Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

The Choice of Content by Information Providers in Word of Mouth Communications

Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

The Choice of Content by Information Providers in Word of Mouth Communications

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Word-of-Mouth communication is an invaluable source of information for consumers. A comprehensive understanding of the flow of market information through interpersonal networks is therefore of unique theoretical and practical importance. Present Word-of-Mouth research is receiver centric, largely ignoring the role of the information provider as a gatekeeper to information dissemination. The objective of this research is to develop a more comprehensive understanding of Word-of-Mouth by modelling the decision making behaviour of information providers. Adopting the network theory general assumption of altruistic exchange motivation, this research uses a choice modelling framework to demonstrate that information providers assign greater utility to (1) information about product features important to the receiver, and (2) information which disconfirms receiver preferences. In addition, these effects are found to be moderated by perceptions about the receiver's knowledge. Existing research has not previously considered information providers' perceptions of receivers as a potential moderator of WOM flow, with the results here suggesting this should be an area of future investigation.

Keywords: Word-of-Mouth; WOM; Information; Provider; Communication; Motivation

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

INTRODUCTION

Word-of-Mouth (WOM) communication is a central input to consumer decision making (Bansal & Voyer, 2000; Whyte, 1954). Understanding interpersonal exchanges is therefore important for both marketing theory and practice. The vast majority of WOM research has focused on three substantive areas: (1) how information flows through interpersonal networks (Burt, 1980; Granovetter, 1982); (2) the sources and types of information that decision makers seek (Brown & Reingen, 1987; Gilly, Graham, Wolfmbarger, & Yale, 1998; Price & Feick, 1984; Sweeney , Soutar & Mazzarol, 2008); and (3) how this information is used for purchase decisions (Bansal & Voyer, 2000; Still, Barnes Jr., & Kooyman, 1984; Nam, Manchanda, & Chintagunta, 2010). This research largely focuses on the receiver and their need for information. It demonstrates that receivers engage in WOM as an uncertainty reduction strategy during decision making. The literature often explains this phenomenon as a function of the perceived credibility or usefulness of the information source (Grewal, Gotlieb, & Marmorstein, 1994; Jacoby et al, 1994).

Despite consumer preferences for credible information, particularly in WOM communication, individuals are poor knowledge seekers (Graesser, Swamer, Baggett, & Sell, 1996). Generally consumers focus on common rather than unique knowledge, failing to identify what information is missing or needed (Stasser & Titus, 1985). Often their judgements are based on what has been provided whilst ignoring what has been excluded (Islam, Louviere, & Burke, 2007; Kardes, Posavac, & Cronley, 2004). Indeed, this can lead to a 'provision bias', even to the extent that non-diagnostic or irrelevant information can influence product choices (Meyvis & Janiszewski, 2002; Zukier, 1982). Such findings highlight the importance of the search for and use of WOM on the part of receivers, and the inadequacy ofthat search behaviour. Based on this, it can be argued that practitioners and researchers should balance their focus on receivers with attention to information providers and their choices regarding what information they provide. Supporting this argument is the recognition that information providers are higher order gatekeepers of information (Frenzen & Nakamoto, 1993). Providers have the ability to override the preferences of information seekers by providing alternative information to that requested.

The role of information providers in WOM exchanges remains relatively unexplored in WOM literature (Godes & Mayzlin, 2009). Information providers are motivated to engage in WOM communication for many reasons, including such things as reducing personal anxiety and the desire to help others (Dichter, 1966; Hennig-Thurau, Gwinner, Walsh, & Gremler, 2004; Laughlin & MacDonald, 2010; Sundaram, Mitra, & Webster, 2007). …

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