Web Marketing: Brand Evaluation in Online Communities Mark C. Wieman COM 538 Professor Gill December 6, 2004
Introduction - Background • Question for audience: How many of you have discussed products in online discussion boards? • Fact: In the last decade, there has been an explosion of product discussions in online forums • Recent study proved: Consumers who gather information from online discussions report greater interest in the products being discussed than do those who acquire information from marketing pages on corporate web sites.
Introduction - Purpose • How are marketers affected by the growing popularity of product-oriented online communities? • How do consumers evaluate brands discussed in online communities? • How might marketer participation in online discussions affect consumer brand evaluation?
Introduction - Overview • This presentation covers three main topics: • Technologies that enable online communities • Social aspects of online communities • Marketing implications of online communities
Technologies • This study covers three main technologies that have enabled online communities: • Electronic Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) • Usenet Newsgroups • Web-based discussion boards
Technologies - BBSs • Electronic bulletin board systems (BBSs) appeared in the 1980s and allowed general computer users to communicate informally in online group environments Departmental bulletin board, circa 1990 Image courtesy of George McMurdo, Queen Margaret University College, UK
Technologies - BBSs • BBS technology was: • Accessed directly via modem and phone line • Comprised of discussion forums, electronic mail, and file downloads • Crude due to text-based interface and slow speed • Winston would consider the BBS an “accepted prototype,” since it made good use of available technology but never enjoyed wide diffusion due to a lag in supervening social necessity
Technologies - Usenet • Usenet Newsgroups became popular in the 1990s and allowed thousands of threaded online discussions via the Internet Netscape news reader, circa 1995 Image courtesy of ITC Department, University of Virginia
Technologies - Usenet • Usenet newsgroups are: • Accessed via the Internet • Viewed with reader software that is typically bundled with a web browser • Easy to use due to graphical user interface (GUI) • Usenet newsgroups are declining in use due to: • Need for special client software • Relatively difficult setup of new groups • Lack of customized look and feel
Technologies - Web Boards • Web-based discussion boards were introduced in the 1990s, shortly after the WWW itself was available MSN Groups, France travel topic, Destination Paris group, circa 2004 Image from http://groups.msn.com
Technologies - Web Boards • Web-based discussion boards, or web boards, are: • Accessed via the World Wide Web • Viewed using web browser software • Web boards are increasing in use today due to: • Ubiquity of web browser software • Relative ease in setup of new boards • Highly customizable look-and-feel • Marketers are especially keen on web boards because the content and appearance are easy to control
Social Aspects • No matter the technology used, online communities have to be managed by people • Two types of people involved in online communities are: • Moderators - keep discussion productive and relevant by reviewing messages before they are posted • Participants - expected to follow set of informal rules known as “Netiquitte”
Social Aspects • Participants fall into one of four categories: • “Tourists” are mostly casual observers • “Minglers” participate only for the social aspect of the group interaction • “Devotees” participate only for reasons directly related to the product • “Insiders” are the ultimate group members, as they have strong ties to both the group and the product • Marketers are interested in 1 and 2 as potential customers, 3 and 4 as current ones
Marketing Implications • Marketers have been faced with three decisions regarding online communities: • Study them? • Sponsor them? • Participate in them?
Marketing Implications - Study? • As early 1990s, articles began appearing in marketing journals about studying online communities • In 2002, the term “netnography” was coined to describe the practice of applying ethnography to the Internet • Most studies were content analyses of web boards • Advantages over traditional market research: • Cheaper • Faster • Less intrusive on study subjects
Mktg. Implications - Sponsor? • In mid 1990’s, Marketers began adding web boards to their corporate sites as: • Sources of research information • Branding opportunities • Beer companies Anheuser-Busch and Molson added web boards to their sites but ultimately removed them after finding that: • Moderating posts took considerable time • Inappropriate posts could bring legal problems
Mktg. Implications - Sponsor? • Should companies sponsor web boards on their own web sites? • Recent study proved: The answer depends on how highly thought-of the brand is in the first place: • Negative messages hurt low-image brands • Positive messages helped high-image brands • This suggests that high-image brands like Budweiser can benefit from web boards even though negative posts are present
Mktg. Implications - Participate? • In late 1990s, company participation on web boards was seen as risky • By 2002, several books suggested participation was essential for companies who wanted to stay in business: The Cluetrain Manifesto, by Rick Levine, et al. Image courtesy of Barnes & Noble Small Pieces Loosely Joined, by David Weinberger Image courtesy of Barnes & Noble Gonzo Marketing, by Christopher Locke Image courtesy of Barnes & Noble
Mktg. Implications - Participate? • In 1999, Shell Oil bravely added and began participating in open discussion boards on its corporate web site “Tell Shell” discussion forums, Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies, circa 2004 Image from http://www.shell.com/tellshell/
Mktg. Implications - Participate? • The “Tell Shell” web board attracts public criticism and praise of company performance • It has been successful for Shell because: • Shell moderates the posts but rejects very few • All Shell employees are encouraged to participate • Employee posts are highly personal and genuine • By being open and participating, Shell has: • Increased credibility for their brand • Shown they care about their customers
Conclusion • Online community technologies included BBSs and Usenet newsgroups and web boards • Social aspects of web boards include moderators, “netiquitte” and classifications of participant involvement • Marketers readily study and sponsor web boards, but few participate in them • Company participation can positively affect brand evaluation • Company participation represents an interesting next phase in the use of online community technology