When Windows Replace Walls: Investigating Virtual Word of Mouth Exchanges and Constructing Multilogue Profiles

Peter J. Newman, Jr., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
[ to cite ]:
Peter J. Newman, Jr. (1999) ,"When Windows Replace Walls: Investigating Virtual Word of Mouth Exchanges and Constructing Multilogue Profiles", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 653-654.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 653-654


Peter J. Newman, Jr., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Internet serves as a virtual retail environment where consumer opinions are expressed, read, rejected, subverted, re-written, and appropriated by others. This regularly occurs during multilogue exchanges among consumers that take place in newsgroup discussions on the Internet. A multilogue is an asynchronous computer-mediated, text-based dialogue that takes place across time and contains the communication from many people to many people(Shank, 1993). The author has used newsgroup multilogues as the basis for developing new virtual word-of-mouth (WOM) research methods. These methods include Multilogue Research ReportsSM and Multilogue ProfilesSM.

Word-of-mouth (WOM) behavior is especially important in the adoption of new products and services by consumers (Arndt, 1967);(Sheth, 1971);(Whyte, 1954) and it has been demonstrated to play a large role in the recruitment of the service provider’s customers (Brown & Reingen, 1987);(Reingen & Kernan, 1986). The primary weakness of past WOM research has been its failure to capture the context-rich verbal exchange that takes place among consumers. Past studies have been methodologically limited to social network analyses, experimental situations, post hoc survey analyses, or interviewing new users of a product or service. None of these research methods capture the actual verbal exchange that takes place among consumers. Past social network analysis was limited to tracing the referral networks that merely identify the linkages of current customers back to the service provider (Brown & Reingen, 1987); (Reingen & Kernan, 1986). Other WOM research has either interviewed the current users of a service (Engel et al., 1969), or the adopters of a new product (Arndt, 1967); (Sheth, 1971), while relying on the consumer’s questionable memory to report on how he or she influenced others.

The author’s new virtual WOM research methods capture the context-rich, in situ, verbal exchange tht takes place among consumers and they have several advantages over prior WOM research methods. These new methods don’t rely on memory of the consumer for reporting of interaction; they capture verbatim transcripts of WOM exchanges; the WOM exchanges are context rich, reflect the social nature of communication, and are captured in situ; the methods allow the researcher to cast a broader net than past WOM referral research; the methods allow for aspatial collection of WOM exchanges; there is no demand bias; and the captured exchanges do not have to be transcribed.

Using intelligent agent software researchers can identify and record the words and reported actions of the consumer unobtrusively and without demand bias. This recording of word of mouth exchanges allows for construction of both Multilogue Research Reports and Multilogue Profiles of consumers (see diagrams below). The Multilogue Research Report allows marketers to investigate competition, learn consumer-developed product usages, follow new product adoption, and receive untainted consumer feedback on products and services. The composite sketch or Multilogue Profile of the consumer provides an in-depth look at the demographic and psychographic make up of consumers without demand bias normally present in marketing research data collection. This profile may shed new light on beliefs about consumer behavior and help to identify overlooked target markets. These methods, besides being useful for marketers, should also be of interest to consumer behavior researchers wishing to plumb various topics including brand community development and maintenance, gender issues, identity construction, presentation of the self, as well as individual level social-psychological processes.

The primary methodological considerations of these new research methods include the necessity for a critical mass of relevant newsgroup messages regarding a product to obtain meaningful reports and profiles as well as experimentation with the optimum balance of human input versus computer filtering for collection of the in situ text.

Author’s note: Multilogue Research Report and Multilogue Profile are servicemarks of newsquery.com.




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