Identifying Market Mavens Online by Their Social Behaviors in Community-Generated Media

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The role of interpersonal communications has long been understood to play an important role in explaining the unfolding of various social phenomena. In commerce, such interpersonal communications, which are typically referred to as word of mouth (WOM), have traditionally involved face-to-face exchanges of product- or brand-related information between members of personal social networks. As research has shown, WOM is especially important because messages exchanged through this format are more influential in terms of shaping consumer choice than firm-controlled messages such as advertising (Godes et al., 2005; Walsh, Gwinner, & Swanson, 2004; Buttle, 1998)

Research into the spread of conventional WOM communications has revealed that not all members of personal social networks are equally important in terms of facilitating the spread of information by WOM (Clark & Goldsmith, 2005). Consumer behavior researchers have identified several different types of consumers who are more likely to disseminate product or marketplace information to other consumers, and who also tend to exert influence over other consumers. The subject of this paper concerns one of these special consumers, the market maven. Though early purchasers and opinion leaders certainly warrant the attention of marketing managers, the ideal target for communicating marketing mix changes that span multiple product categories and involve something more than new product introduction should have knowledge about a wide array of goods and services and the process of acquiring them (Feick & Price, 1987).

Market mavens are recognized by other consumers for a generalized marketplace expertise across a wide range of product classes in contrast to opinion leaders that tend to focus on a narrow range of product classes (Feick & Price, 1987). Market mavens are motivated learn about products and brands across a wide variety of product classes and spread this knowledge to other consumers, thus making them especially important players in spreading marketplace information through WOM (Gladwell, 2000).

Although conventional WOM communication is known to influence consumer behavior, its influence is typically limited personal social networks where consumers interact face-to-face. The rise of internet technologies removes this limitation by allowing interested individuals to form and exchange information in virtual communities. These communities enable consumers to extend their reach beyond personal social networks into vast virtual social networks that span the globe. This empowers consumers as never before and greatly increases the importance of WOM communication in consumer choice (Hart & Blackshaw, 2005). Because of this, marketing practitioners are exploring ways to stimulate and manipulate electronic WOM (eWOM) (Dellarocas, 2006) and marketing researchers are beginning to explore consumer behaviors and the flow of eWOM in virtual communities (Sun et al, 2006; Godes & Mayzlin, 2004).

Despite the recent interest in eWOM, there remains a dearth of research regarding efficient and effective electronic identification and differentiation of market mavens online. This study draws on prior research into the characteristics and motivations of the market maven to propose online behaviors that will help marketers distinguishing market mavens from other virtual community members, such as opinion leaders. The managerial implications of being able to identify and differentiate market mavens from others are discussed along with ideas for future research.

eWOM AND COMMUNITY-GENERATED MEDIA

Interpersonal communications are important for influencing marketplace choices and diffusing information on new products (Arndt, 1967). Traditionally, such WOM communications have involved face-to-face exchanges of product or brand information. eWOM on the other hand, does not involve face-to-face exchanges, but rather takes place through a wide variety of Internet media including discussion forums (e. …