eWOM and tWOM: Are they the same?

womTraditional Word of Mouth (tWOM) and electronic WOM (eWOM) are of increasing interest to academics and marketers (see here for data from the Web of Science). However, despite many years of interest – and increasing outputs, little attention has been paid why people engage in either type of WOM – and if the motives are the same (or in fact different).

As part of a study into WOM jointly with James Cook University in Australia, we recently tried to shed some light on this: i.e. what motivated people to talk to friends about brands, products or services – and was there a difference between what they would talk about “online” and what they would talk about “face to face”. We used the literature to identify antecedents – and asked students to rate each of these potential motivators in terms of importance. What emerged was that both types of WOM have some similarity – but also quite some differences. People who engage in eWOM and tWOM are generally happy with the product or service provided, or are fairly likely to be loyal customers. Thus leveraging loyal and happy customers, maybe even reminding them, is a sensible idea in order to increase the amount of WOM. However, speaking about a product, brand or service face to face is most likely to be a result of being happy with the product – so product quality and consistency for example, are very important. This may be because when engaging in face to face WOM, people may be likely to fear loosing face more, then when talking about a product online. Online, i.e. for eWOM, the most important factor was novelty or product originality. In other words, people cared much less about the product itself – but were more likely to tweet or share information about “quirky” products – even if they did not feel that the product was particularly good value for money. In summary, online buzz is driven more by originality and novelty – whereas offline WOM is more likely to be driven by satisfaction.

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