Interactive websites shape popular perception: study

May 26th, 2008 - 2:37 pm ICT by admin  

Toronto, May 26 (IANS) An attractively designed website, encouraging interaction with a target audience, helps shape popular perceptions about an organisation or the groups it represents. S. Shyam Sundar of Pennsylvania State University and colleagues are trying to fathom how such interactivity influences public perception of an organisation.

In previous studies of such websites, Sundar had found that candidates were rated more positively if their site had some interactive features, independently of the quality of content.

“Websites with low to medium levels of interactivity create positive perceptions but for medium to high interactivity, it actually falls down,” said Sundar.

He advised against too much interactivity as it may lead to an overload of information.

Whatever effects, positive or negative, of a site, interactivity acts as a volume knob that boosts the effect, he explained, noting that “just through the presence of such features, people attribute meaning to the content or the nature of the site”.

The Penn State researchers wanted to see if the same effect holds true even if the people viewing the website are highly engaged, or whether they form their opinions based on bells and whistles on a website only when they do not know enough about a topic. In the current study, 116 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to one of seven websites representing low, medium, and high levels of interactivity.

The students were specifically assigned to review the career section of these organisations because these sites require a higher level of involvement.

Students then answered a questionnaire on their perceptions of an organisation based on their experience with its website. The study results show that there is a significant positive relationship between the level of interactivity on a career website and job seekers’ perception of that organisation.

“We found that college students looking for a job are more likely to apply to companies that have interactive websites with bells and whistles,” said Sundar.

In other words, the website of an organisation could feature an optimal amount of interactivity specifically tailored to its target audience, and thereby control the impressions that people form of that organisation.

These findings were presented Sunday at the 58th annual conference of the International Communication Association (ICA) in Montreal.

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