Electronic consumer communication, word of mouth and brand image : insights from computer-aided content analysis

Abstract: Social media has changed how organizations and their brands interact with their customers and how business gets done. Not only can organizations reach their customers online and interact with them but they can even become part of their customers’ conversations. As a result, brands are now attempting to utilize social media to reach existing customers, capture new ones, and build or maintain their credibility and reputation. Although the incidence of social media is magnifying the marketplace through its impact on consumer-to-consumer conversations, methods for shaping such conversations have yet to be articulated.The biggest challenge lies in the fact that the growth of social media has reduced organizations’ control over their brand image and reputation. Consumer communications have the potential to considerably impact word-of-mouth branding, which can in turn affect brand image, which is the key element of a company’s success and its customer relationships. With the advent of social media, brand management has become not only more difficult but also increasingly critical to the credibility and reputation of firms. Moreover, consumer-generated content and its rapid diffusion take control over advertising-intended messages away from brand managers.The aim of this thesis is to contribute to the understanding of how managers can analyze electronic word of mouth and consumer conversations in order to manage brand image in social media with the use of computer-aided content analysis tools and techniques. Clearly, it is important for those who manage brands to have a good idea of what is being said about the brands in social media. Regarding the investigation of the impact, this thesis will review five studies. The first article briefly describes a study of the relative positioning of several South African university brands based on brand visibility information from How Sociable. The second study examines the relative positioning of some large financial service brands and their brand reputation according to their assessment in Social Mention. The third article addresses the relative positioning of Sauternes brands and their brand image. In the fourth, consumer conversations posted on YouTube regarding viral advertisements have been studied in order to identify the most appealing elements and to clarify ways in which managers can decide their strategies by using these elements. The final article is a case study that illustrates how consumer conversations and content generation can pose some challenges to the brand image.Textual analysis is an effective method for studying consumer communication in regard to online word of mouth. Content analysis, and more specifically computer-aided content analysis, was used to capture and evaluate these conversations. Brand managers need a better tool to gauge the changes of mood in social media conversations based on social conversation measurements. This thesis describes and suggests powerful analytical tools and techniques, which can be added to the brand managers’ arsenal. It is important to find the best way to portray and communicate this data so that marketing decision makers can quickly and easily compare changes in brand images. This thesis concludes by discussing insights gained from these five papers, acknowledging the limitations, describing managerial implications, and suggesting avenues for further research.

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