Social media decals for business: The ICT - Word of Mouth Synergy

Business strategies, tactics, and instruments for communicating with customers and other stakeholders have been transformed significantly w...

Business strategies, tactics, and instruments for communicating with customers and other stakeholders have been transformed significantly with the emergence of the phenomenon known as social media, a variety of new sources of online information, mainly based on customers’ content contribution, but to a certain extent also firm-driven. In this regard, Mangold and Fauld (2009) underline that social media may be consistent with the use of traditional Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) tools. They argue that social media could be a hybrid element of the promotion mix that combines some of the characteristics of traditional IMC tools with a highly magnified form of Word-of-Mouth (WOM) communications. In other words, social media, enabling customers to talk to one another, can be considered an extension of the traditional WOM communication.

Social media decals for business


The role of social media appears to be exalted in businesses where WOM has a greater impact: especially the services industry (high risk and intangible-dominant products). Since some decades ago, literature has already affirmed that WOM is a more important input to the decision process when purchasing services, rather than goods (Murray 1991).

The specific nature of services provided by hospitality and travel firms has been a fertile terrain for the rapid widespread and use of social media by travelers and consequently by tourism operators. However, although many tourism firms have started to develop social media actions, the industry has not yet fully exploited the potential of this emergent data and communication resource (Noone et al. 2011), especially toward the potential of customer engagement.

Social media research is an emerging research field that has received increased attention from tourism scholars of various disciplines in order to understand the consequences on tourists’ behavior, decision making and corporate communication. The book enriches this stream of research and represents a valuable contribution for a better understanding of social media implications for tourism and hospitality.

Traditional Marketing Communication Versus Word-of-Mouth Corporate marketing communication and especially advertising had been comprehensibly studied in social sciences for a long time. The traditional approach of communication had generally been seen as mono-directional, mainly considering the firm as the active subject and the consumer, or more in general audiences, the passive receivers. The advent of the Internet has brought about a revolution, highlighting the role of WOM. By means of Web 2.0 and Social media, individuals can make their thoughts, opinions, and personal feelings easily accessible to the global community of Internet users.

In practice, social media use and importance are grounded on the synergy between WOM and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Furthermore, some scholars argue that electronic WOM (eWOM) represents a form of communication that provides a mechanism to shift power from companies to consumers.

The analysis of publications databases (see Fig. 1) points out that academics’interest on the topic of WOM has been substantially modest till 2005. Instead, only in the last decade scientific contributions and referrals on the subject have dramatically increased.

My interest in WOM is dated more than 12 years ago. It was in 2002 that, on occasion of an Italian Conference dealing with Corporate Communication, I prepared a paper (titled The Quality of Firm’s Output as Factual Communication: The Role of WOM, published in the academic journal Sinergie, Mauri 2002) that aimed to point out and highlight the crucial role of WOM in driving customers’ behavior and in the formation of brand equity. I stressed the key role of the link product quality—customer satisfaction—WOM—brand equity/value. More generally, it can be also said that firms communicate with all their structures, actions, outputs, and network of relations (Baccarani and Golinelli 1992). These remarks, at that time, faced a mainstream, that was still focused on the central and active role of corporations and on their huge investments in advertising addressed to a (more or less) receptive audience. Even if the role of WOM was understood as an existing and significant phenomenon, it was often underestimated, both by academics and by practitioners, especially by advertisers and media professionals. A strong and consolidated alliance between firms’ managers and advertisers was devoted to support and foster communications budgets, prominently advertising expenses on traditional media. At that age, for instance, even the work of advertising agencies was almost completely remunerated in proportion to the budget (commission-based compensation) and not in relation to the activities conducted or to the effectiveness of the communicative actions implemented.

However, even today, it is still open the discussion of the relationship between traditional advertising and WOM (offline and online). Also, some intense discussions on social media deal with this subject (i.e., “Is Word-of-Mouth Better Than Advertising?” started by Prof. J. Berger).

According to some opinions, WOM (and particularly eWOM) may be a substitute for advertising. In fact, web users who employ online WOM as a source of information during purchase decision making do not identify advertising as playing a significant role. This result supports the approach that considers the increasing participation in WOM a cause of the effectiveness decrease of television advertisements (Awad et al. 2004). Companies can acquire customers “through costly but fast-acting marketing investments or through slower but cheaper WOM processes” (Villanueva et al. 2008). In particular, WOM referrals have been demonstrated to have a strong impact on new customer acquisition (Trusov et al. 2009).

Some others authors, instead, suggest that WOM and advertising have different effects on demand (Bruce et al. 2012) but, if combined, WOM often complements and extends the effects of advertising (Hogan et al. 2004).

In my opinion WOM will have an even more prominent role in the future, but to a certain extent will be moderated by corporate communication. Finally, I would like to remark that the production of WOM is widely thought to be an outcome of customer experiences with products, especially services. Among them, hospitality services are a field of intense generation of WOM. Consequently, social media, customer satisfaction, and guests’ opinions and reviews may have a crucial impact on purchasing decisions (Mauri and Minazzi 2013).

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