Online communities and social media

With the fast development of online communities and social media, consumers nowadays actively seek and share their consumption experiences in various forms of online communities.

In contrast to offline word of mouth, where opinions may “disappear into thin air,” electronic word of mouth provides a persistent public record easily accessible for all potential users. For example, when you visit a new city and are not sure which restaurant to choose, you will probably check the Yelp app on your phone to compare the reviews.

As a manager, how do you reach your consumers by using social media?

First of all, you need to find the correct platform to reach your target audience. Facebook is no doubt the dominant player in social networks in terms of total users. If you are a small business owner and do not have a social media account for your business, go ahead and create a business page on Facebook. But if your target market is young adults, don’t forget Snapchat and Instagram. A recent survey study by Pew Research shows 68 percent of U.S. adults use Facebook, which makes it the No. 1 social network. Though Snapchat’s percentage is only 27 percent, the number increases to 78 percent for the age group of 18 to 24. More statistics are available at social-media-use-in-2018.

Second, while setting up a business page on Facebook or Twitter is only a few clicks away, remember to update it regularly with company news, event pictures, special promotions, etc., at least once a week.

Third, carefully choose your opinion leaders. Marketing strategies such as seeding campaigns – when companies give products to influential consumers and expect those opinion leaders will talk favorably to other consumers – and “buzz marketing” – when companies encourage consumers to discuss their products or services – are common practices. For example, Amazon has a Vine program where active reviewers receive free products in exchange for their opinions.

In one of my recent studies coauthored with Joseph Ben-Ur at the University of Houston-Victoria and Shirley Mai at East Carolina University, we found that reviewers were objective in a well-established online community. In addition, potential users do pay more attention to reviewers who have established their expertise. Thus, even if you give out freebies, some recipients may not always say positive things about your products and services because they want to preserve their expert image in the online community. Those honest ‘experts’ actually may be the opinion leaders potential adopters try to follow.

Fourth, pay attention to the negative reviews and/or comments on your social media and respond to them quickly. Consumers voluntarily share their opinions with others because of various motives, such as altruism, anxiety reduction, self-enhancement, etc. Please keep in mind that not all satisfied customers will actively spread positive word of mouth for your business or become your loyal customers. On the other hand, unhappy customers usually have strong intentions to leave negative reviews. If your company can respond quickly with a reasonable solution, your social network followers will appreciate it.