Social acceptance and word of mouth: How the motive to belong leads to divergent WOM with strangers and friends

Zoey Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Consumers are increasingly sharing product experiences with strangers and friends online. Despite the prevalence of word of mouth (WOM), little is known about how and why WOM differs based on whether people are talking to strangers or friends. The current article theorizes that one important motivation for WOM is social acceptance. To fulfill this motivation, people form and maintain existing relationships with others. Building on research in interpersonal relationships, we theorize that when communicating with strangers, people attempt to self-enhance to attract strangers into forming relationships with the self; when sharing with friends, on the other hand, people attempt to connect emotionally in order to maintain existing ties. A series of seven studies provide backing for this simple yet encompassing framework. Results of the current article provide insights into the motivations behind WOM, synthesize prior findings, and show that people systematically share different content with strangers versus friends. The current work makes theoretical contributions to research in interpersonal communication, social influence, and WOM, and holds practical implications for marketers interested in understanding consumer word of mouth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)613-632
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • Interpersonal communication
  • Social acceptance
  • Tie strength
  • Word of mouth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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