Digital word of mouth disseminates low carbon lifestyles

This article was published and written for the Tyndall Centre

Electronic word of mouth such as social media posts, blogs, and review sites strengthen the adoption of low carbon innovations such as ride sharing platforms, digital food hubs, and smart home technologies, according to a study led by Emilie Vrain at the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia.

Early adopters play an important role in spreading information within their social networks. Traditionally, word of mouth from family and friends sharing their first-hand experience provides reassurance and shapes attitudes, perceptions, and expectations. Now with the Internet, strangers share their experiences through electronic word of mouth, shaping opinions and influencing purchasing decisions.

A nationwide survey of 16 digital low-carbon innovations including mobility, food, homes, and energy services. The results show that traditional word of mouth, digital word of mouth, trust and visibility, are key factors that allow for consumers to adopt low carbon innovations.

Electronic word of the mouth has the most influence for early adopters of innovations and helps increase visibility for the innovations. Early adopters can become opinion leaders who help share information about these innovations through electronic word of mouth, for example, providing advice on their use, complexity, and convenience on groups and forums.

Visibility, being visually influenced by peers or neighbours, plays an important role in the adoption of low carbon technology. For example, solar panels and electric vehicles are highly visible innovations. Other innovations are less visible, such as smart home technologies, and rely on word of mouth to spread information about them.

Trust, or having confidence in the use of innovation, also determines whether an innovation is adopted by consumers. This might be influenced by privacy concerns, website quality, or perceived risks when using the technology. Innovations like P2P ride-sharing, where private citizens offer to share a trip with other people who need a ride, require a high level of trust, and in this case, recommendations by users play an important role in influencing others to adopt the technology.

Low carbon innovations are not always socially acceptable. The study found some anecdotal evidence of users of P2P hiding their use due to negative comments from family and friends. Electronic word of mouth through reviews and ratings also helped consumers build their trust in the platform or service, overriding what family and friends thought of the innovation.

“Service providers and thought leaders need to make low carbon innovations more observable, provide reassurance and trust, and increase communication between adopters and non-adopters. Electronic word of mouth helps build this trust, makes innovations more visible, and does connect adopters and non-adopters” said Emilie Vrain.