Does discourse power belong to consumers?

Nowadays, for corporations and organizations, the network social media means a huge commercial landscape. For consumers, social media enables “users to produce and share on-line content, radically changing the traditional communication paradigms and turning the former mass information consumers to the present information producers” [1].

In terms of online marketing, consumers’ role has changed in that they now “are able to interact with brands, corporations and other consumers” [2]. And this “has altered the marketing environment in which corporations, marketers and advertisers operate. [2]” For corporations, the online environment for marketing is not as easy as before.

According to a global online survey among 300 consumers of digital technology products, “the most reliable information sources were friends, family or word of mouth from someone they knew, followed by expert product reviews, and product reviews written by other consumers; the most unreliable information sources were advertising or infomercials, automated recommendations based on purchasing patterns or retailers.” [2] In other words, consumers can hardly trust advertisements, while they trust friends’ recommendations. Additionally, social media plays an important role during the process of opinion sharing among consumers. The survey also shows that Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and E-bay are the most popular social media websites for reviews. “The highest number of respondents indicated Facebook as the website where, upon purchase, they have posted the product review, opinion or comment.” [2] From the above, it seems that online discourse power belongs to consumers, and SNNs are indispensable online platform for consumers to share reviews.

However, does this mean that corporations and organizations lose control of their reputation online?

During the process of spreading information, the role of opinion leaders, like stars, celebrities and experts, is relatively important. Corporations and organizations can make use of it. “The identification of influential users in on-line social network can support corporations in designing and targeting marketing campaigns, as influential gate-keepers and diffusers of information can ignite epidemics of word of mouth.” [1] Because “when people perform an action, they may be influenced by what they have heard of it outside of the online social network or they may be genuinely influenced by seeing their social contacts performing that action.” [1] Hence, corporations can buy the influential people over in order to influence the information spread online.

Moreover, corporations and organizations can also make use of viral marketing to shift public opinion. “The Viral Marketing concept is based on promoting products and services through the exploitation of internet word-of-mouth, in order to achieve widespread promotional message among users.” [1] However, why can messages  spread at such an astounding speed? What are the motivations behind the behaviors of people who forward viral messages? First, “user may have practical and emotional benefits when participating in online discussions and content sharing processes.” [1] Moreover, the “content played a key part in participants’ explanation of why they would not forward” the content [3]. If a person finds the content is interesting or his or her friends are interested in it, the person will forward the message. Also, if a person is familiar with the content, which can arouse some inner feelings, he or she will forward the message too. Hence, in order to shift public opinion, corporations and organizations can create messages with interesting content.

Additionally, some companies sell “Twitter followers”, “Facebook friends”, in order to help corporations to control public opinion. These “Twitter followers” and “Facebook friends” spread what the corporations want. Their discourse may affect consumers’ idea.

Conclusively, although consumers play important role online, their behaviors can still be deeply influenced by corporations and organizations.

Reference:

1,  Antonio P. Volpentesta and Alberto M. Felicetti. “Identifying Opinion Leaders in Time-Dependent Commercial Social Networks.” Department of Electronics, Computer Science and Systems, University of Calabria, via P. Bucci, 42\C, 87036 Rende (CS), Italy.

2,  Barbara Gligorijevic and Edwina Luck, “Contemporary Research on E-business Technology and Strategy” in Australia: Queensland University of Technology, ed. Vasil Khachidze, Tim Wang, Sohail Siddiqui Vincent Liu, Sergio Cappuccio Alicia Lim, 25.

3, Elsamari Botha and Mignon Reyneke. “To share or not to share: the role of content and emotion in viral marketing.” Journal of Public Affairs Volume 13 Number 2 pp 160–171 (2013).

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