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by Gemma Holloway on 16th November 2012
Villanueva found that a customer acquired through word of mouth was more profitable to a business than if they were gained by other means. He also found that opinions regarding brands shared between online users are more influential on consumer behaviour than any other traditional type of marketing, such as offline advertising. This, coupled with the growing emphasis placed on social signals for SEO purposes, means what people are saying about brands online (electronic word of mouth) is now more important than ever.
Electronic Word of Mouth (eWOM) involves an active participant known as the e-fluential to influence other online users. Bronner & Hoog identified that only a small percentage of online users actively engage in eWOM, but that each of these e-fluentials can influence a large amount of other users. So it is important to understand how we can motivate these few existing e-fluentials and also encourage those who would not usually participate in eWOM to do so. In this post I am going to look at what motivates these e-fluentials to engage in the first place and how we as digital marketers can stimulate these motivations.
Famous academics, such as Dichter, put forward theories with regard to traditional word of mouth which can be transferred to an online medium.
Nobody Likes a Know-It All
The principle of self enhancement is a user participates in eWOM in an attempt to present themselves as knowledgeable to others. Muntinga found that e-fluentials post items about brands to “show off” their connection with that brand to their peers and present themselves as knowing more about the brand than others. Brands could use online groups and forums to stimulate this motivation by leaking exclusive information to its members, allowing them to then share this information.
Put in a Little Extra
Hennig-Thurau found users were more likely to post items about a company if they felt they owed the company something. This principle is known as Empowerment and is based upon Equity theory – The concept that when the input/output ratio is imbalanced, he who contributed less will attempt to regain a balance through other means.
For example, when a company exceeds the expectations of a consumer an imbalance is caused in the input/output ratio, so the consumer engages in positive eWOM in an attempt to give something back to make things equal again. To stimulate this motivation brands should aim to create an balance in the input/output ratio which could be achieved by offering ‘extras’ such as incentives (money off coupons, free samples) or helpful guidance and tips.
This point can be supported by the success of our blog here at Koozai. By offering helpful information and how-to guidance, it could be argued that our readers share our posts as a way of regaining a balance from the help they have received.
Content Really is the Language of Love
Message Involvement is when a product is discussed in relation to the way it is presented/advertised as opposed to an actual experience with the product itself. For example, the infamous Durex balloon animals YouTube video ”NSFW”. Entertainment is derived from discussing these certain ads or selling appeals, and it is this entertainment which becomes the motivational factor. In 2004, Phelps et al found that four out of five users were motivated to forward an email/share a post based on the enjoyment and entertainment they received from the original message.
This trend can be seen in the SEO industry in particular, with more emphasis being placed upon interesting, quality content and linkbait. It has been a well-known phrase for some time now that ‘content is king’ but I had never really considered why? Message involvement is the answer! Whether you are creating infographics, blogs or other types of linkbait, one goal is to get the item shared. Whether this is from a post on a social networking site or a link on someone elses website, they are all types of eWOM. Meaning we need to put as much effort as possible into producing creative content which provides users with entertainment, consequently stimulating this motivation.
Point being, create interesting, engaging and entertaining content – Although I shouldn’t need to stress this point, because if you haven’t cottoned on to this yet then you must not have read any SEO related blog posts recently!
Free Stuff for Everyone
Kumar found that customers who rarely engage in eWOM can be encouraged to do so by offering an incentive. We see this technique used on a regular basis on Social Networks in particular where users are required to like or share a post with a chance to win a competition.
This is often the motivation which can be most easily stimulated amongst those who do not usually partake in active eWOM. Offer your ‘followers’ or even other online community members not connected to your brand, benefits for engaging with your brand online. This can be in the commonly used ‘like to be part of a competition’ form or something more creative such as ‘Free £1 Off next order if your purchase is shared when you reach the payment confirmation page’. It’s time to think out of the box, the incentive you offer does not need to be costly or physical, it just needs to be of benefit to the user.
Care for Thy Neighbour
Altruism refers to when one consumer wants to help another. This is a particularly prominent motivation when eWOM engagement is negative. Phelps found that users were likely to forward an email if they felt the information it contained was important in helping other due to altruistic duties. To stimulate this motivation, brands need to supply e-fluentials with informative content which viewers will feel the altruistic duty to pass on to their peers. Buttle found that people were more likely to share their experiences if they were negative, which could be explained by them not wanting their peers to have to undergo the same experience. If implemented properly, brands can act upon these negative experiences when posted in such a way to stimulate other motivations for positive eWOM such as exceptional customer service in dealing with the problem to tip the input/output ration in their favour.
This leads me on to the idea of negative eWOM and whether or not this could actually be a good thing in terms of SEO perspective. Search engines, to some degree, are able to differentiate whether or not a brand is being talked about in a positive or negative context. In the past, it could be argued that negative eWOM was good for SEO but search engines are getting a lot more clever with their algorithms and are starting to be able to differentiate so positive eWOM is the way forward.
It is also important to consider what negative eWOM could be doing to the reputation of your brand. If you want to find out more about monitoring mentions of your brand online, check out our whitepaper on this subject.
Overall, it is important to remember that although eWOM actually takes place online, users’ motivations behind this behaviour does not necessary have to be stimulated online. For example, exceeding customers’ expectations could be something which takes place within your physical store or the incentives you offer may be physical items users can gain, i.e. free samples of shampoo. So it is important when trying to generate electronic word of mouth, for SEO purposes or building your branding, to integrate your online and offline marketing efforts.
I would be interested to know if you have any other thoughts about what motivates users to engage in eWOM and any ideas how we can stimulate this behaviour?