Written by Sofia Rudell
Finally, it´s getting closer, my weekend trip where I´m just going to spoil myself. I´m going to stay at a nice hotel, eat a lot of nice food and just enjoy life. I can´t wait! And to get the most out from the weekend I have off course been doing my research on TripAdvisor where UGC and eWOM has guided me. I´ve booked the hotel with the highest ranking, reserved a table at the best reviewed restaurant, and decided on which shopping area to visit based on recommendations. I will have the best vacation ever!
Ok, this might be to exaggerate a bit! But tell me I´m wrong if you don’t search social media forum like TripAdvisor before you go out travelling, I at least do! I want to find the best hotel for my budget, the coziest restaurant with authentic food and the best place for a coffee in the sun. I want to have the local knowledge before even visiting the place. So I go online, searching TripAdvisor for user generated content (UGC) and electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM). But here comes the problem, how do I know the credibility of eWOM, how reliable are user generated reviews? We all have different opinion depending on preferences and previous experiences, how can I evaluate a strangers´ opinion?
This post aim at highlight the problem of source credibility of user generated content (UGC) on TripAdvisor. To which degree can we trust in recommendations on TripAdvisor and are there any factors indicating a review to be more credible then others?
Sharing is caring
Word-of-mouth (WOM) recommendations from family and friends are one of the more important factors in a consumer’s decision. In WOM we trust, in opposite to recommendations from companies who say whatever they think we want to hear to buy their products. (Litvin, Goldsmith and Pan, 2007) Along with technology development and Web 2.0 came a new dimension of WOM, eWOM. Social platforms built upon UGC and eWOM started to appeared one after the other, in which people shared opinions, thoughts and experiences (Cox, Burgess, Sellitto, and Buultjens, 2009). Litvin et al., (2007) mean that motives for sharing are pleasure, satisfaction, sadness or simply that people enjoy sharing experiences and expertise with others. As social media grew bigger and WOM became eWOM recommendations came not any longer just from family and friends. UGC forums opened up for everyone to share their thoughts no matter who, or where in the world the user where.
One could think that a wider source of recommendation contributors and UGC made information seekers more satisfied, but instead this gave people a more critical attitude towards eWOM and UGC. The lack of control of the source of information and the uncertain motives of sharing content and recommendations led people to question the source credibility of eWOM and UGC (Cheung, Luo, Sia and Chen, 2009). UGC includes contributions from many different sources, from amateurs to professionals, and the lack of knowledge in whom writing the content raised the question about source credibility (Burgess et al. 2009). Furthermore, the fact that a user’s online identity can be created and changed quite easily is making UGC vulnerable for abuse and strategic manipulation (Dellarocas 2003).
Aspects of increased Source Credibility
Studies show that there are different ways for forums to increase source credibility in UGC. One first step is to provide comprehensive information about both the product and service reviewed and about the reviewer him-/ herself. Also showing the reader a number of different reviews will increase the perceived source credibility. (Williams, Van der Wiele, and Van Iwaarden, 2008) In addition to this Bruyn and de Lilien (2008) talks about the importance of perceptual homophily. Perceptual homophily is about how similar people are to each other, in regards to demographic factors, experiences and values (Bruyn and de Lilien 2008), and may according to Wright (2000) be correlated to a perception of source credibility. The more similar the source of UGC is to the reader, the more credible it appears to be for that individual (Ayeh, Au, and Law, 2013).
UGC on TripAdvisor
With more than 315 millions unique visitors each month and over 200 millions reviews from all around the world is TripAdvisor one of the bigger UGC sites in the travel industry (TripAdvisor, 2014). On TripAdvisor the information seeker can find recommendations from users all around the world for restaurants, places to stay and things to see while traveling. In order to write a review on the reviewer need to sign up for a user profile on the site. The username of the profile can be chosen by the users themselves. To the profile additional information such as where the user live, age, gender and previous trips, can be added. Also previous reviews and how helpful they been, and participation on the site can be seen. (TripAdvisor, 2015)
The site is very popular and studies show that people search and in a high degree listen to recommendation on the site when planning trips and taking traveling decisions (Cox et al., 2009). In contradictions to this some states that 10-20 percentages of the reviews on TripAdvisor are pure fake (Palmer, 2013). However, travelling forums such as TripAdvisor does not seem to be the only source for traveling decision but rather a source for additional information after sources like airline sites and state traveling websites which are seen as more reliable (Cox et al., 2009).
Source Credibility in UGC and eWOM
The development of Web 2.0 lead to an overwhelming stream of UGC and in a few clicks we have recommendations, reviews and information up to our ears. With this much information one could think that taking decisions would be a piece of cake, but in general people are getting more confused. The traditional trustworthy WOM have become the not so credible eWOM and we don’t know who to trust in anymore (Cheung et al., 2009). Source credibility is seen as a problem since we don’t know much information about the user sharing eWOM and what their motives are. In fact it might be the company itself writing a positive review or the competitor writing a negative one. (Litvin et al., 2007) Also some people like to share and review everything they do while others write reviews when their experiences are more than the usual, either better or worse.
Source credibility and TripAdvisor
Studies show that source credibility is one of the most important factors for us to act on eWOM (Cheung et al., 2009) which indicate that TripAdvisor should work on, and become better at this. When reading a review on TripAdvisor the username of the person writing the review is shown. This username is not often the reviewer’s real name but rather a nickname. This mean that the reader don’t know who the reviewer are which could lead to lower source credibility for the reader. By clicking forward on to the user profile information is revealed about the users’ productivity on the site. Previous reviews can be seen and also how helpful they been to others. This can in some part be seen as an increase in source credibility since it show how good the users previous reviews been in order to guide others. It also shows a part of the persons personality in what the user like and don’t like, and also previous experiences. However, this might not be enough to show homophily between two persons, at least not if the reader don’t want to thoroughly read each review and each reviewers’ personal information. Providing more information about the reviewer so that the reader themselves can evaluate the perceptual homophily would according to Ayeh et al., (2013) increase source credibility for the individual. Additional of knowing more about the reviewer, Williams et al. (2008), mean that perceived source credibility increase when there are more than one review in a certain thread, and also when the readers gets to know more about the service or product reviewed. This is something that TripAdvisor are doing good, as a reader you can most often click forward to the reviewed company’s own TripAdvisor account, where more information about the company is situated. In the review thread the reader can also see old reviews, the date of the posts and sometimes also the company´s answer.
To sum up…
With this post I wanted to highlight the problem of source credibility of user generated content (UGC) on TripAdvisor. In which degree can we trust recommendations on the site and are there any factors indicating a review to be more credible then others?
People are in general concerned about source credibility in eWOM and UGC. Today TripAdvisor offer their users some keys for own evaluation of the reviews source credibility but not at all enough to make UGC totally credible. The reviewer’s username, age, country and previous participation on the site can give a hint to the information seeker about the reviewer’s credibility. However, TripAdvisor could extend the user’s personal information, in what they like and don’t like, values and experiences, which all are factors indicating credibility. This would furthermore increase evaluation of perceived homophily between users and increase the perceived source credibility on the reviews.
Sharing is caring but to which extend do people want to share, how much personal information are we willing to share in order to care?
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