While we tend to discuss word of mouth in terms of traditional (i.e., face to face) vs. electronic, this paper by Thorsten Hennig-Thurau, Caroline Wiertz and Fabian Feldhaus indicates that this separation is two simplistic.
The paper looks at the impact of Twitter conversations on the performance of new movies. It finds that customers perceive product recommendations obtained via Twitter as closer to traditional word of mouth, than to electronic word of mouth, even though the conversations happen via technology. For instance, the sender of the Twitter message is perceived as someone known to the customer. Moreover, there is the possibility of interaction with the sender, which isn’t usually possible with online reviews (e.g., on Amazon).
The figure below, taken from the paper, captures these relationships. In the dashed boxes are the characteristics of traditional vs. electronic word of mouth, and in the middle box the characteristics of Twitter conversations (which the authors refer to as ‘microblogging word of mouth’).
This means that, instead of thinking of word of mouth as either traditional or electronic, we need to think of it in nuanced terms. Maybe as a scale, or in degrees.
It also means that Twitter conversations need to be managed differently from other online conversations. For instance, what gives credibility to content shared on Twitter will be different from content shared on Amazon. According to the paper, on Twitter, credibility comes from a personal connection, real or perceived; on Amazon, it is related to social proof and the length of the comment. Likewise, the value of using Twitter as a source of product information, comes from the immediacy of the comments; on Amazon, it comes from the volume (i.e., the cumulative number) of comments.
An interesting follow up project to this study, in my opinion, would investigate when consumers use one form of word of mouth vs. the other. Or how consumers might deal with conflicting information on Twitter vs. Amazon. Are there instances / types of purchases when you clearly favour one of word of mouth?