Humans are social creatures, and as such are influenced by others – be it friends or strangers. A few studies dating as back as 1943 suggest that communications among customers were more important than marketing communication issued by the company in influencing product adoption (Rogers, 1962; Ryan & Gross, 1943).
Marketers, aware of these findings, have since tried to harness this property to their service in their quest to create a positive attitude towards brands.
Such attempts can be seen in the use of various social endorsement avenues. Some marketers present expert testimonials to create trust and credibility; others opt for customer testimonials – either real or staged- that are said to positively enhance advertising effectiveness (Martin, Bhimy, & Agee, 2002).
In terms of positive word-of-mouth, Silverman (2001) notes, “getting people to talk often, favorably, to the right people in the right way about your product is far and away the most important thing that you can do as a marketer”. A BuzzMetrics report (Nielsen, 2012) suggests marketers to “Segment high-value customers and treat them as special ambassadors by offering them loyalty programs, member clubs, special offers and the like”, in the hope that they would spread positive word-of-mouth.
Once a customer has an experience with an organization and wants to spread word-of-mouth, the special characteristics of the Internet come to play a major role. As described above, the Internet facilitates a large reach communication channel, which allows for customers to post a message regarding their experience with the brand and instantly reach great audiences. Such large spread was hard to accomplish before the Internet era, when word-of-mouth used to spread much slower – by conversations with another individual or with a relatively small group. New social media referrals are between 20-30 times more effective at driving business than traditional marketing or media appearances (Trusov, Bucklin, & Pauwels, 2009).
This one-to-many communication by the customer becomes a many to many communication once a few individuals start speaking about the same brand – in an online forum, a talkback to an article, or a company’s Facebook page. From there, opinions and experiences can spread exponentially -social media word-of-mouth has up to 30 times larger effects than most paid marketing attempts, with a higher average carryover (Stacey, Pauwels, and Lackman, 2012).
One of the ways in which companies try to harness power of word-of-mouth over the Internet and promote users to spread it, is by placing social plug-ins. Social plug-ins are clickable elements embedded in a company’s websites that facilitate the sharing of content from the company’s websites (or word-of-mouth about it) with the visitor’s network. While a few years ago individuals had to copy the page URL and paste it to an email message to spread it to their friends, today a simple click on an icon in the company’s websites will automatically send the message through the visitors’ favorite social network: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more.
Even though these plug-ins are efficient and ubiquitous, it is essential to remember that not all word-of-mouth is created equal. First of all, as suggested by prior studies (Godes et al., 2005; Trusov et al., 2009), a lot of the word-of-mouth communication is triggered by a specific marketing action, that should be credited – at least partially – for the surge in online conversations. Second, a study by Stacey et al. (2012) finds that Facebook likes and comments do not significantly affect purchase behavior, and increase website traffic less than topic-specific word-of-mouth conversations.
Asur and Huberman (2010) find in an extensive twitter-based research that message valence (=positive or negative emotion expressed), as opposing to quantity is highly predictive of new movie box office sales; and Chevalier and Mayzlin (2006) find that “more positive” book reviews increase sales, and not just any review. In another online word-of-mouth research the researchers focus on the inherent difference in sentiment that exist across venues, products, and brand attributes (Schweidel, Moe, & Boudreaux, 2012). For example, conversation venues that are one-to-many (such as Twitter and blogs) tend to have more positive posts than venues that are many-to-many (such as forums).
Overall, many studies support the notion that it is not enough to look at quantity of online word-of-mouth mentions, it is crucial to analyze the content – focus on online conversation quality over quantity. Thus, evidence suggests that seeing that a page is “liked” is not enough to create actual liking and trust- visitors have to see specific content rather than something general like a social plug-in suggesting vague social endorsement.