Reports

Automated Electronic Word of Mouth Suggestions from the Firm: Untapped Potential or Inevitable Backlash?

Jonathan M. Beck, Clay M. Voorhees, Paul W. Fombelle, and Katherine N. Lemon, 2020, 20-107

Faced with lackluster returns on traditional social media strategies, leading firms are using new strategies to proactively nudge consumers to spread eWOM through automated digital campaigns. Amazon, for example, encourages customers to share new purchases via Facebook, Twitter, email, or Pinterest with a pre-generated comment: “I just bought [product name] via @amazon.”

Jonathan Beck, Clay Voorhees, Paul Fombelle, and Katherine Lemon offer a comprehensive assessment of this emerging phenomenon. Their investigation answers the questions, How effective is this marketing strategy – and is there any backlash?

Across six lab and field studies, they demonstrate that consumers perceive less effort to post a pre-generated comment, which increases sharing frequency over generic requests to support a brand online. The relative lift over a general request for support ranges from 200% – 300% across studies and was replicated in three field studies.

Further, they find that consumers are willing to share posts with a more positive valence. In addition to sharing them more online, when these posts are infused with excitement they can spill over and cause consumers to spend more offline.

Finally, there is no discernable downside to this strategy. Dissatisfied consumers who are offered a pre-generated positive comment were less likely to post online and even if they chose to do so, the valence was not more negative than it would be in an organic eWOM state.

Put into Practice

Managers can safely nudge their consumers to share positive eWOM by lowering effort without fear of backlash. The authors offer the following recommendations:

Get out of Neutral! The current industry practice of suggesting relatively neutral comments is suboptimal. Firms are best served by pushing positively valenced content to increase sharing frequency.

Prime Consumers for Offline Benefits. Automated campaigns provide a tool to prime other desirable behaviors in consumers. By offering pre-generated comments in conjunction with a call to action, managers may be able to increase referrals or repurchases.

No Downsides. In the event of a mismatch where a dissatisfied consumer is offered a positive suggestion, there is no discernable backlash. In fact, offering pre-generated comments to dissatisfied customers actually curtails negative eWOM volume and valence.

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