The Firm's Management of Social Interactions
Consumer choice is influenced in a direct and meaningful way by the actions taken by others. These “actions” range from face-to-face recommendations from a friend to the passive observation of what a stranger is wearing. We refer to the set of such contexts as “social interactions” (SI). We believe that at least some of the SI effects are partially within the firm's control and that this represents an exciting research opportunity. We present an agenda that identifies a list of unanswered questions of potential interest to both researchers and managers. In order to appreciate the firm's choices with respect to its management of SI, it is important to first evaluate where we are in terms of understanding the phenomena themselves. We highlight five questions in this regard: (1) What are the antecedents of word of mouth (WOM)? (2) How does the transmission of positive WOM differ from that of negative WOM? (3) How does online WOM differ from offline WOM? (4) What is the impact of WOM? (5) How can we measure WOM? Finally, we identify and discuss four principal, non-mutually exclusive, roles that the firm might play: (1) observer, (2) moderator, (3) mediator, and (4) participant.