When Boastful Word of Mouth Helps versus Hurts Social Perceptions and Persuasion
Although self-enhancement has recently been established as a central motive for sharing word of mouth information, little is known about the impact of self-enhancing assertions (e.g., boasting) on persuasion. We theorize, and demonstrate in three studies, that although boasting is perceived negatively, such immodest self-presentations can either impede or enhance social perceptions and persuasion. The valence of the persuasion outcome depends heavily on trust cues that change the meaning of boasting to the word of mouth recipient. Boasting in the presence of low trust cues activates heightened vigilance (e.g., valenced thoughts) about the source’s motives, leading to decreased persuasion. However, when given reason to trust the source specifically or people generally, boasting is readily accepted as a signal of source expertise, leading to increased persuasion. Implications for consumer decision-making and firms seeking to manage consumer social influence are discussed.