Although some emotion makes user reviews more persuasive, online shoppers often ignore reviews they perceive to be overly emotional, researchers report.
“Ranting about a bad experience may be cathartic for the author, but it is counterproductive for reviewers…”
Online reviews play an increasingly important role in consumer behavior as more Americans opt to purchase items online. Previously, studies examining the influence of reviews focused on the length of the reviews and whether they were positive or negative. In their new study, researchers focused on how expressions of emotion affect the helpfulness of a review.
“Ranting about a bad experience may be cathartic for the author, but it is counterproductive for reviewers seeking to influence potential buyers,” says Dezhi Yin, an assistant professor of management in the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business. “Overly emotional reviews appear to be discounted by readers due to their embedded emotion, even when they are providing objectively useful information.”
Not too flat
The findings have implications for both consumers who want to craft helpful, influential reviews and for online sellers who depend on reviews to spur sales. For reviewers, the research shows that feedback with a more balanced tone tends to be more influential—as long as some emotion is expressed.
“Our theory is that readers use emotion to infer how much effort and thought went into a review,” Yin says. “When someone writes a flaming, angry review or a gushing, fawning review, they are perceived as responding emotionally and not logically. At the same time, reviewers who are overly flat in expressing themselves may be perceived as unhelpful.”
Yin recommends that retailers monitor online reviews, as they can provide early indications of product and service issues. He also says, however, it’s wise to not fret over a handful of searing reviews, as their impact is likely limited. In addition, he notes that retail sites should consider review guidelines that encourage a moderate level of emotion to elicit narratives that are most valued.
The study is based on an examination of 400,000 reviews at Apple’s App store. The researchers measured the emotional intensity of each review with linguistic analysis tools, then examined the relationship between emotional intensity and “helpful” votes given to the review.
Additionally, the researchers conducted a follow-up survey and two laboratory experiments in which respondents evaluated fictional mobile app reviews that contained the same objective content but different levels of emotion.
“Results from all four studies provided evidence for ‘diminishing returns to emotion,’” Yin says. “Readers were much more likely to view a review as helpful when it contained a moderate amount of emotional words and exclamations, but not when it was full of such emotional markers.”