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

The Three Elements of eWOM Trust

This research has provided empirical evidence that eWOM trust is best regarded as a multidimensional construct of higher order. In Chapter 3 it was shown theoretically that the various sub-dimensions of eWOM trust can be categorized in accordance with their intrinsic characteristic, which mirrors a three-component view (Hogg & Vaughan, 2011). Various trust scholars propose that the concept is a matter of (i) cognitive thoughts or rational expectations, together with (ii) affective processes or emotional bonds towards the trust object, as well as (iii) behavioural intentions (e.g., Barber, 1983; Cummings & Bromiley, 1996; Granovetter, 1985;

Mishra, 1996). Accordingly, it was hypothesized that (eWOM) ability and (eWOM) integrity/honest both reflect the truster’s cognitive beliefs about the trust object. In contrast, perceived (eWOM) benevolence is a kind of cognitive expectation which is based on the truster’s social-affective orientations, hence it was classified as an emotional element of trust. (eWOM) likeability or affect was theorized as another emotional element mirroring the stable personal feelings of the truster towards online reviews. The third element of eWOM trust was trusting motivations or specifically the consumer’s willingness to rely on the review information, given latent risk. The empirical results demonstrated that such a theoretical conceptualization is likely to represent the true nature of the construct, as almost all elements of trust are represented in the final trust scale. As such, this thesis is consistent with the contributions of earlier researchers that regarded trust as a composition of trusting beliefs and behavioural trusting intentions (Lewis & Weigert, 1985; Luhmann, 1979; McKnight et al., 1998; Moorman et al., 1993), as well as to the findings of those scholars who conceptualize trust in terms of a mixture of cognitive as well as emotional aspects (e.g., Ohanian, 1990; Swan et al., 1988).

However, a person’s confidence that the information given in online customer reviews is reliable (i.e., eWOM trust) is not reflected by his/her feelings evolved over time towards this kind of communication. Hence, eWOM affect was excluded from the construct’s measurement. In general, it seems that eWOM trust is mainly mirrored by the cognitive aspects of the constructs. The majority of trust items belong to eWOM ability as well as eWOM integrity/honesty, which belong to the cognitive dimensions. In addition, the two constructs explained most of the total variance of the construct. Therefore, one can say that eWOM trust is mainly cognitive-based. This supposition corresponds with the findings of earlier research, which asserts that the kind of social relationship between the truster and the trustee or the trust object finally determines the content of the trust construct. eWOM trust is conceptualized here as personality characteristic, which deals with a relatively stable consumer orientation towards relying on a specific kind of market communication. Therefore, the constructs assess the extent of how much an individual develops a relationship with a group of anonymous fellow shoppers (a virtual community) and with a specific kind of social institution; or, in other words, a relationship with a secondary group. Under such conditions, literature generally proposes that the cognitive aspect of trust is more relevant than in primary group relationships (e.g., in-person interactions with friends or acquaintances) - here, the emotional aspects tend to be more important (Johnson-George & Swap, 1982; Rempel et al., 1985). In literature, multiple examples for comparable secondary group relationships emphasize that trust is more based on cognitive expectations or evaluations. For instance, in the widely cited work of Mayer et al. (1995), the researchers measure a person’s trust in an organization in terms of cognitive beliefs.

In order to test the scale’s nomological validity, the construct’s relationship with other constructs was tested. The process also enables this research to characterize eWOM trusting consumers on a variety of variables. These insights can be used to address these consumers as a target segment by buzz marketing. In this thesis, eWOM trust is conceptualized as a relatively stable, internally-caused individual difference characteristic and it is agreed with trust literature that the construct is dependent on several antecedents. These include more basic personality traits, prior consumer experiences, introspective and extrospective observations, as well as social-affective attitudes.

Among the personality-based trust antecedents, a person’s willingness to depend on others and his/her general tendency to take risks in life are both positively related to eWOM trust. Research demonstrates that disposition to trust and risk propensity are also determinants of critical consumption-related constructs, such as trust in e-vendors (e.g., Gefen, 2000). High eWOM trusters exhibit both a heightened propensity to trust others and are also more likely to take risks in general. In contrast to expectations, this research has found a significant negative relationship between consumer self-confidence and his/her trust in online customer reviews; that is, individuals with high self-confidence are more likely to trust eWOM. A considerable body of literature proposes an inverse relationship. For instance, Lee and Neville (1994) argue that individuals with a low self-confidence are more likely to trust another, external source for information over themselves. In this research, self-confidence was defined as a consumer’s confidence in his/her capabilities in respect to making educated marketplace decisions and behaving as a smart consumer. A possible explanation for the observed relationship (besides the one already proposed) may be that self-confident individuals regard online review information only as affirmation of their already-made decision or prior, firm expectation. They are more likely to depend on themselves. Therefore, they have fewer reasons to mistrust reviewers, as the information created by them is regarded as inferior. Further, self-confident consumers may be believed to possess the ability to identify misleading market communication (e.g., reviews) and are able to react appropriately to it. Future research could help to clarify the background of the identified relationship.

This research was able to demonstrate that eWOM trust is also dependent on cognitive-based trust antecedents which represent cognitive evaluation processes which are associates with selfobservations or self-perceptions, such as reviewer and recommender characteristics (e.g., reviewer credibility), and self-interests. eWOM trusters have a positive picture of review creators in general, mirrored by favourable perceptions of reviewers’ credibility, as well as low reviewer distrust. Hence, high eWOM trusters regard reviewers in general as very competent to give advice, as well as very believable. The confidence in eWOM is also affirmed by multiple affective-socially-based trust antecedents which refer to the emotional and social bonds between the reader and the reviewer. High trusters generally assume that the act of review writing is driven by the reviewers’ motivation to do something good for others and serve fellow shoppers without anticipating any extrinsic reward.

eWOM trust is further positively influenced by the positive perception of social ties between the communication parties. High eWOM trusters consider that a strong social tie binds them with the members of the shopper community, so that they are not regarded as complete strangers. The close social relationship is strengthened by consumers’ perceptions of attitudinal, demographical, and behavioural similarities between them and eWOM creators. Hence, reviewers are commonly regarded as an externalized “self’ of the trusting consumer. They are perceived as individuals who share the same interests and have similar demands from market offerings. High eWOM trusters identify themselves with reviewers.

Further, the level of eWOM trust is affected by the individual’s susceptibility to interpersonal influence or, in other words, with his/her willingness to interact with others regarding consumer-related topics. Accordingly, high eWOM trusters are shown to have a considerable tendency to accept information from others as evidence about reality. Simultaneously, this group of consumers is likely to be particularly sensitive to reactions of others to their consumption behaviour. Persons with a heightened level of eWOM trust typically care about what others think of them and hence tend to obtain social clues from various sources in the marketplace, including online customer reviews. Within this kind of information, they find valuable information about the appropriateness of the consumption of different market offerings by fellow shoppers that represent a referent or aspiration group. Online reviews, thus, can have an important normative influence. By investigating the construct’s correlates, the thesis was able to show that high eWOM trust is associated with personal involvement in this form of communication. eWOM trusters feel that the information given in reviews has high personal relevance for them, as it mirrors valued characteristics. Consequently, scepticism towards eWOM is unincisive among high trusters, leading to increased review usage. Here, this consumer grouping not only passively consults reviews during information search, but is also more likely to purchase recommended products. Additionally, there is a positive relationship between eWOM trust and information-forwarding and review writing. In a nutshell, high eWOM trusters appear to represent a very distinct group of online consumers forming a community of shoppers who share an affinity for the exchange of market knowledge and collectively strive for individual consumption wisdom. They are very conscious, self-aware consumers for whom the opinions and claims of others trigger their own consumption experience.

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