Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 30 Number 1 2013 pp. 293-324

Credibility of Anonymous Online Product Reviews: A Language Expectancy Perspective

Jensen, Matthew L, Averbeck, Joshua M, Zhang, Zhu, and Wright, Kevin B

ABSTRACT: Online reviews play a significant role in forming and shaping perceptions about a product. With the credibility of online reviewers a frequent question, this research investigates how potential buyers assess the credibility of anonymous reviewers. Technology separates the reviewer from the review, and potential buyers are left to rely on characteristics of the review itself to determine the credibility of the reviewer. By extending the language expectancy theory to the online setting, we develop hypotheses about how expectancy violations of lexical complexity, two-sidedness (highlighting positive and negative aspects of a product), and affect intensity influence credibility attributions. We present an experiment in which favorable experimental reviews were generated based on actual reviews for a digital camera. The results indicate that two-sidedness caused a positive expectancy violation resulting in greater credibility attribution. High affect intensity caused a negative expectancy violation resulting in lower credibility attribution. Finally, high reviewer credibility significantly improved perceptions of product quality. Our results demonstrate the importance of expectancies and violations when attributing credibility to anonymous individuals. Even small expectancy violations can meaningfully influence reviewer credibility and perceptions of products.

Key words and phrases: affect intensity, credibility, electronic word of mouth, eWOM, language expectancy theory, lexical complexity, persuasion, product reviews, two-sidedness