Communities and Web 2.0

The Rising Role of Social Media Communities in Successful Word of Mouth Advertising

Although companies are still investing in traditional advertising both on and offline, social media referrals and influencers are increasingly important for brand success. Consequently, creating strong social media communities around brand reputation and loyalty is essential for corporate success.


This paper discusses how due an obvious increase in social media users in modern society, the use and effectiveness of traditional advertisements is seeing a decline, only to be replaced by online marketing and word of mouth advertising. With advertising methods such as direct mail costing around $57, compared with social media from $2.50 (Lyfe Marketing, 2020), or effectively free if communities and marketing techniques are used to their advantage, it makes sense to see a shift toward social media advertising. 

Word of mouth advertising involves, in its most simplistic form, the spreading of information from one person to another via spoken word, or in terms of the modern society, via social networking sites such as Instagram or Facebook, or reviewing platforms. Word of mouth advertising via social media platforms is becoming more and more prominent, especially considering that there is estimated to be “3.02 billion monthly active users on social media by 2021…” (Gordon, 2017, The Statistics Portal), as well as people spending on average 2 hours per day viewing TV, compared with 2.20 hours on social media (Global Web Index). 

People trust the opinions of friends, family and familiar faces on social media, such as influencers and celebrities and are less inclined to engage with the thousands of commercial advertisements they are presented with each day if they have the opportunity to deflect them. As a result of these changes in consumerism and advertising it is becoming increasingly more beneficial for brands and companies to create and build up a strong and reputable online presence and a loyal sense of community for themselves.

Social Media Communities

The creation of communities on social media is a beneficial aspect of increasing brand awareness and creating consumer trust, as well as brand reputation. 

A “community” in the traditional sense of the word is a “spatially compact set of people with a high frequency of interaction, interconnections and a sense of solidarity” (Wellman and Leighton, 1979). Looking back to 1950, a community would have been seen as a group of people in one location, all spending most of their time together, with the same set of beliefs, views and activities. Community members would have a critical eye kept on them and their movements and non-conformity would often result in punishment or possibly exclusion from the “group”. Whilst this is all fair in having a sense of belonging and stability where everyone keeps up to date and supports one another, a drawback from these communities is the confinements of them. For instance, a term labeled “echo chambers” (Sunstein 2019) refers to a tight-knit group sharing the same beliefs and becoming a closed social system. There is a lack of individuality, acceptance and new ideas or knowledge of much outside of their community. 

Nowadays, whilst much of the older generation seem to believe we have lost our sense of community, what they fail to see, is that due to the changes and movement of the internet and rise of social media, we have not lost these communities; we are reshaping the way they are seen and utilised. With regard to brands and their need for online communities, this form of online community is the new way for brands’ and companies’ success rates to increase and form a loyal customer and/or fan base due to the constant rise of social media. 

An online or virtual community is defined as an “aggregation of individuals who interact around a shared interest” (Porter, 2004). The four elements required for an online community according to Mcmillan and Chavis 1986, are that of “membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection.” These may appear differently depending on what the community is for e.g. a music artist on social media platforms or a clothing company etc. A musician, for instance, communicates with followers (community members) via social media platforms and in this sense a membership is gained by following the artist. In terms of a public figure or artist, their community may often be known as a “fandom”. In this case, fandoms build communities via a network of sites. This also applies to companies and brands that have a fan base. These community members may participate in ways such as leaving comments, reposts, links to their own sites or posts and other communication methods. This community may in turn grow via certain fans of the artist (or a brand), forming fan accounts where discussions amongst the community are created, hence spreading more information and gaining exposure for the brand or artist.

The largely widespread access to social media around the world clearly provides companies or artists etc. with an enormous potential for advertising themselves, products or services to a huge audience with the help of the communities they form.

Deflection of Traditional Advertising

As social media popularity continues to rise, traditional forms of advertising are becoming less effective. With such an over saturation of advertising in the form of TV adverts, product placement, mobile adverts and so forth, it is unsurprising that  “90% of consumers that can skip television ads do so” (Anderson, 2010), especially considering that “consumers in the US are exposed to over 3000 ad messages per day” (Anderson, 2010). As a result, marketers are desperately seeking alternatives for successful advertising, and what better place than social media, where, as mentioned previously, almost a third of the population are expected to be active as of 2021. With a report from AdBlock Plus and Global Web Index claiming that out of 1000 US Internet users, 40% use ad blockers, as well as people spending an average of 2.20 hours on social media vs. only 2 hours viewing TV, it only makes sense that companies are making make the shift to social media for advertising. 

Social media communities assist in this aspect, since the companies may already have their communities there and those already following will easily be alerted to updates or adverts straight to their news feed. They may also access other companies or adverts via clicking the tagged accounts in posts.

In recent years we have seen a decline in the success rates of traditional advertisements; according to web usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, “users almost never look at anything that looks like an ad”. The issue was that of marketers increasing their spending on advertising which failed to capture the attention of consumers, subsequently resulting in the content suffering.  This brings us to the theory of the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”, which came about from a paper exploring the “Nash Equilibrium” in 1949 by Merril Flood and Marvin Drescher. The equilibrium suggests that there will always be a place of balance in any scenario with two parties involved, where neither party can progress any further without the other making a move. The Prisoner’s Dilemma relates to this consumer/marketer situation where the consumer wishes to simply enjoy content and find good products without being explicitly advertised to, whilst the advertiser wants to advertise for lower costs. Here is where social media and communities play their part, providing a convenient, accessible, cheap platform on which to advertise through means such as social media influencers, ratings, reviews and message boards. The consumer can still enjoy content without feeling as though they are advertised to. Consumers within these communities will not feel specifically bombarded by advertisements since they will already be loyal fans to the company. Meanwhile, companies are able to spend less on advertising, due to already having a community in place, which has the potential to continue to grow the community through sharing and word of mouth advertising.

Corporate Reputation

A huge part of the success of a company relies on its corporate reputation in order to convince customers to purchase. Considering the growth rate of the digital world and how so much is shifting online, it is becoming increasingly important for brands and companies to secure their online presence. It is also apparent today that the “popular culture industry relies on online communities to publicise and provide testimonials for their products” (Baym, 2007) due to the shifting ground of trust we have with online peers and personalities and time spent on these networks. With “people’s attention span getting shorter” and “in order to get the customers’ attention, companies need to find new ways to stand out” (Ertemel and Ammoura, 2016, pg. 4). It is seemingly obvious that the new way of successful advertising is through social media platforms, on which much of the world’s population is active daily. They also provide an easy access to target consumers as they are scrolling through their feeds. 

One of the most vital aspects of success in selling and attracting new customers is engagement. What better place to find and engage with potential new customers than on social media, where these consumers spend much of their day. This is seen regularly on social media through methods such as collaborations, mentions, comments, likes and follows. This is where the notion of an online community comes in to play for brands. Of course in order for a brand to build itself a sense of community online, it needs to ensure potential community members will trust it, see it as reputable, remain loyal, and recommend its service/products to others through word of mouth, both on and offline, in turn growing its community and increasing the company success rates. 

Quality content is also an important player in a strong online presence. It is a main driving factor to encourage users to follow and trust a brand via what they see, for instance, ensuring any imagery is high quality, worthwhile, and shared with intent. “Without proper, meaningful and valuable content you will lose your followers and your brand might suffer and get a bad reputation.” (Ertemel and Ammoura, 2016, pg. 4) A presence on social media gives consumers an indication that this company or person is real and trustworthy and that they have genuine communication with their customers.

Consumer Trust

It goes without saying, that in order for business success, consumer trust of the company is vital. Leading on from the importance of having a strong online presence and reputation as a brand or company, this is achieved through having a trustworthy online presence and high engagement levels with potential customers and fans. Having a trusting, loyal community is vital to the survival of any company and therefore any online content or communication between a company and its customers must be shared in a way that encourages the customer to stay loyal, and hopefully share with others. This is the starting point of forming a community; if the company content and communication is consistently authentic and trustworthy, customers or fans will often play their role in sharing with others via word of mouth advertising, helping to grow the community and loyal fan base.

People tend to trust more in their friends, family and others they might know or look up to as a familiar, friendly face on social media platforms. This is due, in part, to the bias that brands and companies of course hold toward themselves through their advertising. The opinions of friends and family, for instance, typically tend to be true thoughts and opinions of a brand or product they have experienced, therefore we are more likely to place our trust with them. This idea is evident when we consider the notion of booking accommodation for a holiday. For example, if we were trying to book a hotel in 1996, perhaps the only reference would be a travel guide, and if we were lucky, a friend perhaps who had previously stayed there. Fast forward to 2020 and we now have a wealth of knowledge thanks to the internet providing us with multiple outlets for reviewing and sharing information, such as Trip Advisor, where previous guests have the chance to share their real opinions and experiences, giving a potential customer a sense of trust and reliability. The uprising trend of social media influencers with large, loyal audiences is also a dominating factor in regards to consumer trust of a brand or company. Their loyal followings and personal approaches to advertisements gives them a sense of being trustworthy and reputable sources.

Social Media Influencers

Social media influencers (SMI) are a relatively new “established and mature form of Internet celebrity” (Abidin, 2015b), who are becoming increasingly more beneficial for business advertising and success rates. They often have a certain niche, which their content is created around and have a large, loyal following and fan base, with “70% of teens trust[ing] Influencers more than traditional celebrities (O’Neil-Hart, C., Blumenstein, H. 2016). By utilising a SMI for advertising purposes, the companies know that they now have access to a large audience (the SMI’s community) of loyal followers who listen to and trust the opinions of the SMI. 

This provides the company with great exposure and potential for growth. Social media influencers can be considered a friendly face who is associated with a brand, giving their followers a sense of trust and a genuine opinion about a brand or product, since they may appear to be more like a friend with a truthful opinion, rather than the bias of a company toward themselves. 

These influencers have a genuine experience with what they are advertising, allowing their audience to feel safe in the knowledge that this is a genuine customer experience. Some specific examples of how they may show this in their content is via the use of selfies with the product or service in order to personalise the advert and demonstrate that they have genuinely experienced it. This helps maintain trust within their communities. Another way of utilising SMIs is via “multi-influencer campaigns” This is one of the best ways for companies to use SMI marketing to grow their own communities, by having a group of influencers individually promote the product or service whilst all using the same hash tag or tagging each other to show they are working together. For instance, in Singapore there was a campaign for Samsung, which saw a group of large influencers all using the hashtag #SAMSUNGS5LTE with their posts to indicate the joint campaign. Those already in the community of one or more of these influencers are likely to actually consider and trust the company now, since they can see a few of these friendly faces they already trust are working together with this company. Corporate takeovers (a SMI taking charge of a brand account for a time period) is also an effective way of ensuring the community continues to feel like a community, by having a familiar trustworthy face appear from time to time in a friend-like manner. According to “The Blogger Programme”, “81% of brands re-use influencer content, with 45% finding that it outperforms brand generated content”. This is often because an influencer is an individual person, who their community is able to see and get to know, making it more personal content. Conversely, brand generated content can sometimes appear as a hidden face behind the content, not allowing their community to get to know a person and sometimes feeling somewhat biased. Influencers are therefore a successful way of sharing better content on their social media pages, which in turn encourages an increase in customers, who are naturally drawn to good looking and likely professional content.

Living in this very technology-based world today, with the majority turning to the online world and social media, it is safe to say that one of the best ways of marketing and advertising is through having a strong online community and presence as a company in order to be successful. At the rate we are going in the technology sector, it looks as though there are no plans of slowing down any time soon and for the rise of social media and online connection to continue. Thus, it is of paramount importance that companies create their own communities.

Reference List

1. Anderson, E. (2010) The Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Emergence of Cooperation Social Media Marketing: Game Theory and the Emergence of Collaboration

DOI 10.1007/978-3-642-13299-5

2.Ertemel, A. V., Ammoura, A. (2016) The Role of Social Media Advertising in Consumer Buying Behaviour. International Journal of Commerce and Finance

3.Phan, A., Yedic, S. (2018-08-16) This Post is a Paid Sponsorship” Do We Care?

4.Rantanen, J. (2017) Celebrity Endorsement in Social Media Marketing

5.Subramanian, Dr. K. R., (2018) Social Media and the Word Of Mouth Publicity, International Research Journal of Advanced Engineering and Science, Volume 3, Issue 2

6.Leaver, T., Highfield, T., Abidin, C., (2020) Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures. Digital Media and Society Series

7.Dijkimans, C., Kerkhof, P., Beukeboom, C. J., (2015) A State To Engage: Social Media Use and Corporate Reputation. Tourism Management (Vol. 47)

8.Kendall, L. (1 April 2011) Community and the Internet. The Handbook of Internet Studies


9.Johnston, A. (12 November 2013) Community and Social Media The Social Media Handbook

10.Baym, N. K., (2007) The New Shape of Online Community: The Example of Swedish Independent Music Fandom. First Monday, Volume 12, Issue 8

11.Felix (9 January 2020) Social Media Vs Traditional Media Statistics

12.LYFE Marketing (2019) Traditional Media Vs. Social Media Advertising

13.Fastenau, J. (6 March 2018) Under the Influence: The Power of Social Media Influencers

18 replies on “The Rising Role of Social Media Communities in Successful Word of Mouth Advertising”

Hi Melissa,

Firstly, well done on an excellent paper! I enjoyed reading it. It resonated with me as I thought about how Instagram, in particular, has shifted into space where I purchase goods and no longer a place where I just connect with friends.

My first thoughts were on how the success of influencer marketing to grow brand communities has seen the concept shift into the mainstream,
I wonder what lengths brands will go to be new and innovative and perhaps extreme in their efforts to connect with and grow their communities?

Also, influencers seem to be becoming big business, and I’ve seen online courses to learn to become an influencer – do you think this takes away from the authenticity of a brand trying to connect with their community?

Thanks again,

Hi Charlotte,
Hope you are well. Wow yes that last point you made is definitely very valid, that didn’t cross my mind until now! I certainly think that this does take away from the authenticity, what with everyone trying to teach and become an “influencer”. I think one hand, the “influencers” with not that many brand deals coming in, or possibly declining are desperate to make an income, therefore believing th best way is to teach people to become an influencer, then on the other hand those looking at the course are sometimes willing to take it in order to become and influencer because of the glamorous looking life and the idea of receiving free things and an easy ride. Of course there are many influencers who are genuinely teaching and learning because they enjoy it and are passionate about something, however yes I definitely think some are just in it because it might “look cool” or just want to be famous maybe? What were your thoughts on this?
On your first point as well, a personal example is all of the small, or scam companies who I’m sure you’ve seen commenting on everyone’s insta posts asking to dm and collaborate. I get them quite often and whilst some are genuine, small companies reaching out with good intentions, a lot of them are scam looking companies clearly not getting the attention they want, commenting multiple times on one post coming across as desperate! Not a good luck, I wish them luck haha!

Hi Melissa,

I’d tend to agree. I think a lot of it comes down to the brand, product, age group etc. and someone that resonates with you may make me feel differently. I also think I’m quite engaged with brands using their real customers from their community in their social media feeds, like that could be me, or I use that product! Ha ha

I also didn’t think of scams! I don’t encounter them a lot as my insta feed is private and I don’t use FB often. I know my partner receives these kinds of messages when he posts images of himself skating, but he tends to ignore. Maybe I’ll switch to the public to see if I get any interest?!
Thanks, Charlotte

Hey Melissa!
I enjoyed your topic – definitely relevant when it comes to today. I personally have noticed the rise of implicit advertisements in my newsfeed – when an influencer posts something and it’s clearly an ad (hate it when they don’t hashtag #spon!).
It reminded me of how when someone promotes something, they put their brand on the line with that company’s reputation. An example of this would be Gabbie Hana and Tana Mongeau with Kenza Cosmetics. They advertised that Kenza Cosmetics’ brushes were free and their followers only had to pay shipping. However, with a Google Image search you could find the brushes for $5 on Aliexpress (calls into question the quality!). Many people who bought the brushes never received them or a reply from Kenza. Neither of them really properly apologised for it, and would have definitely lost consumer trust over it.
I liked how you explored the new meaning of community at the start, and how you constructed the flow of your paper. It was a really great read!
It would have been nice to see a case study of some influencers promoting products – did you come across any particular ones in your research?

Hey Anne-Marie,
Thanks so much for your feedback! Oh I haven’t heard of that particular story, however that definitely is something to consider with these situations, scams and how legitimate an advert may be! I have unfortunately come in contact with a scam similar to this once when I lived in London, therefore now I am so skeptical whenever I receive emails or comments asking me to collaborate with someone (I had to decline a few this morning even because a quick google search had SCAM written all over it!! The nerve of some people these days!) I’ll definitely have a look at that story you mentioned though! Have you ever personally experienced any scam or dodgy scenarios like this?

Hey Melissa!
I haven’t actually, I was scammed once by the No-Cussing Club (I bought wristbands as a joke and they never came). Thankfully I used Paypal and got my money back. That was the closest I’ve come to scams.
I think growing up and being aware that there are lots of scammers out there makes me know what a sketchy source looks like. It would be great to have better, accurate research about scammers and how to avoid them. Do you think there’s a way we can implement more education about scamming in schools and also for older people who aren’t aware of these schemes?
For example, my grandma got caught out by one of those “call this number your computer is broken” scams and lost a few hundred.


Hey again Anne-Marie,
Oh I’m so glad you managed to sort that haha, close one!
Yes I definitely think that the more we hear about them or dare I say it have experience with scams, the more aware we become. I also believe we really do need to implement some more education in schools into avoiding scams since the world is becoming a lot more online based therefore giving people more chance to get scammed. When I was scammed I made a huge effort to spread the message about the particular company on all my socials and noticed a lot of youtube videos and posts slowly emerging afterwards of others in the same boat. As long as everyone does plenty of prior research beforehand we should be av\ble to deflect the scams hopefully!

Hi Melissa,

I’d tend to agree. I think a lot of it comes down to the brand, product, age group etc. and someone that resonates with you may make me feel differently. I also think I’m quite engaged with brands using their real customers from their community in their social media feeds, like that could be me, or I use that product! Ha ha

I also didn’t think of scams! I don’t encounter them a lot as my insta feed is private and I don’t use FB often. I know my partner receives these kinds of messages when he posts images of himself skating, but he tends to ignore. Maybe I’ll switch to the public to see if I get any interest?!
Thanks, Charlotte

Hi Melissa

Your paper was very interesting as there is a definite shift in the way advertisers are using social media over television and finding ways to get their customers to advertise, sometimes unknowingly simply through tagging in a photo they might share on Instagram of an item they’ve just bought, or doing an unboxing video, all this is free marketing, and I think it also raises others’ interests in products too when they see regular people with the products than some paid person on the TV.

As you mentioned, Trip Advisor is a great example of an app that uses word of mouth. I will use it all the time whenever I travel for tips on places to eat or things to do. I even used to leave reviews myself. The power of reviews is amazing – have you seen this video that shows what can happen when enough fake reviews are posted? We were shown this in one of my units I studied a while back.

VICE. (2018, January 22). How to become TripAdvisor’s #1 fake restaurant. [Video]. YouTube.

This was a great experiment! It gave a bit of insight into how TripAdvisor works. The final result is pretty amazing…

-Indre 🙂

So sorry I thought I had already replied to this! I watched the video last week when I first read your comment though and it was so interesting! That’s crazy how he managed to do that and I love how even after setting it up the customers still genuinely believed it. The power of the internet is insane hey! Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

Really enjoyed reading this article, I think it’s something we are seeing more and more! I‘m particularly very interested in the symbiotic nature of influencers and brands, and how the importance of word-of-mouth marketing (as your paper detailed) is making them rely on each other. Do you think there is anything that perhaps threatens their relationship? It strikes me that if influencers are seen as inauthentic, then their main appeal is lost and that would render word-of-mouth marketing less effective.


Hey Sam,
Thanks for your response! I definitely believe that inauthenticity of the influencer could threaten the influencer’s relationship with both their fans and the brand they are working with. An example of this that I believe could be detrimental would be for instance if a vegan influencer was partnered with and endorsing a non-vegan product, there would definitely be an issue there and questioning of how authentic they are in regards to their veganism.

Hi Melissa,
This is a great dissection of the history and strategy of Web advertising.
I found it interesting that Influencers was place behind Consumer Trust, as one thing that I think is tricky with influences is how much they can blur the line between advertorial and reality.
Yes, this marketing works, but I wonder if influencer endorsement can easily become a biased ‘word of mouth’ recommendation from an influencer that has been paid a lot of money to push a product?

Hey Lachlan,
That is unfortunately the one downside to influencer marketing, that they are often paid a lot of money for the adverts. I suppose we just have to make sure to do plenty of other research now also if we are interested in the product. From my personal experience of promotions and from hearing about my friends advertising on their social media as influencers, the main focus tends to be that we will only promote something if we genuinely agree with it, which I guess we can only hope that the majority of influencers are also doing.

Hi Melissa,

Very interesting read!.

I like how you mentioned the hotel reviews and now relying on something like trip adviser. It seems like some companies are paying and or offering incentives for people to leave a good review which of course doesn’t reflect the actual quality of the hotel.
Would you say they are more trustworthy than the older methods?


Hi Zlatan,
That is very true, and unfortunately one of the downsides of these review sites. Whilst most of the time, from my personal experience of the site, the reviews have tended to be true and live unto expectations, there are definitely some grey areas in regards to payment in exchange for higher reviews. Did you see the link provided in Indre’s comment below about the fake #1 London Restaurant on Trip Advisor? This is exactly what you are talking about and actually worth a watch if you have chance!

I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about the emergence of online communities, and how they’re often not recognised by older generations but can be of the utmost importance to the members of the group.

Very interesting (and slightly concerning) statistics regarding the number of advertisements adults are exposed to each day in the US.

It would be interesting to find out how effective TV advertising is for those who don’t skip through the ad breaks. It’s understandable that brands need to move into the online space for advertising, but I’m left wondering will this take the place of traditional TV advertising? Or will they work together?

By advertising in communities of consumers who are already interested, and assumedly already loyal to, are the brand potentially limiting the reach of their marketing? I assume that members if members o0f the community are already purchasing from the particular brand, then they don’t necessarily needed to be targeted by marketing from the company, and perhaps the marketing resources would be better directed at demographics that haven’t heard about/considered the brands goods or services before.

I think the quote used from Ertemel & Ammoura, 2016, is highly valuable to your essay. It really fleshes out the idea that high quality content is important in gaining consumer attention and trust, when there is already so much content pushed into consumer’s views every day.

I was so interested to read about your points on social media “influencers”. They have been truly groundbreaking for the marketing sphere and are almost like an olive branch between brand and consumer.

I do wonder when it comes to “multi-influencer campaigns” whether or not this is beneficial to the brand, as I feel it becomes far more apparent that the SMI’s are being paid for the posts, rather than potentially just posting off their own backs because they’ve had a good experience with a brand. It would be interesting to research further into whether these tactics gain or diminish trust in SMI’s.

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