- • Monitor bloggers regularly to learn more about your mistakes and successes, but also make sure that they are honest bloggers. Watch out for hired/fake bloggers who are targeting your company and brand. File a complaint with the FTC in the USA or perhaps with other related local government agencies if you have evidence of misrepresentation by a blogger.
- • Carefully pick the consumers to whom you are willing to give more control in order to achieve message credibility in your content. Do not forget that they are your partners in today’s marketing world, and treat them as such. Collaborate with them respectfully to create the most influential website content applications possible.
Community: The Internet has become a powerful social medium. Many online communities play a direct or indirect role in individual and communal consumption on the Internet.28 Word of mouth generated in online societies (e-WOM) may have more impact on consumers than traditional advertisements.29 Thus, understanding the role of such communities and the impact of consumer-to-consumer interactions on consumption is crucial.
In general, companies first provide the content for an online community, then the community becomes better organized and develops its own identities, norms, and values over time. Online communities are places where consumers can freely speak with companies and each other on the same footing, enjoying greater equality of speech.30
E-WOM and Viral Marketing Online communities are places where e- WOM can spread alarmingly fast.31 Viral marketing is a process of developing techniques to create visible and influential WOM inside and outside the online community.
Not every attempt at viral marketing can achieve success, or even appear successful if it does. The level of consumer connectivity to other consumers (degree of connectedness) may play an active role. Some consumers are more connected with online communities (such as fans, loyal consumers) than some others (such as followers or daily readers). Fans are able, even delighted, to pass on information to large audiences. For example, in a recent interview Thomas Baekdal discusses the importance of fans in his calculations of social network exposure as follows:
... one active fan is worth 445 people. And you need to reach 14,000 people to get one active fan. Which also means that only 56 active fans can create just as much an exposure than a web site with 25,000 visitors (Sterne 2010: page 53).
This indicates that active fans leverage their connectivity to spread e- WOM, perhaps creating even better e-value than the original web content itself. On the other hand, even initiator consumers do not always have a high level of connectivity with others; the credibility of the consumer plays an important role in e-WOM success.
Another important feature is the credibility of the source that initiated the e-WOM. If the source is perceived as credible, the message can easily travel all around the digital world (see Fig. 8.1 and 8.2).
Fig. 8.2 Community and e-WOM
In Fig. 8.2, S stands for source or message initiator and the numbers following indicate the individuals that are linked to each other in a community. Not every message reaches the far corner of the network, such as the fourth person highlighted red in the upper right corner of Fig. 8.2. Some stop at the second person in the network; sometimes, if the nature of the message is not deemed suitable for the community’s goals it is not even passed on to another person. However, if a message receiver (e.g., number 1 in Fig. 8.2) feels the message is powerful and in the appropriate context, and passes it to others, the message can travel significant distances in the network. The power of the story used in e-WOM can increase the acceptance and hence dissemination of the message within the network. A powerful story might generate a high level of exposure to consumers, no matter who first initiated the e-WOM (whether consumer or company). If the story has a lot to say, and is embedded with the right pictures and videos, e-WOM can spread fairly quickly and can reach the whole market. It can therefore be more influential than the traditional promotion strategies discussed in earlier chapters. Using the right content with the right story-telling approaches can enhance the power of e-WOM and maximize its impact on consumers. For example, many ordinary people upload their videos onto YouTube, where they are accessed by millions of viewers in a short time, reaching higher levels of exposure than could have been achieved using traditional media.
There is no technical social filtering system on the Internet, but online communities are great social filtering systems, determining what is good or bad for consumers in the market.32 In general, information about products and brands collected by community members goes through a review process (called collaborative filtering) and the evaluated information is shared with other members as appropriate for the community’s purpose and mission. For example, a consumer can go to Netflix in the US market and learn about their friend’s favorite movies instead of going through millions of options. It is increasingly possible for a consumer to sort search results in terms of who they know, their friends, or in-groups33 in order to get more concise and better-filtered information for their own convenience.
Online communities are great places to learn more about your consumers. Many companies monitor such communities intensively (especially Twitter and Facebook) to learn more about their mistakes before possible negative e-WOM becomes disseminated to the whole market.34 This, in turn, helps companies reduce their consumer service costs in real time. Others also use these communities to develop new products and brand meanings with the help of co-producer consumers (this is known as crowd sourcing). Online communities can also provide great opportunities to outsource some marketing functions to consumers. Clearly online communities have pushed the company/consumer partnership to a very meaningful level. Either way, connecting to such communities helps companies to strengthen consumer loyalty, develop better content, and perhaps higher brand visibility, thus better findability in SEO results.