An important antecedent commonly identified in many studies is the need for self- enhancement, one of the most dominant human motivations (Fiske 2001). Self-enhancement motivation is the need for admiration from others. In the context of a Web-based platform, it appears to be driven by the desire of being recognised as a skilful consumer or intelligent shopper by another consumer (Hennig-Thurau et al. ,2004). Self-enhancement is considered as one of the strongest motivators of WOM communication (Balasubramanian and Mahajan, 2001). Based on traditional WOM motivation studies and Balasubramanian and Mahajan\'s (2001) typology of the three social interactions of utility (focus-related utility, consumption utility, and approval utility) in the context of virtual communities, Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004) use the social interaction utility framework (Balasubramanian and Mahajan 2001) to develop a comprehensive list of reasons why consumers engage in eWOM transmission. Their survey of about 4,000 German forum users finds that concern for ‘others', positive self-enhancement and economic incentives are the primary motive of eWOM transmission. In addition, the authors find that self-interested consumers form the biggest segment of consumers in the forum.
Moreover, according to King, Racherla and Bush (2014), consumer's need for self-enhancement may not result in a beneficial outcome for other consumers. There is a distinction to be made here with respect to generation and transmission. Consumers tend to write more positive WOM content when they talk about themselves. Therefore, generated eWOM is mostly positive. Wojnicki and Godes (2011) find that consumers with high category-specific expertise are more likely to seek self-enhancement by sharing their satisfying consumption experiences. These experiences serve as an indication of their expertise. However, the propensity to create WOM decreases in the case of unsatisfying experiences. Moreover, consumers can also self-enhance by emphasising on negative aspects when mentioning about others' performances. Therefore, the tendency to transmit negative WOM is much greater when compared to generation (Angelis et al., 2011).
Interesting, according to Dichter's (2007) theory, due to the desire to being acknowledged as unique and intelligent shoppers, consumers tend to generate and spread online content about less well-known products for which they perceive other consumers know less. This point of view is supported by Ling et al. (2005) who suggests the positive correlation between the propensity to contribute online content and a contributor's perception of her viewpoints' uniqueness. As per this premise, the ready visibility of high (low) volume of eWOM messages should discourage (encourage) others to provide their opinions. However, evidence show an opposite trend in regard to eWOM communication. Moe and Schweidel (2012), via their analysis of data from Bazaarvoice.com, find that products with a greater number of positive reviews tend to receive even more reviews. However, the propensity to generate eWOM communication appears to vary based on consumer's experience. More experienced reviewers usually to voice their opinion in the controversial whereas less experienced reviews tend to go with the popular opinion. There is a fact that few products and services can gain a huge number of WOM messages whereas the majority have few to none. This creates a considerable response bias which is much greater when compared to the offline world.
3.4.2 Consumer psychographics
Another theory of motivation has been applied to explain the phenomenon of sharing is the self-concept theory (Wang and Fesenmaier, 2004). According to this theory, consumers engage in interpersonal communication to achieve the expectations of reference groups in order to advance the interests of ‘self'. In a cyberspace environment, online communication such as high-quality product-related comments, impressive recommendation or an enthusiastic to help serve as mere means to increase one's affiliation and power in the community. According to Dichter (1966), consumers relies on traditional WOM as “mean to gain attention, exhibit connoisseurship, suggest pioneering spirit, demonstrate insider information, connote status, evangelise, and confirm own judgment”. In the context of the electronic environment, an eWOM message that is read by others allows consumers to signal a kind of connoisseurship or a level of social status. One of the ‘self-oriented' factors that determine generation/transmission is consumer psychographics. There are different traits that have been found to relate to generation/ transmission behavior include innovativeness and opinion leadership (Sun et al. 2006), ability and self-efficacy (Gruen et al 2006; Huang et al 2009), individuation (Ho and Dempsey 2010) and neuroticism (Picazo-vela et al. 2010, Yoo & Gretzel, 2011).
Based on the “Motivation-Opportunity-Ability” framework proposed by MacInnis and Jaworski (1989), Gruen et al (2006) conducted a survey of nearly 650 Internet forums users to investigate why consumers participate and contribute to consumer forums. The main finding is that there is a correlation between consumer eWOM intention and consumers' motivations (relevance and interest) as well as abilities (ease of use and skills). Further, these effects are moderated by the overall value of the firm's offerings i.e., the value added by the products to consumers' lives in terms of quality, value for money, etc. Ho and Dempsey's (2010) survey of college students finds that the desire to be unique (individuation) is strongly correlated with both eWOM generation and transmission intentions. Individuation can be explained as the willingness to voice their opinions and stand out from others of consumer people who are high in public individuation (Maslach et al 1985). Chan and Misra (1990, p.54) propose that the “act of disseminating information through WOM communication makes opinion leaders stand out among their group, makes them ‘different' than the other members.” In addition, enhanced recognition by peers is typically promoted through the rewards and rankings system intended at encouraging expertise and merit, and these are embedded in the design of specific types of social media sites (e.g. review sites) (Munar, 2010; Stringam, Gerdes & Vanleeuwen, 2010).
3.4.3 Product/Retailer performance
Studies on consumer behaviour and psychology found that consumption experiences (i.e., subjective feelings) can serve as an influential source of human motivation (Westbrook 1987). Therefore, several product-involvement factors are suggested to drive eWOM. The prevalent paradigm that informs research into this set of factors is expectation-disconfirmation (Oliver 1980). Product performance, response to product/purchase problem, price/value perception and employee behaviour are proposed to initiate eWOM communication (Sundaram et al. (1998). Qualitative methodologies such as content analysis have been used to examine key issues in WOM messages. For instance, conducting a content analysis of negative eWOM messages uploaded in 40 different online forums in different industries, Ward and Ostrom (2006) pointed out two main issues reflected in the majority of the messages: product/service failure and procedural injustice. Not surprisingly, the authors find that procedural injustices exacerbate the product failures and cause consumers to re-frame the failure as a personal vendetta against firms. These disgruntled customers can develop their own anti-corporation websites to denounce firms' misbehaviours. Consequently, the intentions of the customers are not only seeking compensation for their specific complaint but also receiving apologies for the inequalities they experience, and warning other customers about the company, and even revenging against the company. The greater the expectation gap can increase the susceptibility to engage in negative eWOM. The price of a product or service definitely contributes to the expectation gap. In the hospitality industry, Jurca et al (2010) analyse about 100,000 hotel reviews on Tripadvisor.com. They find that the higher the average daily room price, the greater the number of negative reviews associated with that hotel. Interestingly, studies suggested that negative eWOM can be generated more easily than positive. For example, Swanson and Hsu (2009) regards that there is a lower possibility for customers who experienced pleasing services to recommend the service provider or to convince others to use the service provider\'s offerings than their dissatisfied counterparts. In this line, Sánchez-García and Currás-Pérez (2011) assert that dissatisfaction can directly cause negative WOM behaviour, and regretful consumers are more prone to spread the negative message online.
Another product-related factor relating to the generation of eWOM is brand reputation. Studies suggest that the greater brand reputation the higher incidence and volume of consumer-generated content about the brand (Amblee and Bui 2008; Dellarocas and Narayan 2007). It is possible that brand reputation is a reflection of enduring product involvement (Dichter 1966). Frequent and intense engagement with a product encourage thoughts and emotions to be easily and enthusiastic recalled in eWOM episodes in order to release the anger or the positive consumption experiences Moreover, retailer or companies' behaviour directly influence eWOM articulation. For instance, carrying out a qualitative analysis the content of all postings in five defined discussion forums, Andreassen and Streukens's (2009) categories online messages into four core categories: information request, usage experience, business practice issues, and comments concerning to new product launches/development. In line with this, Qu et al (2008) study consumer reviews from Yahoo!'s merchant rating system and find that consumers usually concern more about merchant's post-transaction services such as delivery accuracy, ease of returning products, customer service accessibility and post-transaction spam than transaction-related performance such as website ease of use and shipping cost.
Moreover, recently marketers actively encourage consumer to generate and transmit online content. For example, adopting and extending Ajzen's (1991) theory of planned behaviour, Picazo-Vela et al (2010) find that one of the motives for consumers to create eWOM is due to the perceived pressure i.e., the degree of push in the form of follow-up invitations or calls from the sellers and/or intermediaries to provide an online review after a purchase. In addition, economic incentives, described as the desire to participate because of potential monetary rewards, are also considered as motives for consumers to transmit eWOM. (Hennig-Thurau et al. 2004; Wang et al 2009, Yoo and Gretzel, 2011)). This is even more crucial given that fact that there are considerable cognitive and execution costs involved in transmitting eWOM as opposed to traditional WOM (King, Racherla and Bush, 2014).
3.4.4 Altruism/Concern for others
Altruism is defined by Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004, p. 42) as the sincere desire to “help other consumers with their buying decisions, to save others from negative experiences, or both”. Several research has shown that consumers are likely to participate in eWOM communication because they have concerns for others' consumption behaviour in an altruistic manner (Dichter, 1966; Engel et al., 1993; Lee, Kim and Kim, 2012). Altruism is proven to be the driving force of the incidence, valence, and volume of eWOM. For instance, Hennig-Thurau et al (2004) find that approximately 30% of consumers who post their opinions online do so purely for altruistic reasons and without gaining personal reward. Similarly, Lee, Kim, and Kim (2011) investigated consumers' attribution style in online brand communities and found that consumers\' intrinsic motives of altruism motivated them to engage in brand community behaviours including eWOM communication. In line with these studies Dellarocas and Narayan (2007) conduct the analysis of movie reviews on Yahoo! with the purpose of understanding which product-specific attributes explain the variance in a consumers' tendency to generate eWOM. They found that consumers typically post reviews for either the really good or really bad movies (a U-shaped relationship). Interestingly, consumers' tendency to post reviews is positively related to the amount of disagreement among professional critics i.e., the more controversial the movie is, the more likely consumers step in and share their opinions (reflecting the desire to help other consumers to reduce the uncertainty in the decision making process). Moreover, Yap, Soetarto and Sweeney (2013) also distinguished “helping other consumers” and “warning other consumers” to point out the difference between creating positive and negative eWOM.
3.4.5 Need for social interaction
Sentiments such as need for social interaction, friendship and love are regarded as one of the motives for sharing one's enthusiasm in products and services. Traditional WOM would be created and transmitted due to the social norm and obligations one has towards, or expects from, other consumers (Gatignon and Robertson 1986). These motives are one of the most examined in the eWOM literature as well. For instance, Dholakia et al (2004) argue that strengthening interpersonal connectivity and social enhancement are main reasons that encourage consumers to actively contribute to virtual communities. Conducting the survey of about 500 online forum users, they find the positive effect of group norms (i.e., others' expectations) on consumers\' perception of social identification within the virtual communities. This results in participation behaviour of online users. In addition, the researchers identify two key essential elements of social identity: affective (emotional involvement) and evaluative social identity (evaluation of self-worth on the basis of belonging to the community. Other studies in the literature (e.g., Hennig-Thurau et al. ,2004; Wang et al ,2009) also show support for social influences and group norms as generating factors of eWOM communication.
In line with this point of view, another theory to explain “need for social interaction” motivation is the principlism (Cheung and Lee, 2012). According to Cheung and Lee (2012), principlism effects can be explained by normative commitment, in which commitment is a sense of obligation to the organisation. With a strong sense of commitment to the community, individuals in virtual communities are more likely to feel obliged to help others by contributing knowledge (Dholakia, Bagozzi and Pearo, 2004).
A social factor that has been received limited attention in eWOM literature is connectivity in network or tie characteristics. In the context of traditional WOM, it has been suggested that, in informational environments are surrounded with moral hazards, consumers would share valuable information with their close friends and relatives only, avoiding distant acquaintances (Frenzen and Nakamoto, 1993). However, the strength of the Internet is that it blurs the boundary of strong ties and weak ties. Weak connections between information sources that would have been previously isolated and impossible to connect now has been accessible. Therefore, there is a need to understand the influences of tie strength and network connectivity on consumers' intention to communicate eWOM. A few researcher has explored this interesting phenomenon. For instance, Huang et al (2009) conduct a survey of email users to investigate the propensity of consumers to transmit online messages via email. They find that one of the important factors of consumers' propensity to pass along emails is social network tie (defined as strength of the relationships, the amount of time spent, and communication frequency with the receivers). Similarly, Sohn (2009) conducts an experiment to examine the relationship between the network strength and valence of the message and consumers' propensity to spread eWOM. The finding shows that consumers tend to spread online contents to others who share close relationship rather than strangers. Interestingly, this effect is moderated by the perceived value of information i.e., the senders' perception as to how much the other group treasure the information. Consumers tend to transmit only negative contents to weak ties whereas they share both positive and negative messages with strong ties.
To conclude, given the limited research in the area of consumers\' intention to spread eWOM in online consumer-opinion platforms, this study seeks to consider the factors that shape eWOM behaviour. The literature analysis suggests that consumers\' eWOM intention is significantly related to five antecedents: self-enhancement, consumer psychographics, product/retailer performance, altruism/ concern for others and the need for social interaction.
In general, among these, self-enhancement and consumer psychographics is considered as strongest generating factors (Hennig-Thurau et al. ,2004). However, in the virtual community context, need for social interaction had relatively the most influential generating factor on consumers\' eWOM intention. The reason is that this kind of eWOM platform usually provides social cues that are richer than that found in another kind of platforms. They increasingly contribute to strengthening and maintain the relationship among users. This finding is consistent with previous eWOM marketing literature, where affective commitment (sense of belonging) is a crucial factor that promotes loyalty and social responsibility in a community (Dholakia, Bagozzi and Pearo, 2004). Bronner and Hoog (2009) argue that motivations for providing eWOM communication are not the same for all types of eWOM platforms but may differ for the various type of sites. Conducting a survey of 3176 travellers on review sites, they found that why you want to contribute influences where you are going to make your contribution and what you are going to contribute. Moreover, there is still no clear definition of the category of generating motives and the weight of these motives in the propensity of a consumer to make contribute to eWOM communication. These gaps need to be addressed in the future research.
Chapter 4: Analysis and critical discussion
4.1 Finding analysis
Though existing academic research has extensively investigated in electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) from marketing and consumer behaviour perspective, the majority of it has emphasised the impact of eWOM on the financial performance of a product or service. Limited attention has been devoted to the antecedents of eWOM. The scope of extant literature is vast and fragmented. In view of this, this literature review attempt to examine and synthesise the finding of consumers\' eWOM intention in the current study. This study contributes to the conceptual and empirical understanding of the motive for providing eWOM in the context of the Internet community. After analysing the studies concerning eWOM generation and transmission, it was observed that researchers tend to look at various aspects: factors relating to the intention to provide eWOM communication, review content analysis and the moderate factors affecting the propensity to generate and transmit online contents. However, there is still no clear definition of the category of generating motives and the weight of these motives in the propensity of a consumer to make contribute to eWOM communication. In addition, there is the need to address the correlation between these motives with each other.
Furthermore, several studies report the differences in eWOM communication for individuals with different characteristics. Correa, Hinsley and Gil (2009) find that extroverted and openness consumers use social media more often, whereas neurotics use social media less frequently. Besides the general frequency of online communication, differences in characteristics also relate to the propensity to generate. For instance, Hughes et al. (2012) argue that more conscientious consumers use social media mainly for informational motivation. Extraverted individuals incline to use sites more for entertaining in comparison to neurotic persons (Hamburger and Ben-Artzi, 2000). Also, knowledge sharing can be a motivational factor for people scoring high on agreeableness, openness and conscientiousness (Cabrera, Collins and Salgado, 2006). Thus, the influence of personal traits on the motives for consumers to engage in eWOM communication needs to be further examined.
Despite examining consumers' propensity to engage in eWOM from different perspectives, most of the studies in the literature review use either surveys/ experiments to examine the antecedents of eWOM articulation or panel/archival analysis. However, these methods rely heavily on retrospective self-reports (King, Racherla and Bush, 2014). There are two disadvantages of these two methodologies. First is the timing of the measurement. Most studies do not explicitly control for the time between eWOM and the consumption experience. This leads to the bias as the result could be disturbed by memory loss or enhancement over time (Brown and Beltramini, 1989). Second is the interference of external material in the general content area (Feldman and Lynch 1988). As Moe and Schweidel (2012) show, the providers of online content are considerably influenced by the opinion of other consumers and irrelevant information.
Another interesting fact to note is that according to Nielsen (2006), user participation in eWOM communication tend to follow the “90-9-1” rule, which means that approximately 9 out 10 users in a virtual community are lurker who just read but never contribute, 9% of users contribute but not regularly and only 1% of users actively produce new contents. Therefore, eWOM is regarded to be not an accurate measure of consumer behaviour and feelings about a certain service or product (Serra Cantallops and Salvi, 2014). Moreover, recent studies (e.g., Chevalier and Mayzlin 2006; Hu et al. 2009) suggest that there is considerable under-reporting bias in the case of eWOM. Some of the studies in the literature examine antecedents of review writing behaviour but suffer from a sampling bias because they survey a self-selected sample of consumers who already actively provide information online.
4.2.1 Implication for researchers
This literature review contributes to existing eWOM research in several ways. First, existing eWOM studies have emphasised primarily on the impact of eWOM on consumer purchasing decision and financial performance of the firm. There is a lack of understanding of how and why consumers are willing to spend their own time to share their purchasing and consumption experiences with other consumers in the online environment. This study synthesises the existing literature by proposing a detailed model that explains consumers\' eWOM motivation. Second, this literature review offers a basis of what we have already know about antecedent of eWOM intention and somehow identify promising areas for future research.
Besides five main motives discussed in this literature review, there are additional moderating variables that affect the propensity of consumer to generate/ transmit eWOM such as the profile of the communicators (gender, occupation, income, characteristics, etc, ), the type of eWOM communication platforms (review sites or virtual communities) or the perceived ease of use when engaging in eWOM communication. There are several interesting questions concerning this issue need to be addressed in the future.
4.2.2 Implication for marketers/firms
Finding of this review is also useful for marketers in understanding consumer behaviours and attitudes associating with eWOM creating and sharing practices. The results of this study show that self-enhancement, consumer psychologies, altruism/concern for others, product/retailer performance and the need for social interaction are the most critical driving factors that motivate consumers to contribute and share their experiences with others in the context of online consumer-opinion platforms.
First, due to the importance of eWOM communication to a product or service, a discussion forum or social networking page should be initiated by the organisation. This type of channel allows managers to not only access eWOM communication but also to encourage social interaction among consumers in order to motivate the need for social interaction to initiate eWOM communication. These sites should allow consumers to interact with each other socially, ask questions, provide a recommendation about the purchasing and consumption experience on a product or service and write product reviews. To motivate more consumers to share their opinions, virtual platforms should design reputation- ranking mechanisms to rank consumers based on their number of contribution. Apart from that cue, publicly visible cues such as length of membership and membership status should be incorporated into the platform design. Besides that, firms can actively send an invitation email to offer discounts or promotion when consumers provide their qualified reviews on the Internet as consumers reported to feel more motivated and pressure by this type of email.
Moreover, to enhance consumers\' sense of belonging to a virtual community, platform moderators should suggest consumers to provide their own personal profile. Similar to social networking platforms such as Facebook, adding other users as friends and directly communicating with them may build a stronger sense of belonging to the group. Firms also can provide person-to-person messaging/ chat function to allow consumers to connect with review and show their gratitude for the recommend received.
Second, firms can retain and increase the engagement of consumers with their products by utilising eWOM effectively. Satisfied consumers can provide positive reviews about the products or services and ultimately expand the positivity. Firms can utilise eWOM platforms to post favourable sponsored reviews by experts or well-known individuals or anonymous positive reviews. However, there is a risk of such strategies backfire because consumers may question the credibility of these positive. Firms may manipulate online ratings to shift consumer beliefs in their favour. In the case of product failures or negative feedback from consumers, firms can proactively use online platforms to reach consumers and address their problems, relieve the tension and frustration of the consumers. Firms should carefully provide quick and to-the-point feedback about their complaint (Bronner and Hoog, 2009).
...(download the rest of the essay above)