Masters Research Project: Why We Talk?

Having just defending my Masters research project, I thought I would post my project. The primary purpose of my research was to begin to develop an understanding of why consumers share their experiences with products and services by systematically observing what consumers are posting. If you are interested my presentation, you can find it HERE . The introduction section is below, followed by a link to paper in its entirety.


Word-of -mouth (WOM) communication is ubiquitous. Consumers discuss favorite restaurants, where to buy a car and complain when a brand’s customer service falls flat. These conversations, both positive and negative, have an impact on consumer behavior. In fact, WOM conversations generate more than 3.3 billion brand impressions each day (Keller & Libai, 2009). WOM has been shown to increase movie sales (Liu, 2006), the adoption of social platforms (Trusov, Bucklin and Pauwels, 2009) and the success of television programs (Godes and Mayzlin, 2004).

WOM is best described as “informal communication directed at other consumers about the ownership, usage, or characteristics of particular goods and services or their sellers” (Westbrook, p. 261, 1987). As a model, WOM consists of the message, communicated by the source or sender, through a communication channel to an audience. When successfully leveraged, WOM is seen to have a stronger long-term effect than traditional media (Trusov, Bucklin and Pauwels, 2009). Evidence suggests we are exposed to an average of 3,000 brand messages each day (Wipperfurth, 2005). Furthermore, if advertising is not an option, the recommendation from current customers may be a better mode of persuasion (Nielsen, 2011). According to Balter (2005), approximately 70 percent of all purchasing decisions are influenced by WOM communication. WOM is seen as a more trusted referral mechanism and is a better method for targeting interested consumers (Berger, 2013). WOM can be highly targeted, in that individuals often look to others they feel are like them and are more likely to trust a recommendation from someone similar to them (Nielsen, 2011; Schmitt, Skiera and Van den Bulte, 2011). Much of the above research has led marketing scholars and practitioners to call for the need to “harness” and “capture” the power of WOM.

While much of the current literature focuses on the consequences and behavioral mechanisms of WOM, little research has explored why people share their experiences with products or services (Berger, 2013). Lovett, Peres and Shachar (2013) argued that consumers are driven to engage in interpersonal communication through three drivers: social, emotional, and functional. Each driver is underlined by certain motivations (Lovett, Peres and Shachar, 2013). Developing a more comprehensive understanding of these motivations and subsequent psychological drivers may help marketing managers craft stronger WOM campaigns.

Furthermore, with the evolution of web-based communications, consumers are now presented with the ability to share their opinions to farther reaching audiences. Social media sites like Facebook offer an opportunity to explore online word-of-mouth in more detail. Facebook has more than 1.3 billion users and users are sharing 20 million links every 20 minutes (statistic brain, 2014). Not only does the amount of access to conversations make it a fertile environment to study WOM, but the ability to observe the phenomenon as it occurs offers an additional method to study consumer behavior (Trusov, Bucklin and Pauwels, 2009). Not only has this changed how and why consumers share their opinions, but how consumers seek product information. Information that is shared online has the ability to affect consumer perceptions (Dellarocas, 2003), attitudes (Bickar and Schindler, 2001), purchase intentions (Davis and Khazanchi, 2008) and behavior (De Bruyn and Lilien, 2008). As consumers continue to find new ways to share opinions and gather information, understanding WOM as it occurs online is important from a management perspective. It is for this reason that academics are beginning to focus their efforts on understanding what motivates consumers to perform electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) (Balasubramanian and Mahajan, 2001; Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004).

Purpose Statement

The purpose of this project is to develop a comprehensive understanding of what consumers are posting in a given online environment. To understand what motivates consumers to perform WOM on Facebook, a systematic, observational approach to document what consumers are posting must be employed. The Vans Shoe Company’s Facebook page has been chosen to explore and categorize the performance of eWOM. Not only do millennial shoppers turn to Facebook to make purchase decisions, but user-generated content plays an ever-increasing role in the decision making process (Bazaarvoice 2012; 2013). Similarly, within retail 60 percent of consumers learn about a retailer through a Facebook or Twitter post (Nielsen, 2011b).





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