Why recommend a brand face-to-face but not on Facebook? How word-of-mouth on online social sites differs from traditional word-of-mouth

Reference: Eisingerich, A.B., Chun, H.H., Liu, Y., Jia, H., Bell, S.J. (2015).  Why recommend a brand face-to-face but not on Facebook?  How word-of-mouth on online social sites differs from traditional word-of-mouth in Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(1) 120-128

Main idea: A comparison between traditional word of mouth and electronic word of mouth, and the impact of social media on the use of e-wom.


In this article, what is mainly discussed and highlighted on is a comparison between consumer traditional word-of-mouth, what is commonly referred to as WOM and the electronic word of mouth, what is known as e-wom but mentioned in the article as Swom (word of mouth on social sites). For starters, word of mouth receivers are mainly individuals and small group of people who have ties with the person giving out the information and the communication is done by one-to-one conversations and there is high interaction when exchanging information. However, receivers of Swom information are mainly present on social networks and do not necessarily have personal ties with the person giving out the information and communication is carried out in a one-to-many manner by posting a review on Facebook for example.

With the rise of social media platforms and social networking applications and sites, tendency to use Swom should also increase. However, what was found after conducting three studies was that people preferred not to engage in Swom as much as they engaged in WOM. Many reasons behind people’s preference to use WOM over Swom and one main reason behind people’s preference was the social risk attributed with the giving out of information that was not viewed as positive by the targeted audience. Moreover other reasons behind the preference for the use of WOM over sWOM are the need for self-enhancement and acceptance by others.  Basically, “it is a function of perceived social risk as clearly stated in the article. Thus, perceived social risk “mediates” the effect of communication mode on people’s willingness to provide word-of-mouth in study 1, and “salience” of social risk further magnifies the difference between people’s desire to offer sWOM and WOM in study 3. They also found that self enhancement need mitigates the difference between consumers ‘willingness to provide sWOM and WOM, regardless of whether they inherently possess a high self-enhancement need as in study 2 or when their self-enhancement need is temporarily evoked as in study 3”.

sWOM is more sensitive to self-enhancement motives and to social risk perceptions than WOM because of the high number of people involved. And as a wrap up to what the authors tried to find in their three studies was the difference between people’s desire to engage in sWOM and WOM is mediated by perceived social risk and amplified and increased when social risk is made noticeable. Moreover, they show that the consumers’ need to self-enhance lessen the difference in willingness to offer sWOM versus WOM.

What is suggested after these findings is that marketers find ways to encourage customers to engage more in sWOM without thinking about the negative consequences and threats and social sanctions. This study also only focused on positive word-of-mouth, however it would also be interesting to find out what happens when negative word-of-mouth is communicated on social media platforms and how companies try to regulate such incidents.