Effects of Electronic Word-of-Mouth on the Potential Customer's Emotions and Product Image

Effects of Electronic Word-of-Mouth on the Potential Customer's Emotions and Product Image

Outi Tuisku (School of Business and Management, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Lahti, Finland), Mirja Ilves (Faculty of Communication Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland), Jani Lylykangas (Faculty of Communication Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland), Veikko Surakka (Faculty of Communication Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland), Sanna Rytövuori (Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland), Mari Ainasoja (Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland) and Mikko J. Ruohonen (Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/IJEBR.2017100101
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Abstract

This study investigated how potential customers (N = 28) respond to two types of electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) regarding the same product. The study simulated reality by having participants read either mainly negative comments from an independent discussion forum (n = 14) or mainly positive comments from a marketer's website (n=14). The results showed that the participants' valence ratings were positive after reading eWOM on the marketer's website and negative after reading eWOM on the independent forum. Although this seems obvious, it is interesting that even though the comments on the independent forum were not considered trustworthy or expert, reading these comments negatively influenced the product image. Participants who read the independent forum rated the product image significantly lower than participants who read the marketer's website. After watching commercial videos, both groups rated the product image higher; however, the difference between the groups remained significant. The results suggest that the emotions evoked by eWOM play a key role in product image. A practical implication for companies may be purchasing targeted advertising on discussion forums to manage potential customers' negative affective reactions.
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Introduction

Word-of-mouth (WOM) refers to interpersonal communication in face-to-face situations in which an information provider shares his/her informal experiences with, information about, or opinions of products, services, or brands with a receiver (e.g., Sandes & Urdan, 2013). Information providers share their experiences with their friends and family, who might, in turn, share these experiences forward, thereby spreading information through WOM. Since the rise of Internet 2.0, methods of sharing experiences and searching for information have changed. Electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) has evolved through different types of websites that allow content sharing, such as discussion forums, blogs, and social network sites (Constantines & Fountain, 2008). The term eWOM can be defined as “any positive or negative statement made by potential, actual, or former customer about a product or company, which is made available to a multitude of people and institutions via the Internet” (Hennig-Thurau, Gwinner, Walsh, & Gremler, 2004). eWOM has a much greater impact than traditional WOM, since online evaluations and experiences have the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of people worldwide (King, Racherla, & Bush, 2014). For this reason, eWOM has begun to attract researchers from many disciplines, such as marketing and human–computer interaction (e.g., Cheung & Thadani, 2012; Chevalier & Mayzlin, 2006; Lee & Youn, 2009; Trusov, Bucklin, & Pauwels, 2009; Yan & Bhatnagar, 2008; Yeap, Ignatius, & Ramayah, 2014).

Internet search engines have become important sources of information for consumers. Recent surveys show that over 80% of consumers use online search engines before making purchase decisions (Fleishman-Hillard, 2012; Slaven, 2016). Search engine results often include links to different types of discussion forums where people freely share their experiences and opinions. Thus, sources of eWOM regarding consumer products can be roughly divided into two categories: independent (i.e., general) discussion forums and marketers’ own websites (i.e., websites maintained by a brand, manufacturer, or retailer) (e.g., Lee & Youn, 2009; Pitta & Fowler, 2005). It is known that eWOM follows a U-shaped relationship, meaning that consumers who share their evaluations online tend to be either very happy or very unhappy with a product or service (Dellarocas, Gao, & Narayan, 2010). In general, independent forums tend to contain more negative product reviews, while marketers’ websites tend to contain more positive product reviews. Further, the product reviews in independent forums are typically conversational in nature, while those on marketers’ websites are typically unrelated individual comments and ratings.

Consumers consider face-to-face WOM to convey trustworthy (informal) information independent from companies’ commercials or intentions to sell (Bickart & Schindler, 2001; Lau & Ng, 2001; Miranda, Rubio, Chamorro, & Loureiro, 2014). However, companies have a financial incentive to induce WOM in different ways, such as by using influencers or brand ambassadors in firm-created WOM campaigns or “seeding programs,” compensating existing customers to provide product reviews, or stimulating WOM through more traditional marketing actions (Pauwels, Aksehirli, & Lackman, 2016; Trusov et al., 2009). The suspicion that marketers might attempt to influence eWOM may affect people’s attitudes towards information on marketers’ websites. That is, positive eWOM on marketers’ websites may evoke doubts or concerns that negative reviews have been filtered out (Pitta & Fowler, 2005; Reichelt, Sievert, & Jacob, 2014). On the other hand, consumers tend to believe that independent forums include every piece of information about a product/service, including negative reviews (Yang & Mai, 2010).

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