In Networked Narratives, Kozinets et al (2010) discussed the need to develop new models of word-of-mouth (WOM) communication. As consumers engage in online communication that is multi-relational, networked and communal “marketers must look beyond just measures of frequency and valence and consider content”. I couldn’t agree more, and as consumers continue to share their experiences with products and services, we are provided a large amount of content that highlight just how brands are written into these personal narratives. As marketing becomes more and more relational, the ability to understand these narratives and their influence on WOM is imperative. Furthermore, as practitioners express the need to manage WOM, the more important developing theory surrounding “the symbolic and experiential dimensions of consumer-brand relationships” becomes (Thompson, Rindfleisch and Arsel, 2006). As such, to manage WOM is to understand this relationship.
– The Management of online WOM-
To better understand why individuals perform WOM, we must begin to understand what influences consumers to share in online environments. In Kozinets‘ model the consumer is now an active coproducer (along with the brand) of value and meaning. As a consequence of this change, the authors argue that marketing has become a cultural process. In order to understand how WOM is influenced we must understand consumers’ life structure and the networks they inhabit.
Consumers use digital space to extend a sense of self and as a platform to project their life structures. To do so, consumers often alter and implant meaning into consumer goods and branded content. For example, on Instagram the story isn’t that a picture of a product was taken, it is often the crafting of the picture that tells a more complete narrative.
A consumer’s life structure can be defined in two different ways depending on the context.
Identity projects: (Thompson, 2005) Long term, deep-seeded existential concerns and lifelong pursuits.
Life themes: (McCracken, 1987) On-going and changing self-related goals and meanings.
This user performs WOM as part of a self-transformation. Nike aids in this transformation. The use of hashtags implies that the transformation is part of a larger collective (or audience) of active support. Thus, this highlights the communal influence of WOM.
Through a systematic, netnographic approach marketers can begin to unlock the meaning and values consumers place on products and services and how those are enacted within online environments (or performing WOM).
-Audience and Community Effects-
The authors also argue that the communal aspect of online environments influence WOM. Marketing messages are no longer “unidirectional” but are exchanged between networks (Kozinets et al., 2010). How consumers decided to engage in WOM has much to do with the communities they are a part of and the audience the perceive to be communicating with.
To “harness” the power of word-of-mouth, often means to manage. To manage WOM is to understand how brands fit into consumers’ life projects and how it may fit into a broader cultural context. As consumers become more skeptical of advertisements and place more emphasis on the recommendations of others, “WOM research should be part of a broader program of strategic research for solving business problems and informing day-to-day business decisions” (Allsop, Bassett and Hoskins, 2007).