American Academy of Advertising awards Grady College doctoral candidate

Yan Shan, a third-year PhD student in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, is a recipient of the American Academy of Advertising (AAA) 2014 Dissertation Proposal Award. She was recognized and given $1,500 for the support of her research during a conference last month in Atlanta.  

Shan's dissertation, “The Credibility of Electronic WOM: Do Perceived Similarity, Source Prestige and Argument Quality Foster the Emergence of Trust,” focuses on the impact and credibility of online reviews.

“What I want to learn is how the people who write reviews influence other consumers' perceptions,” she explained, “whether they trust [the reviews] or not.”

The idea for the study, Shan said, came to her when she travelled to China last summer for her wedding.  While visiting a bridal shop in Shanghai, the owner, a friend, told Shan that she was curious why her revenue wasn't picking up despite increased traffic to her website.  The owner wondered if it could be attributed to the boutique's lack of online reviews. 

Shan, who also has a personal interest in online shopping, decided to explore the role reviews play in e-commerce.

To conduct her research, Shan created a mock website called e-Voices where she wrote and posted sample reviews for cameras and hotels under the guise that they were the “viewpoints” of different “reviewers.” She also built fake profiles for each “reviewer” so that they appeared to represent various demographics.

Next, Shan surveyed three groups of students, asking them a series of questions based off of screenshots from the website to determine if variables such as age, gender or argument quality impacted reviewers' trustworthiness.

Though she's still in the analysis process, Shan said the data appears to show that consumers attach different weights to different reviews depending on what information is presented and what products are evaluated.

“It indicates that the effects of online product reviews are complex and should not be generalized,” she explained.

Shan plans to continue her research and believes it will be helpful to both online marketers and the consumers who shop for their products and services.

“The AAA dissertation award is a prestigious award given to only three doctoral student scholars this year,” said Karen King, a professor of advertising who serves as Shan's dissertation advisor. “The results of Yan's timely research will likely provide implications for both academics and those in the industry. We are very proud of Yan for receiving this award.”

An international student, Shan says Grady College has become for her a home away from home.

“I think I have good connections with people here,” she remarked. “In the doctoral program, people are really helpful and friendly.  My cohorts teach me a lot. Everyone is willing to help you out, and I really appreciate that.”

Shan holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Nanjing University of Science and Technology and a master's degree in mass communication from the University of Central Florida.  Following graduation this August, she hopes to work for an advertising agency to gain valuable hands-on experience.

“I've been doing studies for a long time, and I want to see how people in the industry use research to assist the business process,” she said.

Date: April 18, 2014
Author:  Stephanie Moreno,
Contact:  Yan Shan,