If you want to persuade, start with a bang
Helpful reviews are like good movies or a good novel: If you’re hooked right away, you stay and remember. No matter how short, a review tells a story in much the same way as a novel. If you want to persuade, it should start with something dramatic and sensational or the key takeaway, rather than saving the best elements for the end. This is just one of the findings of research by my colleagues and me into what gives consumer reviews their power to influence consumer choices. Whether consumers are booking a hotel room, choosing a restaurant, deciding on what movie to see, or buying any number of things, it is likely they have read online reviews before making their decision. In view of the influence reviews have, there is considerable interest in knowing the qualities that make them compelling and persuasive. What is it that makes a consumer review persuasive, though?
Helpful reviews show who did what, where, when, and why
In fact, the same elements that hook the reader of a novel also exist in reviews. A story – no matter how short it is – has the power to draw you in and grab your attention if it uses certain narrative elements. We conducted three studies to determine these elements. In the first project, we tested the helpfulness of consumers’ reviews on Tripadvisor according to a helpfulness rating provided by consumers on the platform (see Box 1). In the second study, panelists on Amazon Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing platform, rated how engaging and helpful they perceived a selection of reviews to be. In the third study, 156 students read reviews about a trip to Agra, India and evaluated them along the same criteria as in Study 2. In addition, they indicated how much they wanted to travel to Agra after reading the reviews. All studies showed that the more narrative elements (see Figure 1) that were present, the more the reviews were regarded as captivating and persuasive. The most persuasive reviews tell who did what, where, when, and why, and provide emotional transitions and climaxes at the beginning.