May 29, 2008 — The interactive look and feel of your Web site could help shape positive perceptions about your practice if the site includes a likeable design and features that engage the target audience, according to media researchers.
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 understand how interactivity in Web sites influences the public perception of an organization. In previous studies of Web sites of political candidates, Sundar had found that the candidates were rated more positively if their sites had some interactive features, even though the sites had no new content, and the candidates held the same policy positions.
But 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,” said Sundar. “In general, too much interactivity is not desirable, and may lead to information overload.”
The Penn State researchers wanted to see if the same effect holds true if the people viewing the Web site are highly engaged, or whether they form their opinions based on bells and whistles on a Web site only when they do not know enough about a topic.
In the current study, 116 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to one of seven Web sites 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 then answered a questionnaire on their perceptions of an organization based on their experience with its Web site. The study results show that there is a significant positive relationship between the level of interactivity on a career Web site and job seekers’ perception of that organization.
The findings may have important implications for organizations. For instance, by simply tweaking the features on the Web site and without changing any of the content, a company could project a positive image to its targeted demographic.
In other words, the Web site of an organization could feature an optimal amount of interactivity specifically tailored to its target audience, and thereby control the impressions that people form of that organization.
Researchers say the next step is to figure out all the different meanings people are attaching when they are faced with new responsive features.
Source: Penn State Media Effect Research Laboratory, www.psu.edu/dept/medialab