You’re not yelping your case: the unexpected social consequences of word of mouth

Mauricio Palmeira, Gerri Spassova, Jordi Quoidbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore whether people’s intuitions regarding the social consequences of word of mouth (WOM) match the actual consequences. The authors investigate the expectations people have about how sharing WOM (positive or negative) will change others’ perceptions of them and then compare these expectations to the actual impact of WOM. Design/methodology/approach: Six studies were conducted. Study 1 predicted how sharing their experiences with various products or services would change others’ opinion of them. Studies 2a/2b contrasted participants’ intuitions about the potential social consequences of sharing WOM with the consequences. Studies 3a/3b and 4a/4b tested for the hypothesized mediating mechanism. Studies 5a/5b focused on negative WOM and used participants’ own reviews to compare intuitions with impact. Study 6 explored whether considering one’s own consumption experience mitigates the negative social impact of WOM. Findings: Consumers expect positive WOM to improve perceptions as it conveys only positive cues about the communicator (i.e. helping intentions and a positive personality). Negative WOM is expected to have neutral impact, as it conveys mixed cues (i.e. helping intentions but a negative personality). In contrast, the authors show that sharing negative WOM tends to be quite detrimental, whereas sharing positive WOM has little impact. People are largely unaware of these effects. Research limitations/implications: The research contributes to the literature on WOM and social transmission by comparing people’s intuitions about the social consequences of WOM with its actual consequences. The authors acknowledge that they used mostly WOM messages that were pre-written (vs spontaneously generated by participants). This may have constrained the generalizability of the results. Several potential moderators remain to be investigated, such as the role of message extremity, the interpersonal closeness between communicator and receiver, whether the WOM was solicited vs spontaneous, online vs offline, etc. Practical implications: Greater effort is needed to raise consumers’ awareness about the gap between their expectations and the actual social consequences of WOM. Furthermore, marketers responsible for designing product review opportunities should be encouraged to provide consumers with more flexible options, such as the ability to easily remove an online review. Finally, consumers transmitting negative WOM in particular should be aware that their negative tone may compromise the persuasiveness of their message by making the receiver more vigilant and thus less receptive. Originality/value: The authors are the first to directly contrast people’s intuitions about the social consequences of WOM with its consequences. Unlike the previous literature, the authors investigate people’s intuitions directly, and investigate the consequences of positive and negative WOM by comparing them to a neutral no-WOM condition. They also shed light on the specific personality traits people infer from WOM.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-447
Number of pages29
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Volume54
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • word of mouth
  • consumer reviews
  • social perceptions

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