Online reviews: Content vs. Reviewer

Word-of-mouth has always been very important. With the rise of the Internet online word-of-mouth is increasingly important nowadays. Everyone wants to know the opinion of their peer consumers and based on this information they will feel more secure to make the final decision in purchasing a product or a service. But how big is the effect of online reviews? Why is one review more reliable to a certain potential customer than another one? Do we rely on what people say or maybe more on who says what?

Forman, Ghose and Wiesenfeld (2008) have done some research about the role of the reviewer identity disclosure in online reviews. This research shows that consumers in general rate a review as more helpful if the review contains identity-descriptive information, which means more information about the reviewer such as their real name, hobbies, profile picture and where they come from. These reviews will even have the power to influence and increase online sales as well.
A notable fact here is that Forman et al. (2008) show that source information (identity-descriptive information) often appears to be more important than the actual content itself. If the source information matches a certain profile and the consumers can identify themselves with this (matching community norms), this review is more likely to be rated as an interesting and helpful review. Social identification makes people more secure about the review and it reduces uncertainty. Especially when there is an overload of information in reviews, source information appears to be a good way to process all the information and customers will use source characteristics as a heuristic device on which they base their final product decision. Common geography for example will also increase the feeling of similarity with other people and this will increase the positive relationship between disclosure of personal information of the reviewer and the sales of a product (Forman et al., 2008).

The results of this research surprise me in a way that in my opinion the Internet is full of fake accounts, unreliable information about people and imaginary identities (DailyInfographic, 2015). So why would we trust this personal information and base our decision on that? Why would we for example trust a review written by a person who comes from the same city more? Isn’t it really easy to just lie about the fact that you are from Rotterdam?

And what about the reviewers’ privacy? If you see the results of the research, it seems like a profitable business for online companies to ask more and more personal information from the reviewers. But how should the reviewer and consumer feel about that? A lot of different resources will warn you these days to just write everything down on the Internet. According to Forbes (2012) personal lives, businesses and careers can be affected in more ways than you think if you share too much information online. The intention can be innocent but the results can be worse than expected. Even some minor personal details, such as where you were born, can be enough for some people to manipulate you (ITProPortal, 2015).

Finally we can state that Forman et al. (2008) did some interesting research about online reviews and the role of a reviewer. Important to know for all kinds of businesses is that bad publicity is not always as devastating as we think. The opinion of a public community might be even more powerful than that.

– Daily Infographic. 2015. ‘How Many Of The Internet’s Users Are Fake’, last visited 13 September 2015.
– Forbes. 2012. ‘Sharing Too Much? It’ll Cost You’, last visited: 10 September 2015.
– Forman, C., A. Ghose, B. Wiesenfeld. 2008. ‘Examining the Relationship Between Reviews and Sales: The Role of Reviewer Identity Disclosure in Electronic Markets’, Information Systems Research, 19(3), 291-313.
– ItProPortal. 2015. ‘The surprising danger posting personal information online’, last visited 13 September 2015.

Author: Lizan Bakker


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3 responses to “Online reviews: Content vs. Reviewer”

  1. jjjvdmeulen says :

    I think customer reviews and ratings are very important for a business. If I look at myself than I also look at the ratings and reviews every time a book for instance a hotel. I just booked a trip during the Christmas holidays to Bali with my girlfriend and for every hotel I booked I looked at the ratings and at the reviews. I even took the effort to look at sites like This sites are especially created for users to exchange their experiences and ratings of hotels. For me a negative rating is more important than a positive rating. If there are 10 positive ratings and 1 negative rating I often look for another hotel except if the hotel replied with an explanation of why the customer was so negative. So I think that a negative rating is very devastating for a company especially if there is a lot of competition. Because of internet it is very easy for a consumer to switch to another provider. So from my perspective, and I think a lot of other people, a company must pay a lot of attention on ratings and reviews and especially to negative ones.

  2. lindatram7 says :

    I agree with the commenter before me (jjjvdmeulen), I’m sorry I do not know your first name, but yes I also think it is very important. Personally, I always look at user reviews, if there are reviews, it is not just for trust but as well as to learn more about the product or service i’m about to purchase. So yes the opinion of a public community is important and one negative review will not do a lot of harm.

    Privacy? Personally, I don’t write any reviews myself, and for some reason it is because I don’t want to provide my name and email address or make an account for it. It is not that I am scared they will use my personal details for something bad, but I don’t think it is necessary to provide them that information. For all the other people that do write reviews, I should be thankful for that! 🙂

    I agree with you that the Internet is full of fake accounts nowadays, but I don’t think that the social identification is the ultimate factor to the decision of purchasing something and I, personally, don’t base my decision on that. Of course it also depends on what exactly you purchase. For a book it would be a different story than for example really expensive. Why would someone review a book under a fake account? Unless the company does that… would they do that?

    So I do understand that social identification is an interesting factor when it comes to a review. It does make it look more secure and legit and if someone could identify themselves with the reviewer then that is very interesting. Yet, I don’t base my decision on the fact that there is personal info available about the reviewer, or at least I have not done that yet. Even though I can see a name and a picture, an anonymous review with just as much useful info and content is quite the same to me. If it were a friend of mine who recommends it, then yes I trust the person/my friend because I actually know him/her. But a review with a name or picture etc. will not make the difference in trust to me. I don’t know if it is just me, because what I’m saying is a contradiction to the author’s results, which showed to be otherwise. But what matters to me is what is being said about the product/service, because that’s what I am purchasing and I am interested in knowing what other people experienced, not who. So in my opinion the actual content is more important than who says what. If it were a commercial or advertisement where we can see someone’s face, like a famous person or someone with the same cultural background/nationality, then yes I’d say often the person will have more influence than the product or service itself, but that’s a whole other point/story.

    All in all, I am curious about what you and others think or how you feel about it. Based on what you wrote, I assume you are saying that you also don’t base your decisions on a review where more personal info about someone is available?

    • 344068lb says :

      Thanks for all your comments and thoughts. Personally I agree with you both, I think reviews are really interesting and helpful. I always check them when I will book a hotel for example. However, the results of the research surprised me in a way that it shows that reviews that contains information about the reviewer were rated as more helpful than other reviews. As I said in my opinion is it super easy to just lie about an Internet identity, so I will never rate a review as more helpful if it includes some more information about the reviewer.

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