Message and Source Characteristics as Drivers of Digital Review Persuasiveness: Does Cultural Context Play a Role? (An Abstract)

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Conference Proceeding

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According to recent industry reports, 90 % of global consumers read and rely on online product reviews for their decision-making, and 45 % of smartphone owners read reviews using mobile interfaces (Mintel 2015). The impact of electronic word of mouth on sales revenues and corporate reputations is also mounting (Griffith 2011). The growing popularity and influence of digital customer reviews is especially critical for services (e.g., hotels and restaurants). Existing research is (a) fragmented by product and culture contexts and (b) focused on reviews of tangible products. To address these main gaps, the current study reports the results of an experiment conducted in the USA and Ukraine that differ in their communication traditions (high context vs. low context; Hall 1976). In particular, it investigates the roles of review valence and presentation mode, as well as perceived source similarity, in shaping message attitudes and persuasiveness on mobile-optimized restaurant review platforms (Yelp for the USA and Resto for Ukraine). In the USA, an experiment was conducted among 201 (18–64 years old, 60 % undergraduate, 60 % female) students at a large public university. The demographic profile of 159 participants whose responses were retained after data cleaning was similar to that of the US sample (20–65 years old, 52 % undergraduate students, 49 % female). All respondents were randomly assigned to one of the three valence/sidedness groups (positive, negative, two-sided). Each respondent was asked to carefully read a Yelp (Resto) restaurant review and answer questions about it. The results reveal significant differences in the consumer path to adopting digital reviews in low-context vs. high-context cultures. In low-context communication environment (USA), the importance of positive message valence (positivity bias) is evident for increasing the perceptions of review on helpfulness, trustworthiness, and credibility compared to negative message valence or two-sided message framing (incorporating both pros and cons). The lower importance of two-sided reviews compared to positive reviews for message on trustworthiness, credibility, and helpfulness is an interesting finding that deserves further attention. In the high-context communication environment of Ukraine, which is transitioning from tribal (with loyalty limited to close in-groups) to individualistic culture, neither message valence nor its sidedness appears to impact consumer attitudes toward a restaurant review. These results, together with the generally lower perceptions of review on trustworthiness and credibility in all valence and sidedness conditions, may reflect the cultural tendency to not take information from weak tie networks for granted. In terms of source characteristics, perceived similarity with the reviewer positively affected attitudes toward the review (trustworthiness, credibility, and helpfulness) in all conditions (positive, negative, and two-sided) in both cultural contexts. This finding underscores the importance of exposing consumers to reviews written by those who are similar to them, possibly via offering them an opportunity to filter the reviews based on readers’ demographics or interests. Managerially, our results suggest that brands should strengthen their efforts to encourage satisfied consumers to share their opinions, since positive reviews are perceived as more helpful, trustworthy, and credible. Introducing a mechanism to expose mobile opinion seekers to reviews written by consumers similar to them in lifestyles, interests, and opinions is especially important for brands operating in high-context cultures.