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October 22, 2014
 
 
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The less you know, the more you share: Laurier study

Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing

Sep 17/13| For Immediate Release

Contact:

Grant Packard, Assistant Professor, School of Business & Economics
Wilfrid Laurier University
519-884-0710 ext. 4303 or gpackard@wlu.ca

or 

Kevin Crowley, Director, Communications & Public Affairs
Wilfrid Laurier University
519-884-0710 ext. 3070 or kcrowley@wlu.ca

WATERLOO – When it comes to planning trips, buying products online, or deciding where to dine, people often rely on the opinions of others to help with purchase decisions. But new Wilfrid Laurier University research suggests that word-of-mouth recommendations may be less altruistic than people think.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are typically considered trustworthy because they don’t come from a source with a profit motive, such as advertisers or salespeople. However, a study by Grant Packard, an assistant professor of marketing in Laurier’s School of Business & Economics, suggests there may be a different cause for concern when it comes to using this source of product information.

“Surprisingly, we found that people who feel deficient in their product knowledge are particularly motivated to share their opinions about products with others,” said Packard. “They do this to compensate for their perceived knowledge deficiency; in short, talking about products suggests you have something useful to say about them.“

Packard co-authored the research with David Wooten, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Across four experiments, they found that individuals who believed their actual product knowledge fell short of their ideals were more, rather than less, motivated to write online product reviews. They also intended to share their product reviews with more people via email.

“What was most surprising was that people who were satisfied with their high levels of expertise about products wrote significantly fewer reviews than those who believed they lack sufficient knowledge about the same products,” said Packard.

How can you tell if a friend or online reviewer is trying to compensate for their lack of product knowledge? In one of the authors’ experiments, participants were asked to write a movie review. Those who believed their movie knowledge was insufficient talked more about themselves and spent more time sharing their opinion. They were also less likely to be critical about the movie. “They’re more positive about the product because choosing and using a great product reflects back on them as being a smart consumer,” says Packard.

Packard says the research demonstrates dejection as the psychological state underlying the effect. People are not purposely sharing their “less-than-ideal” knowledge to be malicious, but rather to make themselves feel better because they are disappointed about not being as knowledgeable a consumer as they wish they were.

“Our findings show that the growing use of and trust in word-of-mouth, such as through online consumer reviews, should be tempered by the possibility that self-interest may be motivating the source,” he said.

The research article, Compensatory Knowledge Signaling in Consumer Word-of-Mouth, will appear in the October 2013 issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, a Financial Times Top 45 business journal.

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