wom - a definition of communication

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WOM 1 Running Head: WOM

WORD-OF-MOUTH A Definition of CommunicationBy: Megan Williams Under the guidance of Prof. Gurram Gopal, CBE. Elmhurst College

WOM 2 INTRODUCTION In a blink of an eye, a person or product can go from utter obscurity to having the highest number of inquiries on a search engine. The power of Word-of-mouth communication has even caught the attention of major news networks highlighting videos on You Tube that have the highest number of views. Whether an email forward or a conversation over dinner, peer communication is becoming more important than advertising. In How to Build Buzz Steve Brooks cites a GfK Roper Consulting study that found that 81 percent of U.S. Consumers cited people as a trusted source of information and purchase ideas, versus 55 percent for advertising (Brooks 32). If word-of-mouth communication is an alternative to advertising and advertising is a paid marketing effort, what is word-of-mouth communication? Through a review of literature, this paper will identify the parts of word of mouth (WOM) and demonstrate how these parts interact. This paper researches marketing, sociology, and graph theory to develop a definition of WOM. While the topic of WOM can be anything from a product, service, person, or information, for the purposes of this paper all topics of WOM will be referred to as a product.

WORD-OF-MOUTH In Word-of-mouth: Understanding and Managing Referral, Francis Buttle highlights two pervious definitions before updating the definition for today. J. Arndt characterized WOM as oral person-to-person communication between a receiver and a communicator whom the receiver perceives as non-commercial, regarding a brand, product or service (Buttle, 242). As this definition was developed in 1967, the person-to-person component is no longer the only method by which WOM is communicated. Buttle identifies electronic bulletin boards as a medium used today for WOM communication (Buttle, 243). In addition, Buttle acknowledges

WOM 3 that the brand, product or service component of Arndts definition can also now include organizations (Buttle, 243). This extension, taken at its loosest interpretation, can include the every formal or informal group and the affairs surrounding these groups. The organization could include affairs involving the federal government. For instance the campaign video posted on You Tube developed by a Barack Obama supporter depicting fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as George Orwells Big Brother from 1984 was quickly shared within and between networks. The video gathered so much attention that the topic was highlighted on network news programs (CNN). The second definition that Buttle highlights is one developed by B. Stern in 1994. Buttle identifies Sterns definition as the exchange of ephemeral oral or spoken messages between a contiguous source and a recipient who communicate directly in real life . . . Consumers are not assumed to create, revise and record pre-written conversational exchanges about products or services . . . WOM communication vanishes as soon as it is uttered, for it occurs in a spontaneous manner and then disappears (Buttle, 242). Buttle does not directly contest this definition, but does mention that online communication is not necessarily direct or in real life and that online posts can be recalled at a later time (Buttle, 243). I agree with Buttles critique of Stern. To take the ability to recall WOM communication even further, even through face-to-face communication, a comment may be made to a recipient whom may later recall this comment and share it with a new recipient. Buttles own look at WOM attempts to define the communication by breaking it down into its components: (1) valence, (2) focus, (3) timing, (4) solicitation, and (5) intervention. However, the problem with Buttles classification is that it looks at WOM solely as a tool for marketing. Neither the timing or content of WOM is under the control of the manufacturer

WOM 4 (Kamins, 166). For Buttle, the focus component is the attention that management invests in WOM and how management can use it to establish loyal customers (Buttle, 243). And the solicitation component for Buttle only differentiates the solicitation between management and the customer and not between customers. While I agree that these five components exist in WOM, these components combined do not combine to create a model that demonstrate the total process of WOM communication. Buttle does not identify the persons or actions within the model. Knowing what these components are one can identify where in the model a company can take advantage of WOM. A definition for WOM today must include every possible WOM communication method available. It also must make room for marketer driven WOM. Word-of-mouth communication is: Interpersonal communication between individuals within networks that either explicitly or subconsciously identify preferences. Interpersonal communication is used to distinguish this communication from forms of mass media. While the information may originate from management or even an advertisement, it is continued by people communicating with people. The term network is used to demonstrate that everyone is in some way connected to a group of people, and thus excluded from others. Networks can be large or small. Individuals can be connected to a variety of networks, some of which strong ties are made and in others there are weaker ties. Individuals may also be part of extended networks where there is no direct connection between two individuals, but through a series of networks people are connected. And the use of preferences is important because every communication in some way reflects our interests. The simple fact that one is willing to

WOM 5 share a piece of information demonstrates a level of interest in the topic. The preference can be for a particular product or for a scandalous rumor about a celebrity. This definition can be deconstructed even further to identify the actors within the WOM communication, their actions, and the environment in which they act.

ACTORS While WOM by one individual can reach hundreds or thousands of people through resources, essentially at its core WOM is an action that exists between two people. It is a communication between one person that has experienced a particular product and one person who has not. These are essentially the two actors within the WOM model. The purpose of the actors is to focus their communication to each other about a particular product. In this case it is a product. These actors will be referred to as the pre-consumer, the individual who has not experienced the product, and the post-consumer, the individual who has experienced the product. The product that is the focus of the WOM discussion can be any product, service or information and is independent of the two actors. However, as I alluded to before we are not to assume that there are only two individuals participating in WOM discussions. Depending on the type of WOM, one pre-consumer may seek the advice of several post-consumers. There is one type of individual who is very important to the progression of WOM, the opinion leader. While the opinion leader can be a pre- and a post-consumer, their influence as a post-consumer is essential to successful WOM. Opinion leaders are hypothesized to give unsolicited advice more often than non-opinion leaders (Engel, 16). In addition, opinion leaders are more likely to be receptive to WOM than non-opinion leaders (Reynolds, 449).

WOM 6 The receptivity of opinion leaders and those that seek their opinions is likely due to the level of creativity in these individuals. These individuals most likely are in the first few groups of the adoption curve, especially the innovators. Their creativity doesnt necessarily refer to their abilities as an artist or writer, but instead the ability to participate in thought experiments (Hogarth, 116). These thought experiments reflect the position of these individuals as choice makers. They are able to weigh and consider other alternatives. They are not solely influenced by their environment. Instead of letting mass advertising determine their choices, they are willing to seek out new innovations (Hogarth, 110). So when other alternatives are presented to them, for instance through WOM, these individuals are likely to include such recommendations into their choice possibilities. The terms pre- and post-consumer are used to cover both sides of the purchase transaction. The terms cover all the different types of WOM transactions. Neither hint at the possibility of either being an opinion leader because the opinion leader can be both a pre- and post-consumer that either seek or solicit information. It is important to note that social networks are not a series of rigid social islands that have no connection to each other; Actors within WOM can interact with individuals within and outside of their network. Several factors could influence whether or not actors would communicate outside of their network; like focus, geography, or economics. And someone who was an opinion leader in one network might not be one in another.


ACTION There are six basic WOM transactions between two actors either within or outside of their networks. These transactions cover the actions of pre- and post-consumers:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Post-consumer uses product and gives unsolicited information to a pre-consumer. Post-consumer is solicited by a pre-consumer for information on a product. Post-consumer uses product and posts review on an online forum or website. Pre-consumer is given unsolicited information on a product from a post-consumer. Pre-consumer solicits information from a post-consumer. Pre-consumer seeks information from an online forum, paper, or blog.

While it may seem as though (1.) and (4.), and (2.) and (5.) are the