Ideas with Impact
UNB Faculty of Management

Reviewing Customer Reviews: Improving Online Marketing

Author: Ideas with Impact

Posted on Feb 2, 2015

Category: Faculty

When Dr. Hsin-Chen Lin, who is originally from Taiwan, went to the United States to pursue her PhD she immediately noticed cultural differences between the two countries. She found herself intrigued by the individualistic culture of North America where people seemed to talk more, share Dr. Hsin-Chin Lin is researching the impact of online customer reviews on marketing practices.more, and compliment each other more. She noticed that people also tended to pay more attention to their online influence and access to influencers through their presence on the user-generated content websites (i.e. discussion forums, blogs, and other forms of social media created by online users). This was different from the collectivist culture of Asian countries where people tend to see themselves as part of larger groups (like family, work, or country) and acted as part of those groups. After spending time in the United States she became conscious of how people from collectivist societies seemed to be less active on websites.   

These observations inspired her research as a PhD candidate in the field of marketing at Purdue University. Her research focused on how word-of-mouth impacts sales in different cultures and how word-of-mouth evolves over time. Specifically, she characterized customers’ online posting behaviours and examined the impact of online reviews on sales rankings in individualist versus collectivist cultures. The online review and sales data were collected from North American and Japanese websites (i.e. and The results indicate that in individualistic cultures, like the United States and Canada, people are more likely to write online reviews, but the effect of these reviews on sales is less and shorter lived than the reviews in collectivistic cultures, such as Japan. That is, although there are many more reviews on, one additional review within individualist countries has less influence on sales and the influence can last only a couple of weeks. On the other hand, there are considerably fewer reviews in Japan, but one additional review within this collectivist context has a much stronger impact on sales and this influence can last for over a month. Additionally, she found that individualist reviewers tend to disagree with previous reviews, possibly because they want to be perceived as knowledgeable specialists or critical thinkers, while collectivist reviewers are less interested in self-presentation and less affected by others’ online opinions.

Although there are cultural differences in online posting behaviours and the impact of reviews on sales, a similar pattern among cultures that Dr. Lin found is that reviews tend to be highly positive right after a product launches but then get more negative over time. Dr. Lin explains that this is likely because consumers who are familiar with the brand or are fans of the company or product will adopt the new product earlier and are motivated to give more positive reviews. These initial reviews may be biased and lead to criticism from the later adopters.

In relation to consumer reviews, Dr. Lin is working on a few multidisciplinary projects on word-of-mouth formation and evolution. She collaborates with computer scientists to analyze the increasing volume and complexity of online information, or “Big Data.” Companies could possibly increase customer engagement, retention, and loyalty through integrating consumers’ online purchase information, social media interactions, and reviewing behaviour into their marketing strategies, ultimately improving their returns on investments.

Dr. Lin joined the faculty of business administration this past summer and teaches courses in the area of marketing. She is currently teaching classes in global marketing and social media marketing.

For more information contact Liz Lemon-Mitchell.