Study Finds Word of Web Still Lacking

Published 15 April 2008

A new study has taken a close look at the effect of blogs, web reviews and interactive websites like Facebook, My Space and You Tube on consumer behaviour.

Marketing and tourism academics from the Australian Regional Tourism Research Centre at Southern Cross University joined forces with information systems researchers at Victoria University to determine the influence of User Generated Content (or UGC) on tourist travel behaviour.

Dr Carmen Cox, senior lecturer in marketing at Southern Cross University’s Tweed Gold Coast campus, said UGC had changed the way the Web was used for communication.

“These types of sites have created a unique new ‘word-of-web’ phenomenon that can spread rumours and information much more quickly than word of mouth to millions of internet users anywhere, anytime,” said Dr Cox.

Sponsored by the Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre and Tourism New South Wales, the study surveyed more than 12,500 people online about their travel planning behaviour.

“We found that potential travellers used UGC as an additional source of information to help with their planning process, rather than as a complete substitute for other information sources,” Dr Cox said.

“Although these sites are rising in popularity, they are not yet considered to be as credible or trustworthy as existing sources of travel information.

“Moderated websites such as Trip Advisor, which often ask contributors to provide some profile information on themselves, are among the most trusted of UCG sites, but they still do not have the perceived reliability of resources like state tourism websites.”

Even so, businesses and organisations ignore “word of web” at their peril.

“The smart businesses of the future will pay close attention to what their consumers are saying about them on the web and take it on board as free market research,” said Dr Cox.

And a word of warning from Dr Cox and her co-researchers to any businesses thinking of posting their own glowing reviews online:

“Our research found that most internet users see right through these tactics and tend to form very negative opinions about organisations that manipulate UGC.

“I would not advise it at all.”

Photo: Dr Carmen Cox, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Southern Cross University

Media contact: Zuleika Henderson Media Officer, Southern Cross University Tweed Gold Coast Campus: 07 5506 9385 or 0408 644533