimmel and Kitchen, 2014, p.7).  It was found that for familiar brands, PWOM holds a greater impact than NWOM on brand purchase probability, PWOM has more latitude to increase purchase probability than NWOM stands to decrease it and consumers tend to ignore NWOM on brands they like and resist PWOM on those they do not (Kimmel and Kitchen, 2014, p.10).

In conclusion, it is important for companies to begin creating social media strategies in order to generate word of mouth among their consumers.  They can no longer fear what opening up their brand to the public may lead to because WOM is going to occur whether or not they provide the platform.  If a platform is provided however, companies are given the opportunity to monitor this and provide feedback.  With the ability for people to read reviews and posts from others, they have a greater chance to be influenced in becoming a user of that product of service.  It is essential for marketers to acknowledge this and begin investing in full engagement through online platforms.


Kimmel, A., Kitchen, P. (2014). WOM and social media: Presaging future directions for research and practice. Taylor and Francis, March 2014, Vol. 20, Issue ½                                   DOI: 10.1080/13527266.2013.797730, Web.b.ebscohost.com



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