Are online reviews (eWOMs) any good?

Have you ever booked a hotel or restaurant without reading an online review? Such reviews, also called electronic Word of Mouth (eWOM) plays an increasing role in all our consumption activities, not just in the case of booking a restaurant or accommodation. Every time we eat at a restaurant we don’t end up giving eWOM, we give eWOM rather selectively. Have you ever thought about why we give eWOM at certain times and not at other times? Is it our emotional state that determines whether or not we give eWOM?  Another related question is which medium we use to give eWOM? We have two ready-made mediums – social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc (let’s call them SNSs), and review sites, such as Trustpilot, TripAdvisor, and so on. Does our emotional state also dictate which medium we select? Given the vital role that eWOM plays in our decision-making process, particularly in the hospitality sector (according to industry reports 94% of travellers say that reviews are an important decision factor in choosing their accommodation), we think asking these questions can be helpful to Marketers, and also for us as consumers when we seek recommendations for products and services – should we be looking at review sites or rely on SNSs?.

To explore these questions, we devised a series of experiments. In our experiments, we devised different scenarios to elicit not only negative or positive emotions but also such that the elicited emotions would vary in intensity and valence amongst the participants. In drawing up these experiments, we used the social sharing of emotion (SSE) theory, because it offers a unique perspective in understanding consumption emotion concerning consumers’ eWOM behaviour and explains why consumers choose to share some experiences rather than others.

Through our experiments, we make two important findings. First, we find that our emotional intensity or the degree to which our feelings are intensely heightened (or lowered) determines our eWOM giving intentions. This means that firms should strive to make their customers not only elicit positive emotions but such that these positive emotions exceed the ‘sharing threshold’. In practical terms, in the case of a restaurant, for example, this may mean that there is a ‘pleasant surprise’ associated with the dining experience (perhaps an extra course given free of charge),  or the customers feel that they are simply  “delighted with the entire dining experience”.  At the other end of the spectrum, where the likelihood of negative emotions has been observed, firms should put their effort into diluting any negative emotional intensity associated with a consumption experience, such that it falls below the ‘sharing threshold’. If something goes wrong with the service, or if they recognise that the service has been below par, they should actively offer something over and above the norm: perhaps they ought to reach out to customers to apologize and offer financial compensation.  

Our second finding is that emotional valence (i.e. positive or negative) determines which media we are likely to use to give eWOM. Specifically, eWOM on review sites gives a better reflection of consumers’ true and unbiased feelings, while consumers tend to share more positive eWOM on SNSs. This is because, compared review sites where users’ identities are usually hidden, our social sharing on SNSs is inhibited considering the pressure of self-presentation in our social networks. This means that eWOM sharing on review sites are ‘fact-driven’ whereas on SNSs  they are  ‘self-driven’. We, therefore think that when you are a prospective customer of another product/service, you should perhaps give more credibility to review sites as opposed to SNSs.

Read the full paper: Liu, H., Jayawardhena, C., Osburg, V.S., Yoganathan, V. and Cartwright, S., 2021. Social sharing of consumption emotion in electronic word of mouth (eWOM): A cross-media perspective. Journal of Business Research132, pp.208-220.