Suspicion or Expectation? On Credibility and Gender
Recent studies show that no less than 84% of online readers consider electronic word of mouth advertising to be just as reliable as its traditional counterpart. This confirms the importance of online visibility for hotels and of responding to comments, especially since Andy from Amsterdam’s comments are considered to be just as credible as those from your own aunty Alice in Aberdeen.
That seems odd, because unlike traditional word of mouth advertising, we usually don’t know the author of online reviews personally, and we also don’t know their intentions. Does the reviewer create a realistic image of a product or service, or are they merely looking to confirm their status as a self-proclaimed expert by deliberately criticizing it?
In any case, it’s relatively easy for a reviewer to spread false information (remember the fake review epidemic?) and it’s hard for readers to determine which information – and how much of it – is the truth. Consciously or not, consumers are trying to figure out the credibility of a review and its reviewer, but usually they don’t have a lot of information to base their investigation on.
In this article, Hotelspeaker will dig deeper into the aspects that should be taken into account when determining reliability. They will help you, the hotel manager, to assess which messages could potentially cause the most collateral damage (and which won’t).
When determining whether a review is credible or not, the contents of the message and the quality of the arguments play an important role: well-structured reviews are considered to be more credible than those that barely contain any arguments. Therefore, they deserve special attention when it comes to a response. As this blog entry (Dutch) shows, proper spelling and grammar have a serious impact on credibility: reviews in proper Dutch are considered to be more credible and professional than reviews that contain spelling mistakes or elements from spoken language.
Further research has shown that negative reviews don’t necessarily have a bigger impact on consumer behavior than positive ones. Overly negative, isolated comments about ‘hedonistic’ products or services are generally perceived as less credible than overly positive ones. Despite the fact that the consumer is often inclined to satisfy their curiosity by reading the handful of excessively negative comments in a sea of positive ratings, the impact of these reviews is relatively small.
Aside from the contents of the response and the use of proper language, we also take into account the characteristics the reviewer shares about themselves: their name of alias, sometimes a profile picture, and – depending on additional information they share in their review – other personal data.
Two important aspects now come floating to the surface. Firstly, if a reviewer is less anonymous, they are considered to be more reliable. Secondly, the more their profile matches with the reader’s, the more credible their review will appear.
This confirms the so-called homophily principle, which states that people who are searching for credible and accurate information and advice on goods and services go looking for other individuals who share their demographic characteristics and interests. A 25-year-old single woman searching for information on group travels to Thailand will place more trust in the advice of a woman with the same profile than in that of a 45-year-old man who recently took his spouse to Thailand.
Hotelspeaker cooperates with researchers at Ghent University, who were wondering to what extent gender still plays a role in this in the 21st century. The setting they used was a restaurant review, but it could just as well have been about a hotel breakfast or accommodation.
Next, let’s briefly touch on the literature we were able to find on this topic and use that to assess the experiment.
What Credibility Means for Men and Women
Over the past few years, several studies have been conducted on the way we evaluate people of the same and opposite sex, but results tend to vary. Some studies have shown that we’re more easily inclined to believe same sex reviews. The reviewer’s gender seems to determine which movie reviews we find more credible. This would confirm the homophily principle we touched on earlier. Another study points to a higher credibility rate in males, stating that we would rather get a man’s advice on purchasing a new cell phone.
In summary: in some cases, same sex reviews appear to be more credible, while sometimes men are perceived to be more credible by both genders. Of course, a lot depends on the context and on the product or service under review. On average, men seem to receive higher bids for goods on e-Bay than women, but mainly when they’re selling tech products. On the other hand, items such as (children’s) clothing and toys are heavy hitters for female sellers. This begs the question what the effects would be for restaurant reviews. Who will be perceived as being more credible, and by whom?
A Review about the Fictitious Italian Restaurant Porto Fino
In this pilot study, a negative review about an Italian restaurant called Porto Fino was proposed to a group of informants. The questionnaire that was sent out along with the review asked about the perceptions of credibility, reliability, professionalism, and the tendency to follow the advice that was given.
The exact same review was accredited to a male reviewer (Peter) and a female reviewer (Sophie). The reviewer’s name was mentioned in the account information. The profile picture above the reviewer’s name was kept neutral and was the same for both scenarios, to avoid this from impacting the respondents’ attitudes.
Results showed that there are strong discrepancies between the male and female reviewer: Peter’s review was evaluated as more clear, credible, reliable, useful, and qualitatively sound. According to the informants, Peter was more intelligent, and his review was taken more seriously than Sophie’s.
The gender of the respondents was also taken into account. According to the homophily principle, Peter’s review should be evaluated more positively by men, while women should prefer Sophie’s review. The results of this research seem to contradict this, however. While indeed the men regarded Peter’s review more highly, so did the women. They also thought Peter’s review was more credible, more convincing and more intelligent, and they too took his complaints more seriously.
That comes as a shock. It appears as if men would be better capable of assessing the quality of a spaghetti bolognese in a restaurant than women, who – as research into the behavioral patterns within a contemporary family setting demonstrates – on a daily basis are still more often responsible for preparing meals.
So how does this all translate to complaint management? Does a hotel manager need to prioritize responding to men, because they are perceived to be more serious?
Theoretically, we could even take it one step further. If male reviews are indeed believed to be more credible, does that also apply to answering those reviews? Should you choose to employ a male social media manager?
Hotelspeaker nuances this: other research has shown that female input in services and communication is just as well, or even better received than that of men.
What’s more (luckily), we also need to point out the effect a name can have on perception. For this experiment, the widespread and neutral names Peter and Sophie were chosen arbitrarily. But when we look at the data from the 2017 population register, we can notice a difference between these two names in terms of age separation: proportionally there are a lot more Sophies below the age of 18 than there are Peters, and the opposite is true above the age of 65.
Chances are that the respondents in the experiment could be placing Peter in a different age category than Sophie. His supposed ‘life experience’ could be part of the reason why Peter’s culinary knowledge trumps Sophie’s.
Further research is needed to confirm how big of a factor this is (for example, by using a ‘younger’ variant instead of Peter). Aside from age association, other aspects are also on the list for further analysis (such as the socio-economical background that distinguishes names like Kenji or Jean-Baptiste and the effect this has on credibility). Future research will also have to demonstrate whether similar phenomena can be determined in positive reviews, where Peter and Sophie actually enjoyed their spaghetti.
In any case, if credibility is still determined this strongly by gender and maybe even by a name, a number of (ethical) questions about complaint management arise. It’s up to you to decide whether to pass the buck to Sophie, Peter, or to the employees of Hotelspeaker!
This blog is based on the studies ‘The impact of language and gender on the credibility of online reviews’ (Depovere, S., 2018) and ‘The impact of language and gender on the credibility of online reviews’ (Loete, T., 2018). It was written by Chloé Lybaert and Bernard De Clerck of the department of Translation, Interpretation and Communication of Ghent University.
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