Why Review Online

6th April 2010 (Last Updated April 6th, 2010 18:30)

As social media development continues to reflect and enhance everyday offline experiences, professor at Lausanne’s hospitality research centre Hilary Murphy investigates online restaurant reviewing behaviour.

Why Review Online

Understanding the motivations of individuals who initiate online conversations, be it in the form of restaurant reviews or any online conversations related to reviews, is a first step in understanding the whole social media phenomenon. After all, the better the company grasps why consumers engage in online word-of-mouth (WOM), the better it may be able to manage and influence their purchase decisions. Recent research explores the reasons behind the post-purchase consumer behaviour phenomenon of sharing opinions about restaurants in review sites.

Many studies have linked social media and WOM, stating that technology innovations and the popularity of social networking sites have overcome the time and scale limitations of traditional WOM. With social media, a dissatisfied customer has the tools to tell not ten but 10 million consumers virtually overnight.

There is, therefore, no doubt that WOM is important in marketing to customers. After all, of the 3.5 billion WOM conversations that occur each day in the world, 2.3 billion make reference to a brand, product or service. This is especially important for the food and beverage industry because food and dining are the most common consumption categories to be recommended from one consumer to another, according to a Talktrack survey.

“One of the main drivers of social media is the concept of ‘utility’, which is when the individual adds value to the community by their contributions.”

One of the main drivers of social media is the concept of ‘utility’, which is when the individual adds value to the community by their contributions. A main utility is concern for other customers. This is where a customer is trying to advise or warn another with their reviews, so that they do not waste their time and/or money.

Another utility is helping a company succeed by engaging in positive WOM.
Both of these are done to benefit other parties than the self and can be classified as altruistic.

The topic of altruism has been discussed by many authors, especially social psychologist researchers. Modern interpretations of altruism include behaviour that voluntarily benefits others without any expectation of reward, empathising with the needs of another.

Next, there is the motive of social benefit, where a customer shares their opinions to add value and benefit to a community. Knowledge sharing is often done for external rewards derived from reciprocal relationships. Also, a powerful driver is the motive of exerting control over a company, especially in the case of negative reviews.

The desire to be seen as an expert or an authority by the community and the respect obtained from this status is reflected on consumer review sites and measured by the number of people ‘liking’ a review or finding it ‘useful’, or through a straight-forward rating of the reviewer. Online WOM in this case can enhance the ego of the individual who wants to impress others with their expertise. With anonymity in the word-of-mouth phenomenon anyone can be an expert, which emphasises the accessible nature of this motive.

Expressing positive emotions and venting negative feelings, in the case of harmful reviews, is aimed at achieving some kind of internal emotional balance. Any emotional episode, even relatively mild or moderate, is generally associated with an urge to talk and to share the emotional experience with others, which in this case is easily obtained through venting on online restaurant review sites.

Quality control

So do these online reviewing responses differ between high-end and low-end establishments? The higher the price of a product, the more risky it is, and the more information the customer would seek about it to reduce the perceived risk. The following example performs content analysis and categorisation of reviews into motivation factors. First, 12 restaurants that represent the high end (and price) sector of the Singapore food and beverage industry were chosen, and the same number were examined for low-end (and price) restaurants.

“Restaurants should monitor consumer review sites particularly to manage the response for negative evaluations.”

After ensuring that the restaurants fitted the defined price range, those with the most amount of related online content were shortlisted, leaving six restaurants in each group.

The reviews and conversations associated with these restaurants, starting from the most recent, were gathered in a spreadsheet and are presented in Tables 1 and 2, right.

The data from consumer review sites are mostly taken from www.hungrygowhere.com/singapore and www.yum.sg. These are popular sites for local restaurants reviews, where the reviewers are not professionals, content is candid and honest and from real customers.

It is clear from the charts that motivations vary from low-end restaurants to high-end restaurants, with the dominant motivation for high-end restaurants being the ‘expression of positive emotions’ and for low-end restaurants that of ‘concern for other customers’. The two categories of restaurants share some common motivation for posting reviews: ‘convenience of redress’, ‘desire to help the company’, ‘self-enhancement’ (status seeking) and ‘venting of negative feelings’.

Restaurants should monitor consumer review sites particularly to manage the response for negative evaluations, because this is where more individuals seem to vent their negative feelings after a bad experience. Most consumer review sites provide a management response feature where you can either contact the reviewer privately or publish a response publicly. These responses should address the problem for all other reviewers to see. Sometimes an apology is all that is required or a denial/confirmation as to the validity of the review. As a high-end restaurant owner or management team, there may be some usefulness in providing a platform for facilitating where and when customers can share positive emotions after their dining experience. The ability for customers to post text and photos may allow other customers to read this free endorsement and existing customers could encourage guests to share their opinions, which may help to modify the restaurant food offering and service provision.

Manager monitor

Where there are widely read and trusted review sites, these should be monitored by the restaurant managers. Many of them provide automated feeds to send posts when their restaurant is mentioned. Restaurants can monitor these sites to answer the queries directly or alternatively ask the sites’ administrators to forward the questions or provide a link to the restaurant’s website that contain full
information.

The research shows that ‘reviewers are motivated to help others and give back to the online community, not knock down brands’. In fact, online reviewers tell us they want to reward brands that ‘perform well’. Restaurants or any other food and beverage companies should therefore be encouraged to participate and engage in social media marketing.