Brands that spend time and money on word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) by encouraging consumers to post about their products may be shooting themselves in the foot.
According to a new study from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, posting about products on social media can actually make people less likely to buy them.
‘It is common for marketers to devote resources to encouraging consumers to engage on social media, believing that the more likes, shares, and posts about products they generate, the greater their sales and customer retention,’ said Andrew Stephen, L’Oréal Professor of Marketing at Oxford Saïd. ‘Our findings suggest, however, that such a blanket approach is not just ineffective, it can backfire. Marketers should adopt a more careful and targeted approach, based on understanding why people post about products on social media in the first place.’
In the research study, part of the Oxford Future of Marketing Initiative and published in the Journal of Marketing Research, Professor Stephen and his co-authors, Lauren Grewal and Nicole Coleman, describe five experiments that demonstrate how people frequently use both purchases and social media posts to communicate something about themselves – that is, ‘signal’ their identities. Associating themselves with a brand is one of the most common ways of doing this, which is why marketers pursue WOMM strategies. But a key finding of the research study is that if someone posts about a product on social media they often don’t feel they need to buy it too – they have already signalled their identity enough. In other words, successfully persuading people to publicise products through word of mouth can lead a brand to lose potential sales.