Penn State researchers have found that having an interactive corporate website could help foster positive thoughts about a company.
S. Shyam Sundar, professor of film, video and media studies at Penn State, and Jamie Guillory, formerly an undergraduate student at Penn State, are trying to figure out how interactivity in websites shapes the public perception of an organization.
In earlier studies of websites of political candidates, Sundar had found that the candidates were rated more positively if their site had some interactive features, even though the sites had no new content, and the candidates held the same policy positions.
However, too much interactivity tends to turn off people.
"Websites with low to medium levels of interactivity create positive perceptions but for medium to high interactivity, it actually falls down. In general, too much interactivity is not desirable, and may lead to information overload," said Sundar.
He explained that whatever effects, positive or negative, on a site, interactivity acts as a volume knob that boosts the effect, noting, "Just through the presence of such features, people attribute meaning to the content or the nature of the site."
In the new study, 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.
Therefore, researchers randomly assigned 116 undergraduate students 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 organizations because these sites require a higher level of involvement.
Features on these sites ranged from enabling a person to click on a link for job inquiries, follow a link for information on a specific job, submit an online application and view video footage of the company and its employees.
Students were then asked to answer a questionnaire on their perceptions of an organization based on their experience with its website.
Researchers found that there was a significant positive relationship between the level of interactivity on a career website and job seekers' perception of that organization.
"We found that college students looking for a job are more likely to apply to companies that have interactive websites with bells and whistles. But the students use these features to make a logical connection," said Sundar.
"We found that both liking and involvement are significant mediators such that people who saw a high interactive website liked it more, and they also got involved as a result of liking it more," he added.
The findings may have important implications for organizations. However, Sundar also warned against being taken in by fancy websites that promise much and deliver little.
The study has been presented at the 58th annual conference of the International Communication Association (ICA) in Montreal.