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Home arrow Engineering arrow Measuring Electronic Word-of-Mouth Effectiveness: Developing and Applying the eWOM Trust Scale

Review Credibility

In traditional marketing communications research, it is generally agreed that the credibility of the specific advertisement is an important attribute of effective communication, since consumers are not likely to behave in the desired manner in cases where they do not accept or believe the claims made in this communication vehicle. In this context, credibility of specific ads is typically defined as “the extent to which the consumer perceives claims made about the brand in the ad to be truthful and believable” (MacKenzie & Lutz, 1989, p. 51). Various approaches have been put forward to measure the credibility of single message content in advertising. For example, without assuming any dimensionality among the items, Beltramini and Evans (1985) developed their believability scale with ten bi-polar adjective pairs: “trustworthy”, “convincing”, “believable”, “reasonable”, “credible”, “honest”, “conclusive”, “unquestionable”, “authentic”, and “likely”. This scale has been used, for instance, by O’Cass (2002) in order to measure the believability of political advertising. In the context of online reviews and C2C communications, research similarly has concentrated on the believability dimension of credibility.

Various authors (e.g., Cheung, Lee & Rabjohn, 2008; Hong & Park, 2012) have all introduced the credibility concept to the academic discussion of eWOM, as review credibility is often evaluated as an important ingredient of the information adoption process and a strong predictor of various behaviours, attitudes, etc. Meanwhile, considerable research has demonstrated the relationship between review credibility and adoption. The aforementioned literature stream adopts the interdisciplinary view that credibility is often understood as or equated with believability. Here, the work of Hovland, Janis, and Kelley (1953), which advances the insight that credibility is an attitudinal construct that typically refers to the believability of some information and/or its source, seems to be most influential. In adaptation of Hass’ (Hass, 1981) original work and related works (Flanagin & Metzger, 2000; Fogg et al., 2002; McKnight & Kacmar, 2007) in the eWOM context, credibility is often defined as the extent to which one perceives the review/recommendation as unbiased, believable, true, or factual (e.g., Cheung et al., 2009; Lee & Koo, 2012; Park et al. 2011). In reference to the earlier work of Tseng and Fogg (1999) and parallel contributions in eWOM research (e.g., Cheung et al., 2009), Park et al. (2011) as well as Lee and Koo (2012) both define review credibility as the “extent to which one perceives sources of information provided as unbiased, believable, true, or factual” (p. 1076). Mackiewitz (2007) adopts Ohanian’s (1990, p. 41) more general view of the concept by defining it as the “characteristics that affect the receiver’s acceptance of a message”.

It shall be noted that in this research, eWOM or review credibility refers to the information conveyed in specific online reviews and recommendations itself and not to the messages’ source (i.e., reviewer), which is sometimes confused in literature. However, literature outlines the general function of credibility as an important determinant of the level of message acceptance and learning. In cases where the review is perceived as having bias or representing messages that are motivated by illegitimate purposes other than consumer experiences, opinions, and recommendations, the credibility of the message is degraded (Hass, 1981; Lee & Koo, 2012). Additionally, if the reader perceived the review’s credibility as not ensured, he/she will generally resist the persuasive intent of the review. In contrast, if consumers think that incoming information is credible, they will be more confident to adopt the eWOM comments and apply this information in order to make purchasing decisions (Tseng & Fogg, 1999). In essence, if a consumer perceived a eWOM message as credible, he/she will learn from and use this review.

Park et al. (2011) measure review credibility with four items on a five-point agreement scale: “I believe the online review which has been read a lot.”, “I believe the online review which is believed by others.”, “I believe online review is important and credible information.”, “I believe the online review is written with responsibility.”. Instead, Lee and Koo (2012) measured credibility with two items taken from Cheung et al. (2009): “I think the review is accurate.” and “I think the review is credible.”. Lis (2013) also uses Cheung et al.’s scale but also includes the item “I think the review is factual”, and measures a single credibility construct. In contrast, Xie et al. (2011) agree with Kelman and Hovland (1953) that trustworthiness and expertise are the two key components of review credibility. However, the authors measured each dimension with a single question (i.e., “To what extent do you consider the travelers’ reviews you just read as trustworthy?” and “To what extent do you consider the travelers’ reviews reflect the reality of hotel [x]?”). Also Bae and Lee (2011) understand eWOM credibility (in specific reviews) as a multi-dimensional construct consisting of believability, fairness, accuracy and depth of information. However, these approaches seem to stem from a confusion of review credibility and reviewer credibility, as they do not represent the norm for measuring the credibility of a piece of information. The majority of this research stream interprets review credibility of a specific review as its believability (Bambauer-Sachse & Mangold, 2013; Luo et al., 2013), and therefore as a uni-dimensional construct. For example, Qiu et al. (2012), who define general review credibility by drawing on the work of Tseng and Fogg (1999) as the extent to which a piece of information is perceived as true and valid, measured review credibility with three items targeting solely the believability dimension.

In parallel to the literature discussed above, various scholars have investigated general credibility perceptions in the context of eWOM. This literature string heavily draws from offline research. For instance, in the context of marketer-endorsed communication, MacKenzie and Lutz (1989, p. 51) define advertising credibility as the “consumer’s perceptions of the trustfulness and believability of advertising in general, not simply the particular ad in question”. The scholars applied three bi-polar adjective pairs in order to operationalize the construct: “believable-unbelievable”, “biased-unbiased” and “convincing-unconvincing”. MacKenzie and Lutz’s definition as well as the measurement of the construct both imply that advertising credibility describes a consumer’s general beliefs in the integrity of claims in advertising. In the majority of cases, researchers applied a single item measure to quantify the construct (Calfee & Ringold, 1994) or scholars have adapted a sub-scale to measure the consumer’s attitude toward offline (or online) advertising in general (Alwitt & Prabhaker, 1994; Ducoffe, 1996; Yang, 2003). Among these scales, one can find items such as: “ads usually present a true picture”, “most advertising is believable”, and “ads are reliable sources of information”. In a similar vein, Thorson et al. (2010) focused on consumer-generated communication and measured review credibility in general (Rcred) with a single credibility dimension. By using items taken from Meyer (1988), the authors used a scale comprised of six semantic- differentials: “fair-unfair”, “biased-unbiased”, “accurate-inaccurate”, “doesn’t tell the whole story-tells the whole story”, “cannot be trusted-can be trusted”, and “balanced-unbalanced”. Also Hong and Park (2012) used five items to describe the believability of online reviews: i.e., to me, overall reviews are ... “biased-unbiased”, “trustworthy-untrustworthy”, “accurate- inaccurate”, “believable-unbelievable”, and “complete-incomplete”. By drawing mainly from the work of Lee and Koo (2012), (eWOM) review credibility can be defined as the extent to which a consumer holds the general orientation to perceive the information given in online customer reviews and recommendations as unbiased, believable, true, and factual.

At the heart, the approaches referring to the subject of online reviews itself focus on eWOM’s integrity/honesty (and hence a single dimension), while approaches targeting the peers behind these reviews emphasize both eWOM integrity and competence. As such, reviewer credibility appears multi-dimensional. Nevertheless, popular approaches typically neglect the measurement of consumers’ evaluations of the benevolent intentions of the reviewers. Additionally, even though original source credibility literature sometimes proposes the inclusion of affect as an additional “attractiveness” dimension (Freeman & Spyridakis, 2004), no research approach has included this factor in the context of review credibility. Additionally, another factor, namely the consumer’s willingness to rely on eWOM, has never been used in order to conceptualize credibility in the offline or online context.

In line with these findings, this thesis claims that review (eWOM) review credibility (in general) and its measurement represent only a distinct part of eWOM trust. In essence, review credibility is understood as a positive characteristic of the trusted object (more specifically, a positive belief in or a judgment of the believability of eWOM messages), whereas trust is a psychological reaction toward the object which is partly based on credibility evaluations. Accordingly, earlier research has identified credibility as being an (situational) antecedent of trust (Colquitt et al., 2007; Lowry, Vance, Moody, Beckman & Read, 2008; Mayer et al., 1995) and it is likely that the construct represents one of the necessary requirements for trust to evolve in the context of online reviews. However, it would be inappropriate to make the claim that a person who shows a high level of eWOM credibility automatically displays the same levels of trust in eWOM. For instance, a consumer can perceive eWOM opinions as highly truthful and accurate; however, due to missing willingness to rely on this information, the consumer does not trust them.

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