Tuesday, March 25, 2008

@OpenWOM -- Join Me In Experimenting with Twitter for WOM Research

I love to try new things to better understand how people talk, form relationships, organize, make sense of their lives, engage in WOM... pretty much all things related to communication. And part of what I get to do at Northeastern and for ChatThreads is experimenting with new ways of research (literally, searching or looking again in a new way).

Off and on since last October (more off than on, I have to admit) I've been experimenting with using Twitter as a way of keeping a publicly-available diary of my WOM communication practices. When I have a WOM communication episode (either I'm receiving a recommendation, giving one, or just talking about an interesting organization, brand, product, or service) I post ("tweet") to an account set up at Twitter: @OpenWOM

I called it "OpenWOM" to highlight that it would be an open resource to anyone who wants to use it as another means to find out what people are talking about especially for communication that would otherwise not have a public record (for example, if it's one-to-one or few-to-few communication like face-to-face, phone, IM, e-mail, etc., where there currently isn't a publicly available record).

Here's an example of what I've done with it so far (you only have 140 characters with Twitter so you have to be brief and I've developed some codes which I've explained below).

The following WOM episode took place with four colleagues after a recent trip I had through the Orlando airport. I was telling them about Clear, which is a new security system where you pay an annual fee, get a fingerprint and retina scan, and then can breeze through all the long security lines. We discussed the pros and cons of it, and it was mostly cons. Here's how I represented it to OpenWOM:

@openwom Clear ** 4 cow talked abt new security system I saw at ORD airport - fingerprint and retina scan to breeze thru security
Right now all my tweets to OpenWOM have had six components:

1) The OpenWOM twitter code ("@openwom"): this just needs to appear somewhere in the post so that it gets associated with the OpenWOM project.

2) OBPS ("Clear"): this is the organization, brand, product, or service that is being discussed

3) Valence or Polarity ("**"): this is a measure of valence, whether it was positive, negative, or mixed. It's a five-point scale with "*" meaning it was really negative, "***" mixed, and "*****" really positive

4) Number of people present ("4"): this is simply the number of people, including yourself, that were participating in the conversation

5) Relationship Type of Others Present ("cow"): this stands for coworkers, colleagues, or business associates. There are seven relationship-type codes so far: str (stranger), acq (acquaintance), fri (friend), bfr (best friend), rps (romantic partner or spouse or significant other), rel (relative/family member), and cow (co-worker, business colleague, boss, etc.).

6) Brief Summary of Conversation: i just try to give enough detail for people to get the gist, or for something that I want to remember about it and retrieve later.

At this point I'd like to open it up to others in the spirit of seeing what people do with it. You can check out new tweets by typing "track openwom" in your Twitter account.

I use it for research. Others may use it to show others what they're talking about or to learn what others are talking about. You can also use it as a memory device in case someone gives you a good recommendation.

So, if you are so inclined, send a tweet to @openwom and start sharing your conversations. (You need a Twitter account if you don't have one yet.) Discover new uses for it, propose new codes, offer suggestions for improving it, trash it (constructively, please), etc. You can leave feedback as comments to this post.

Reminder: if you want to track what other people are posting to OpenWOM then type "track openwom" in your Twitter window. Or you can use Tweetscan and enter "@openwom"



Monday, March 03, 2008

WOM as Empowered Involvement

There's an interesting line of research out of the European School of Management (Berlin) about WOM. Researchers Dr Frank Jacob and doctoral candidate Martin Oetting are working with the notion of "empowered involvement" as a way to explain managed word of mouth.

They start with the research on involvement and WOM, which dates back to at least the 1960s. Research has documented the important role of ongoing involvement in a category to explain opinion leadership and also elevated levels of WOM behavior. Other research has shown how involvement levels can be raised by providing opportunities for customers to be actively participating in the marketing process.

This research leads them to the notion of "empowered involvement." Can deliberately yielding control of the marketing process to consumers stimulate WOM by creating greater levels of involvement?

The idea of empowerment has historically been studied in human resources management. Thus, these researchers look at how empowerment works with employees as a way to see how it may apply to consumer behavior.

Specifically they cite work by Spreitzer, who defined psychological empowerment as intrinsic motivation. In order to achieve this sense of intrinsic motivation, Spreitzer's research suggests, workers need to feel meaning, competence, self-determination and impact.

This leads the research to define their theory of Empowered Involvement: "When companies allow consumers to experience meaning, self-determination, impact and a sense of personal competence through certain aspects of a marketing process, they can increase these consumers’ situational involvement" [situational involvement is a temporary state of involvement as distinct from enduring involvement, which other research suggests is integral to opinion leadership].

Through two stages of empirical research, the researchers find preliminary support for their model. The results suggest the importance of better understanding how to build relationships with consumers and also how to provide them with sufficient levels of decision-making powers so they feel the four components of empowered involvement: meaning, competence, self-determination and impact.

I'd like to see this research explore, qualitatively, how people come to feel meaning, competence, self-determination and impact in marketing contexts. How is it similar or different to empowerment in the employment context?

Also, how important are the notions of trust and authenticity (that is, it seems reasonable to think that a pre-condition for empowered involvement is that people trust that the company is being sincere and authentic in their desire to listen and involve the consumers)?

Finally, I would also encourage those interested to read the chapter "Loyalty Myths Regarding Employees" in the book Loyalty Myths. The parallels between the empowerment-loyalty relationship and the empowerment-WOM relationship might be instructive.

To learn more about this research on empowered involvement you can visit http://www.empoweredinvolvement.com/ At the site you can download the full working paper.