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Keywords:

  • gender;
  • credibility;
  • weblogs

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Uses and Gratifications of Blogs
  6. The Present Study
  7. Methods
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. References
  11. About the Author

This study examines how gender cues influence perceptions of credibility of informational blogs. Using 2 experiments for data collection, this study manipulated the gender descriptors of a Weblog authors and had participants rate the overall perceived credibility of 1 of 3 blog posts. Male authors were deemed more credible than female authors, and main effects were found for information seekers, who found the blogs more credible than noninformation seekers. Implications are discussed.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Uses and Gratifications of Blogs
  6. The Present Study
  7. Methods
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. References
  11. About the Author

The level of credibility and trustworthiness of mass media seems to be at a critical juncture. As noted in a study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, believability in the press has dropped roughly 30 percentage points over the past 20 years, implying that the general public may be more skeptical in what they see and read in the news (Pew, 2005). Similarly, the perceived professionalism and morality of the media has declined since the mid-1980s (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2007). At the same time, however, these studies suggest that the public generally maintains a favorable attitude about the mainstream media, especially when compared with other public institutions, such as the legislative and executive branches of government.

It is within this current climate that a new type of information source is growing in popularity—the weblog. Because this type1 of online media is still evolving, definitions tend to be quite broad. Bruns and Jacobs (2006) urge scholars to go “[b]eyond the basic definition of ‘blogging’ as the reverse-chronological posting of individually authored entries which include the capacity to provide hypertext links and often allow comment-based responses from readers.” Rather than refer to Weblogs (blogs) as if they were a monolithic type, “it is likely that we will come to speak primarily not of blogging per se, but of diary blogging, corporate blogging, community blogging, research blogging, and many other specific subgenres which are variations on the overall blogging theme. … it makes as little sense to discuss the uses of blogs as it does to discuss, say, the uses of television unless we specify clearly what genres and contexts of use we aim to address” (Bruns & Jacobs, 2006).

Researchers are beginning to learn more about blogs, their demographics and how they compare to other mass media. This type of information source is particularly compelling when we consider the demographics of those who write blogs—in early 2006, study results found that more than half (54 percent) of bloggers were under the age of 30. Bloggers were almost evenly divided between men (also 54 percent) and women (Lenhart & Fox, 2006). In 2003, by comparison, another study found that 92.4 percent of blogs had an author under 30, and 56 percent of blogs were written by women (Henning, 2003). Other work has suggested teenage girls and 20-something males were the majority of authors (Herring et al., 2004), but this appears to be changing as blogs enter the mainstream. The number of younger bloggers remains disproportionately high in comparison with the general population of Internet users, in which ages 18–29 constitute 24 percent of the total, and ages 30–49 constitute 45 percent (Lenhart & Fox, 2006).

Given these demographics, it seems important to examine how blogs are perceived by blog readers. That is, how credible is this medium to those who read blogs most frequently? In particular for this study, we took the traditional concept of source credibility in media and extended it to blog authors and content. For example, research has shown that the credibility of the sources providing information may influence believability of the material (Flanagin & Metzger, 2003; M. J. Robinson & Kohut, 1988). Some studies have predicted source credibility differences by varying gender cues, source descriptors and topical choices (see e.g. Armstrong & Nelson, 2005; White & Andsager, 1991). The overall perceived credibility of Web sites is mixed, depending upon the author of the site; government and media Web sites, for example, have often been deemed more trustworthy than those created by private individuals (Center for the Digital Future, 2005).

Thus, our overall research questions center on the level of perceived credibility given to blogs and whether the predictors of source credibility within traditional news media will extend to blog writers and users. To explore these dynamics, this paper examines three opinion-based blogs as information sources and two data collections in an attempt to isolate the credibility of male and female blog authors. In particular, we used an experimental design to examine how gender cues may influence blog credibility.

Since blogs are becoming a significant source of information among U.S. Internet users (Internet activities, 2005), examining their perceived credibility among consumers is important for communication research. In addition, extending gender research into blog credibility will help explain whether traditional stereotyping cues are effective in a new medium. Blogs are a virtually untested medium, so learning more about how they are perceived will provide valuable insight to both researchers and news practitioners. In particular, research into how new information sources are affecting news judgment and information seeking will help communication professionals learn to more effectively target their markets. In addition, fleshing out the role of author gender in this medium will extend work by gender-focused scholars.

Literature Review

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Uses and Gratifications of Blogs
  6. The Present Study
  7. Methods
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. References
  11. About the Author

Gender and Perceived Credibility: Credibility in mass communication has been examined in three general venues: medium credibility (Gaziano & McGrath, 1986; Sundar & Nass, 2001), message credibility (Kiousis, 2001), and source credibility (Armstrong & Nelson, 2005; White & Andsager, 1991). Within mass communication research, the study of source credibility, which is the focus of the present work, took shape mainly in the late 1960s and early 1970s and targeted four dimensions of credibility: knowledge, trustworthiness, attractiveness and dynamism (Berlo et al., 1969; Markham, 1968; Singletary, 1976). Other studies have focused on key source credibility determinants, such as believability (M. J. Robinson & Kohut, 1988), topical interest (White & Andsager, 1991), and source selection evaluations (Powers & Fico, 1994).

More recent studies have attempted to examine predictors and relationships between perceived credibility and other variables. A 2003 study found that students attending universities in the U.S. Northwest rated political columnists as more credible than those students in the Southeast (Andsager & Mastin, 2003). Similarly, some research has found a relationship between format and source credibility. In particular, a multimedia presentation of Internet news was found to positively influence source credibility (Kiousis, 2006), as was HDTV, which has a positive effect on local news anchors (Bracken, 2006). More specifically, Bracken's results indicated that the perceived credibility of the news anchor was linked to the image quality onscreen.

When examining the relationship between source credibility and gender, the results are mixed. White and Andsager (1991) found that gender was not related to the perceived credibility of newspaper columnists, although their results indicated that readers preferred columns written by authors of the same sex. Similarly, in an experiment gauging college students views on perceived credibility found no difference in news articles written by males or females (Burkhart & Sigelman, 1990). However, a 1988 study found that college-age men view males as having more expertise, while women of the same age group found no difference between genders (Carocci, 1988). Later work found that female columnists—in particular African-American women—were ascribed with higher credibility than men (Andsager & Mastin, 2003). Finally, Flanagin and Metzger (2003) found that men and women had different views of Web site credibility and that each tended to rate opposite-sex Web pages as more credible than same-sex Web sites.

Given these conflicting results, it seems likely that gender may play a role in determining source credibility ratings. For example, in news stories, individuals trying to assess credibility may look to the source for cues that serve as a heuristic for information processing. A source with some authority, such as an expert in the subject area of the story, may be seen as more credible than, say, an everyday person. In these cases, individuals use source characteristics as a heuristic cue, transferring the perceived credibility of the source onto the information as a whole.

Prior research has found information processing is often influenced by cues that serve as shortcuts—often called schemas or stereotypes (see e.g. Armstrong & Nelson, 2005; Fiske et al., 1999; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990). Individuals have internal categorization mechanisms—schemas—that allow them to determine attitudes and appropriate behaviors in social situations (Augoustinos & Walker, 1995). These schemas serve as cues that help individuals make quick judgments when interpreting information (Brewer, 1988; Eagly & Steffen, 1984; Fiske et al., 1999; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990).

Applying this idea to news and informational content, readers may gauge credibility and trust of information based on the individual descriptors of sources within the text, including gender cues (e.g., he/she). Armstrong and Nelson (2005) found that when readers encountered official sources providing information, they were less likely to process the story thoughtfully, but when an unofficial source was quoted, individuals read the story more thoroughly. Further, when official or “expert” sources were used, most respondents tapped into their stereotyping heuristics, assuming that the source was male. “These ‘authority figures' may be seen as credible because they often appear in news stories, so readers find them familiar, which accounts for shortcuts in processing” (p. 832).

This finding illustrates the role that gender cues can play in information processing (St. Pierre et al., 1994; Zhou et al., 2004). In fact, gender is one of the most commonly accessed stereotypes (Deaux & Lewis, 1984). It seems likely then that the gender of a perceived author would be influential in determining credibility of a specific news item. In this study, that item will be a blog post.

Authors and types of blogs: In terms of authorship, studies have reported inconsistent findings about who has been authoring blogs. A 2003 survey found that 56 percent of blogs were written by females—often teenage girls (Henning, 2003). Several studies have suggested that women's blog posts are more often journals or diary entries (see e.g., Trammell & Keshelashvili, 2005; Viégas, 2005). Trammell and Keshelashvili (2005) found that of 201 bloggers for whom gender could be determined, 70.8 percent were male. That study, however, looked at 209 single-author blogs identified as “most popular blogs” through Popdex.com, so it was not an attempt to represent all blogs.

The blogosphere, or universe of blogs, is changing. For example, among all Americans 12–17 years old, 93 percent use the Internet, and 28 percent of them have created a blog or online journal—compared with 19 percent in the same age group in 2004 (Lenhart et al., 2007) Girls continue to dominate the teen blogging population; 35 percent of all online teen girls blog, while 20 percent of all online teen boys do (Lenhart et al., 2007). Among bloggers age 18 and older, however, there is more gender parity today: 54 percent are men, and 46 percent are women (Lenhart & Fox, 2006).

A recent study found that the “most active” (as compared with “most popular”) bloggers include women and adolescents, and that topics and concerns tend to differ between male- and female-authored blogs (Herring & Paolillo, 2006). ComScore Media Metrix identified the four most visited categories of blogs as politics, “hipster” lifestyle, technology and “blogs authored by women” (comScore Media Metrix, 2005). Another study found that only three of the top 30 political blogs were authored by women (Harp & Tremayne, 2006). However, the results of a study of 127 blog posts (from 44 different blogs) raise new questions. In analyzing linguistic features of the posts—65 written by women, and 62 written by men—the researchers found that the genre of the post (diary vs. “filter”2) was a far better predictor of style (e.g., first-person plural vs. second-person; use of quantifiers vs. numbers) than was gender (Herring & Paolillo, 2006). The researchers argue:

… why the genres appear to be gendered, when the language of the authors is not. One could argue that the genres we have been discussing are gendered, independent of language. Diary writing has traditionally been associated with females, and politics and external events, the mainstays of filter blogs, have traditionally been masculine topics. Furthermore, previous research shows that females write more diary blogs, and males write a disproportionate number of filter blogs … (p. 453).

This brings out the possibility that the blogger's gender may be irrelevant to blog readers who are accustomed to a particular genre of blogs. For example, in a joint survey on campaign news and political communication, conducted at the end of 2007, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that “the proportion of Americans who say they regularly learn about the campaign from the Internet has more than doubled since 2000—from 9% to 24% (Pew, 2008). In comparison with data from 2000, Pew found that “far fewer Americans now say they regularly learn about the campaign from local TV news (down eight points), nightly network news (down 13 points) and daily newspapers (down nine points)” (p. 1).

With this exponential increase in both blog authorship and readership, it seems then that the potential exists for gender cues to influence the perceived credibility of blogs in that individuals may perceive some topics as “belonging” to female or male bloggers or as requiring a particular expertise. Those cues may trigger stereotypical schemas from the readers, who base credibility more on the source descriptors than on the information presented.

Uses and Gratifications of Blogs

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Uses and Gratifications of Blogs
  6. The Present Study
  7. Methods
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. References
  11. About the Author

Much of mass communication research has focused upon an individual's motivations for using a particular medium. That is, what drives an individual to use a particular medium and the benefit he or she receives from its use? Scholars have termed this theoretical approach “uses and gratifications” and argue that media users have specific goals in mind, using media purposefully to achieve those goals (Bantz, 1982; Katz et al., 1974; Rosengren et al., 1985). Thus, when individuals are using media, they actively select media appropriate to what they are seeking.

While the uses and gratifications perspective has been used to explain many variations in media use, recent research has focused on two dimensions of the overall use typologies: information-seeking/surveillance use, where users purposefully seek information from media to increase, reinforce, or modify viewpoints; and entertainment/leisure use, in which amusement and reduction of cognitive stimulation become the main gratifications of media use (Rubin & Perse, 1987a, 1987b; Rosengren et al., 1985). Other researchers have reported that individuals found specific motivations for media use, such as reducing anxiety (Kellerman & Reynolds, 1990), escaping from problems (Rubin, 1983), and relieving boredom (Vincent & Basil, 1997).

However, much of the seminal work on uses and gratifications focused on the use of traditional media, including newspapers and television. With the rise of the Internet and mobile electronic devices, uses of media have changed. A recent study of college students found that while the basic motivations for media use—information seeking or leisure activity—haven't changed, the sources and providers to which students go for these media have changed (Diddi & LaRose, 2006). This study of news consumption patterns suggests that the top two locations where students seek news content are their campus newspaper and news Internet portals.

Given the pervasiveness of the Internet, scholars have attempted to determine the motivations for its use. These initial works have generally found that, similar to traditional media, individuals use the Internet for either surveillance or entertainment purposes (Ferguson & Perse, 2000; Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000). A set of studies by Johnson and Kaye attempted to isolate specific motivations and how each motivation relates to specific Web sites. For example, the scholars found that information seeking was more likely for those visiting sports-focused Web sites (Johnson & Kaye, 2003), but that politically oriented Web sites and bulletin boards may be more used for guidance purposes, such as determining voter preference (Kaye & Johnson, 2004). The two also found that traditional media use was a strong predictor of online credibility, but that reliance on the Web was not (Johnson & Kaye, 2002). A recent study comparing perceptions of credibility of traditional and nontraditional online news sources found that those consumers who found nontraditional news sources more credible also ranked higher on a modern racism scale (Melican & Dixon, 2008).

When looking specifically at blogs and uses and gratifications, a study of 3,747 blog users found that for some motivations, blog usage (measured in hours used per week) was a predictor but Internet experience (measured in years of use) was not (Kaye, 2005). This suggests that effects of blog usage may not be parallel to that of other media. Rainie (2005) concluded that “[b]log readers are somewhat more of a mainstream group than bloggers themselves” and noted recent growth in blog readership among women and minorities. Blog readers, therefore, are not rare, but the amount of experience with blogs can be expected to vary widely in the population of U.S. Internet users.

When exploring blog credibility, reliance on blogs was found to be a strong predictor, but reliance on traditional media and political involvement/knowledge and trust in government are weak predictors (Johnson & Kaye, 2004). A survey conducted just after the Iraq invasion found that most found that most respondents deemed blogs as credible and only 3.5 percent found them not credible at all. The authors suggested that many respondents based blog credibility—at least in part—on the depth of analysis of the post and information provided that was missing from other news reports.

More recent work has isolated some specific motivations for using blogs that appear to influence credibility. For example, information seekers rated news-related blogs in Taiwan less positively than noninformation seekers, while leisure-seeking users were more positive in views of entertainment content (Yang, 2007). The Kaye and Johnson group again found that reliance was found to be a stronger predictor than information-seeking for credibility of politically focused blogs (Johnson et al., 2007). Similarly, the authors found that heavy blog users find the content to be more credible than light blog users.

Therefore, as noted above, media use is often a predictor of credibility of that medium (see also Armstrong & Collins, Forthcoming). However, the literature also suggests that how a media consumer uses the medium appears to have a strong influence—perhaps stronger than use alone. In particular, information seekers appear to find informative blogs more credible than those not seeking information. Therefore, while exposure to blogs is important—the motivations for that exposure may prove more vital toward understanding blog credibility.

In summary then, prior literature has found that perceived credibility of media has been influenced by gender, the specific medium and expertise, along with motivations for media use. In particular, those who are information seekers have perceived media differently than those who are not information seekers. This manuscript attempts to link those ideas to blog credibility.

The Present Study

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Uses and Gratifications of Blogs
  6. The Present Study
  7. Methods
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. References
  11. About the Author

Using an experimental design, this study manipulated the gender of the blog author to determine the effects on the blog post's perceived credibility. We suggest that source credibility—that is, who writes the blog—will affect the perceived credibility of the post. Therefore, we’re using the term “source” to refer to the person who wrote the post itself. In traditional news coverage, the source is the person to whom information is attributed. However, as noted above, blogs are a bit different. Blogs are generally written by an individual who shares his or her opinions and usually provides additional Internet links for more information. Those links are often to mainstream media or informational Web sites, which may lend credibility to the overall blog post, but the links themselves aren't generally examined for source credibility (as a quoted human source could be in a news story). The human sources quoted in a news story speak to the reader. Rather than speaking to the blog user, the links in a blog post speak for the blog author.

Generally, the blog author establishes a relationship based on trust with his or her audience. This relationship is intentionally personal, in contrast to the professional objective detachment of a journalist, who must rely on quoted sources to speak to the reader. Bloggers, however, speak directly to their readers. “The personalities of the writers come through. That is the essential element of blog writing” (Winer, 2003).

As a result, the blog author is the “source” within a blog. Blogs are generally unedited, with little censorship other than responses to the blog posting (see e.g., Johnson & Kaye, 2004). It is the author who is being judged for accuracy, newsworthiness and believability, not others who might be quoted in a post. Therefore, in this study, our focus was on determining the credibility of the author of the blog.

To study the relationship between gender and blog credibility, we developed two experiments with different information-based blog content. Participants in the first experiment, run in fall 2005, were randomly assigned to read one blog post about rebuilding homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and to judge its credibility. The second data collection occurred in fall 2007, when participants were randomly assigned to read one of two posts (one about bottled water, the other about academic rankings of colleges), again judging its credibility. In all blog posts, the gender of the writer was manipulated, rotating among a male writer, female writer or a gender-neutral pseudonym (i.e., “Urbanite” or “Iconoclast”).

Based on the above literature, our two experiments were designed to examine two research questions:

RQ1:What is the role of gender in determining perceived blog credibility?

RQ2:What is the relationship between an individual's motivations for reading a blog and his or her perception of blog credibility?

Methods

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Uses and Gratifications of Blogs
  6. The Present Study
  7. Methods
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. References
  11. About the Author

This exploratory project employs two experiments, each using three conditions—male, female, and no gender. The studies were conducted in November 2005 and November 2007. Participants for the survey were drawn from several undergraduate classes—including some, but not all, in a mass communications curriculum—at a large university in the southeastern U.S.; they were offered extra credit for participating in this research experience. In Study 1, the mean age for participants was 20.7 (SD = 1.45), with 58 percent female. The n in Study 1 was 586. Study 2 had a total n of 786. The mean age for participants was 20.54 (SD = 2.35) also with 58 percent female.

In both studies, respondents read one version of a blog entry. In Study 1, all respondents read a blog post about rebuilding homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, while in Study 2 respondents were randomly assigned to read either a blog post about bottled water or one about college rankings. The text for each of the three posts was seven paragraphs (about 570 words) in length, and each post included six external links to other actual Web sites containing additional information about topics discussed in the blog (see Appendix A for a screen shot of the Katrina blog post). Each post was based on a real blog post written by an amateur blogger. Appropriate links were added; for example, in a sentence about unemployment rates in pre-Katrina New Orleans, a link to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment rates was provided. Some rewriting was necessary to increase the similarity of the three. The water post was lengthened, and the college rankings post was shortened, to make them more similar to the New Orleans post used in Study 1. However, the study authors—both female—attempted to maintain the tone and attitude of the original post in the rewrites through word selection and voice.3 Further, each of the three posts was formatted in the same page design, taken from a standard template at a popular blog hosting site with few alterations, giving the appearance of an average, somewhat plain blog.

The blog entries were selected for several attributes. One was length; 500 words was estimated to be substantial but not burdensome for an experiment with college students. Another was subject matter. We wanted posts with a personal voice and informal tone but that also addressed a topic that might interest a general audience. We were looking for a strong opinion that seemed well grounded and plausible.

For Study 1, the hurricane damage to New Orleans had dominated recent print and broadcast news reports, so it would be a familiar topic and close to home for students in the Southeastern U.S. We saw rebuilding in New Orleans as an aspect of the story that had not yet been hammered in the mainstream media. Thus we chose a blog post that we expected would be “fresh” to most of our study participants, without being obscure. We also chose a topic that had no overt references to gender or politics. It was originally written by a male author.

For Study 2, we decided to find two posts that might be even more interesting and relevant to an audience of undergraduate college students, while having different subject matter from each other. We did not want posts that sounded like news stories, or essays, or diary entries; our goal was something informational but not too dull. Our two posts seemed to be good counterpoints to each other. The bottled water post contained numerous facts about the environment, disposal of plastics, and water purity, but it was written in a snide, casual style with a youthful voice. The college rankings post was more traditional in structure and slightly formal in style, with an older, more authoritative voice; it concerned whether choosing a college based on rankings is wise in light of how the rankings are compiled—a topic we thought might warrant the attention of undergraduate students. The college rankings post was written by a man, and we were unable to find any identifying information as to the gender of the author of the original bottled water post.

Although the content of each post remained the same across conditions, the gender of the author was manipulated with slight differences between studies. In Study 1, respondents were randomly assigned to a post written by James Fitzgerald, Ann Fitzgerald or “Urbanite.” Information about the author was provided off to the right side of the blog, with no in-text reference to the gender of the author. Manipulation checks found that about 60 percent of participants correctly noted the author's gender within their specific conditions. In Study 2, respondents were assigned to one of two blog conditions written by James Fitzgerald, Ann Fitzgerald, or “Iconoclast.”4

After reading the blog entry, participants clicked a button that took them to an online survey on a new Web page.

Dependent Variable: The dependent variable for this analysis was the perceived credibility of the blog post read by respondents. In Study 1, it was created from a six-item index asking participants to rate on a 1–7 Likert scale (Chronbach's α = .84) whether they thought the blog post was interesting, accurate, credible, trustworthy, believable and held the respondent's attention (M = 24.8, SD = 6.3).5 In Study 2, a seventh variable was added to the index asking respondents if the links in the post were informative (M = 27.69, SD = 5.12, α = .85). In both studies, the individual items were added together to form an index.

Independent Variables: Informational use of blogs was created from an eight-item index asking respondents how often they used blogs to check accuracy of other media, to access information quickly, to find information not in traditional media, to supplement other media, to keep up with issues of the day, to be informed, to compare traditional media accounts, and to find specific information (Study 1 descriptives: M = 25.65, SD = 10.99, α = .93; Study 2 descriptives: M = 28.01, SD = 11.05, α = .92). Leisure use of blogs was a five-item index asking respondents whether they use blogs for entertainment, amusement, because it is exciting, to relax, or to follow what their friends and colleagues are doing (Study 1 descriptives: M = 20.22, SD = 8.06 α = .85; Study 2 descriptives: M = 17.52, SD = 6.53, α = .83).

Also, in Study 2, an additional index was created asking respondents about the perceived credibility of the blog author. This six-item index was developed from questions asking respondents their level of agreement that the post writer was trustworthy, dynamic, knowledgeable, believable, credible, and how likely they would be to read another post by this author (M = 27.69, SD = 5.12, α = .75).

Co-variates: Blog users were created from a two-item index asking participants how many online blogs they had read in the last seven days, and the average number of hours per week they spend reading and/or posting to blogs (Study 1 descriptives: r = .69, M = 1.31, SD = 1.59; Study 2 descriptives: r = .65, M = 1.45, SD = 1.61). Their answer choices for both questions were: 0, 1, 2–5, 6–10, or more than 10. In Study 1, 53.3% of the sample had not read a blog within the past week, and 58% had not spent any time posting to a blog in the past week. In Study 2, 49.1% had not read a blog within the past week and 54.1% had not spent any time posting to a blog within the past week. Once we combined the variables, we dichotomized it into users and non-users for the data analysis in both studies.

The overall perceived credibility of blogs was created through a three-item index asking participants to rate on a 1–7 Likert scale how much they agreed with statements that blogs are a good source of information, that information contained in blogs is trustworthy, and that only blogs connected to legitimate businesses are credible (Study 1 descriptives: M = 11.46, SD = 3.85, α = .65; Study 2 descriptives: M = 9.29, SD = 2.99, α = .65)

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Uses and Gratifications of Blogs
  6. The Present Study
  7. Methods
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. References
  11. About the Author

All statistical analysis was conducted using the SPSS statistical program. An analysis of covariance was conducted on both datasets. The dependent variable for all analysis was blog post credibility, and two variables were entered as covariates in the ANCOVA—blog usage and overall blog credibility.

In Study 1, main effects were found for information use [(F(1,586) = 20.05,p = .00)] such that mean blog credibility ratings were greater for high information seekers than for low information seekers (See Table 1). Although the gender manipulation did not have a statistically significant effect on blog post credibility [(F(2,586) = 1.64,p = .19)], a Scheffe posthoc analysis found that the male and female manipulations were significantly different from each other at p < .05. The mean credibility rating for the male writer was 25.13 and the female writer was 24.02. The no-gender condition rating was 24.39.

Table 1.  Analysis of Covariance Predicting Perceived Weblog Credibility by Manipulation Cue in Study 1
 MeansMean SqdfF valuep value
  1. Note: Means with the same superscript are significantly different than each other at the .05 Alpha level.

Gender Manipulation 58.0421.64.19
Male25.22a    
Female23.96a    
No Gender24.72    
Information Use 853.28124.24.00
Low Use23.20    
High Use26.07    
Leisure Use 81.4412.31.13
Low Use25.08    
High Use24.18    
Co-Variates     
Blog Use 6.791.19.66
Overall Blog Credibility 1114.86131.68.00
Error 35.20.505  
Total  511  

In Study 2, we added two additional measures to try to flesh out answers to our research questions (see Table 2). The first difference was the measure examining additional blog posts and the second was a measurement targeting the perceived credibility of the writer. The analysis of covariance of this study resulted in main effects for the gender manipulation [(F(1,786) = 3.57,p = .03)], information use [(F(1,786) = 6.78,p = .00)], writer credibility [(F(1,786) = 300.77,p = .00)], and the blog posts [(F(1,786) = 16.99,p = .00)]. The blog post about bottled water was deemed significantly more credible than the post on college rankings. There were no posthoc analyses with significant results for the gender manipulation.

Table 2.  Analysis of Covariance Predicting Perceived Weblog Credibility by Manipulation Cue in Study 2
 MeansMean SqdfF valuep value
Gender Manipulation 77.4123.57.03
Male32.18    
Female30.96    
No Gender32.17    
Information Use 146.9016.78.01
Low Use31.16    
High Use32.31    
Leisure Use 41.1811.90.17
Low Use31.45    
High Use32.03    
Writer credibility 6535.991301.48.00
Low Credibility28.38    
High Credibility35.17    
Post 368.40116.99.00
Rankings31.06    
Water32.58    
Co-Variates     
Blog Use 19.891.92.34
Overall Blog Credibility 90.4614.17.04
Error 21.68645  
Total  653  

Further, to determine the relationship between blog use and individual motivations, bi-variate correlations were conducted on the variables, as noted in Table 3. Both information use and leisure use are moderately correlated with blog usage, to a level of statistical significance. This suggests that perhaps the way individuals use blogs may influence their views of the post's credibility.

Table 3.  Bivariate Correlations Between Blog Usage and Individual Motivations for Blog Use in Study 1 and 2
 Study OneStudy Two
 Blog UseInfo UseBlog UseInfo Use
Blog Use.25**.42**
Info Use.25**.42**
Leisure Use.33**.34**.64**.38**

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Uses and Gratifications of Blogs
  6. The Present Study
  7. Methods
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. References
  11. About the Author

This study examined how the gender of the writer of a blog post influenced the perceived credibility of the blog post, resulting in three major findings. First, findings suggested that information-seeking influences the perceived credibility of the blog post. Further, blog posts written by men were deemed more credible than those written by women, inasmuch as in both studies, posts with male authors were rated higher in credibility than posts with female authors. Finally, the writing style and topic of the blog were also likely to influence the perceived credibility of the post.

We will first address the findings related to gender and perceived credibility, which was the key purpose of this research. In both studies, participants found blog posts more credible when perceived as written by men rather than by women, when other factors remained constant. Although there were no main effects in Study 1, the posthoc analysis indicates that differences were found between male- and female-authored blogs. A significant main effect for gender showed up in Study 2, such that the different credibility ratings for men and women were sustained across these information-focused topics. However, the effects may have been lessened in Study 2, in part because of the addition of the variable for writer credibility in Study 2.

The informational nature of the blogs may account for the finding, at least in part. Gender is still used as a heuristic in determining credibility, but perhaps its use is lessening in the blogosphere. Information perceived as coming from male sources continues to be deemed more credible than information from female sources, even in writing. As found in prior work by Armstrong and Nelson (2005), official sources in news stories were deemed more credible, but only when they were perceived to be male. A related finding is likely occurring here. Perhaps because the blogs are more informative in nature, the “expert”–plus-male heuristic is triggered by these respondents. Psychological research has found that individuals often use shortcuts to aid in their information processing, as these shortcuts allow individuals to interpret information faster (see e.g. Fiske et al., 1999; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990; Hastie & Park, 1986), and that gender is a common heuristic used to evaluate information (Armstrong & Nelson, 2005; Eagly & Steffen, 1984).

However, that commonality may be changing in this medium. One noteworthy difference in perceived credibility between the two studies was that the level of perceived credibility ascribed to the “no gender” condition. Perceived credibility of this condition increased in the second study to higher than that of either gender, while in the first study it was lower than the male manipulation. This may suggest that as blogs evolve and become more common in the public's information diet, gender cues may become less important to readers. Many popular blogs include screen names or pseudonyms, which may suggest a level of expertise and longevity with blogs—particularly for younger adults, who have grown up with social networking sites, where pseudonyms are common.

In this environment, younger adults may not use gender as a heuristic as often as older adults do. This argument is strengthened by the fact that those respondents who declined to specify a gender (in conditions where one was specified) grew from 23 percent in Study 1 to 55 percent in Study 2. Given that the manipulation was nearly identical in both studies, we don't believe that the problem was in the study design, but instead in the attitudes of participants that gender is not a useful heuristic for determining blog credibility. Of course, future research is needed to investigate this topic, as it may well be unique to online information, where gender-related cues (e.g. photos, identifying information) may not be as prevalent as in other media.

Ironically, although these younger adults may be more experienced with media where screen names and pseudonyms are popular, our findings suggest that their motivations for using blogs are the primary factor in determining blog credibility. Respondents with information-seeking tendencies found the blogs more credible than noninformation seekers in both studies. Since blog use was controlled in the ANCOVAs, this study was able to isolate specific motivations for usage. These findings support and extend prior work by Johnson et al. (2007), who also found that information seekers found political blogs more credible than non-information seekers.

What these findings may signify is the subtle increase in perceived credibility of blogs overall (particularly in the demographic of our subjects). That is, during the 2-year span of these experiments, blogs have gained more familiarity and thus, likely, credibility. In this cohort study, the percentage of participants who had read a blog or contributed to a blog within a week before the data collection each increased by 4%. Therefore it seems likely that more young adults, and perhaps blog users of other ages, are now exposed to blogs more frequently.

It may not be an attitudinal change as much as a change in exposure. It may be that as individuals become more experienced at reading and gathering information from blogs, they are not using traditional source descriptors to evaluate information. As blog users become more savvy at reading and interacting with blogs, they may be developing a different set of criteria for evaluating blogs—criteria related to the blog genre (Herring & Paolillo, 2006). Data for these studies were collected 2 years apart—a time during which the blogosphere grew exponentially. Therefore, it seems likely that the indicators of perceived credibility may have been fleshed out more clearly during that time. However, determining the criteria for credibility used by blog users is another area ripe for future research. These criteria could be based on links to external information, comments, links to other blogs (the blogroll), or design components.

Another cue may be related to the content of the blog. Much of the extant research about blogs relates to political blogs (see e.g. Harp & Tremayne, 2006; Johnson & Kaye, 2004); however, the number of blog topics is large and hardly limited to politics. Seven different forms of blogs were identified (i.e., reporter's notebook, opinion, Q&A, readers' forum, confessional diary, news round-up, rumor mill) in a content analysis of just 130 blogs from the mainstream media (S. Robinson, 2006). The blog posts in this study would likely resemble Robinson's opinion blogs. More specifically, our findings lend support to prior findings from Johnson et al. (2004, 2007) related to informational blogs, but the argument for identifying genres and contexts of blog use suggests that studies of this type of media have only scratched the surface (Bruns & Jacobs, 2006; Herring & Paolillo, 2006). Given the exploratory nature of this study, future research would do well to examine how the varying types of content, design, and blog features may influence credibility of blogs, as our views here are mainly speculative in nature.

Finally, when discussing perceived credibility and information seeking, the writing style, or voice, of the blogs is important to take into consideration. Arguably, the writing style of two of the three blog posts was straightforward and not very personal. The blog post about bottled water, in contrast, was written in a conversational and highly personal style (For example: “Then we throw over 22 billion empty plastic bottles in the trash. Wait, that's not all. I know you are thinking about the landfill and feeling bad and all that”). This difference likely resulted in the higher credibility ratings among this younger-adult population, as it was rated significantly higher in perceived credibility than the blog about college rankings.

The study did not test for differences between the two blogs, but given that design, presentation format, length, and other factors might reasonably be judged as equal, it seems likely that the writing style played a role in that difference. This points to the somewhat surprising possibility that a more irreverent, even cynical tone increases perceived credibility in the subject demographic. While some would argue this significant difference is a limitation, ironically, this finding appears to support prior work in this area that found that college students find their campus paper more credible than a community newspaper (see Armstrong & Collins, Forthcoming; Rieh & Hilligoss, 2008). Therefore, we believe our findings are in line with other work. What these and some prior findings may signal is that younger adults, who have grown up with social networking sites, e-mail, and mobile texting, recognize the tone and voice of these less-professional communications as trustworthy, because the informal tone matches that of peers. More formal posts (such as the college rankings blog) may sound more institutional when compared to a conversational, heartfelt blog post from someone who appears to be like them.

Limitations and Future Directions: A few caveats are necessary to address in this paper. These exploratory studies examined the perceived credibility of three informational blog entries over a 2-year period. We did not measure interest in the topics. Future research may want to examine how perceived credibility may be different among multiple genres, including personal diaries or entertainment-focused blogs, to determine a broader role of motivation on blog credibility.

Second, the generic design of the blog may have influenced overall perceived credibility. Experienced blog users may have recognized the design as being nonindividualized and therefore deemed it less trustworthy. Also, we used an undergraduate student sample within this study, so generalizing the results to the general population should be limited, as these participants may not be indicative of all younger adults' views on blog credibility. Finally, it is important to note that gender is a social construction that certainly appears in most media and writing. While we chose blogs in which gender was not an overt topic, we do not mean to imply that any of the topics were completely gender-neutral.

Overall, this study provided some insight for how blogs are being interpreted and understood. The implications will be useful for both researchers and journalists. This study is one of the first to link gender stereotyping with blog authorship, and it extends credibility research—particularly source credibility—into a new direction. The results also provide insight for those who write information-focused blogs—including, perhaps, journalists. Clearly, as technology changes, it is important to keep abreast of how presentations in different media can influence perceived credibility. This study is a step in that direction.

Notes
  • 1

    We use “type” here as a parallel to the sense in which newspapers are a type of print media.

  • 2

    Filter blogs select content from around the Web and link to it, sometimes adding commentary; political and issue blogs are usually filter blogs (Herring & Paolillo, 2006).

  • 3

    Upon request, the authors will provide both the original text of each blog post, along with the manipulated text for comparison.

  • 4

    In Study 1, 60 percent of respondents correctly identified the author gender, based on the condition in which they were placed. In Study 2, that identification dropped to 33 percent. However, it does not appear that the manipulation check failed in Study 2, but that participants were less inclined to assign gender based on a name. We discuss this more in the discussion section.

  • 5

    These source credibility measures were taken from Armstrong and Nelson (2005).

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Uses and Gratifications of Blogs
  6. The Present Study
  7. Methods
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. References
  11. About the Author
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About the Author

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Uses and Gratifications of Blogs
  6. The Present Study
  7. Methods
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. References
  11. About the Author

Cory L. Armstrong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, where she teaches information gathering, research, news writing, and diversity-related courses. Her research interests include credibility, gender portrayals and macro-level influences on news content and she has had research published in several top communication journals, including Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Communication and Mass Communication & Society, where she is also an associate editor. Her recent scholarship has examined the role of gender in obesity-related news coverage. Armstrong received her master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated with a B.A. from Miami University. She also has more than eight years of professional newspaper experience.

Address: 3045 Weimer Hall, Box 118400, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, 32611

Mindy McAdams is a professor in the Department of Journalism and Knight Chair for journalism technologies and the democratic process at the University of Florida. She teaches undergraduate courses about online journalism and a graduate course about the relationship between digital communications technologies and democracy. She is the author of Flash Journalism: How to Create Multimedia News Packages (Focal Press, 2005). McAdams has consulted and lectured about online journalism in Argentina, Canada, Europe, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. For eight months in 2004–2005, she was a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia. Her M.A. is in media studies from The New School for Social Research, New York, and her B.A. is in print journalism from Penn State.

Address: Address —3049 Weimer Hall, Box 118400, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611