Different from Word-of-mouth, online word-of-mouth is on a one-to-world platform. It has access to the unlimited reach of the Internet to share opinions and experiences. Another difference is that the electronic nature of eWOM makes the reader unable to judge the credibility of the writer, anonymous posts exist, which means profit-motivated messages can be posted. This paper focusses on the influence social effects have on the value that consumers place on information gathered in their search. It is interesting to know what are the differences between the influence of social ties on WOM and eWOM, because in this way it is possible to understand the value of the source in eWOM environments.
They investigate the data from a website where you can rate your professors, RateMyProfessors.com. In previous research, academics believe that this website is rather used for entertainment than as a source of information to choose a professor. In this research they argue that the website is used for its intentional purpose, as statistics show that 6 million ratings have been posted, which means there is evidence that students invest time in rating the professors.
482 US college students participated in a survey related to RMP usage, course selection, professor selection and demographic information. The survey resulted in another reason to believe the website is used as a source of information. 96 percent of the students was aware of RateMyProfessors.com and 94% of them used the website to select a professor. The main reason why the students use RateMyProfessors.com is to reduce risk. For example, the risk of a decrease in GPA and a less interesting class, because of the way of teaching. They also found that just 36% of the students had ever rated a professor themselves and most part of them did not rate more than 2 professors. Most part of the users is passive and reads the content generated by other users. This is a low number, but in line with studies of online behavior. The results show that the website is more important in the decision making than talking with friends and an academic advisor.
In contrary with WOM, in eWOM situations users find anonymous online forum sources more important than strong friendship ties or weak tie sources. On the other side, the theory for homophily holds, people utilize more information from homophilic sources than from heterophilic sources. Which means that people use more frequently the information from people with the same gender, age and interests. This applies for both WOM and eWOM according to this research.
For websites in the same area or with the same purpose the findings above are important to know how to provide the best and most useful information to its users. By this, they can understand that suggestions based on strong friendships are not useful in eWOM situations, but that people with the same interests are more likely to use eachothers information.
Erin M. Steffes, Lawrence E. Burgee, (2009) “Social ties and online word of mouth”, Internet Research, Vol. 19 Iss: 1, pp.42 – 59.