The moderating effect of eWOM reccomendation

Research question: To what (measurable) degree does eWOM recommendation have a moderating effect on a parents’ intention to enquire or register at an independent senior school?

Note: This research is pending publication, and has therefore been heavily redacted.

Abstract: A review of the literature surrounding electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) reveals that there is a strong body of evidence to suggest that certain variants of eWOM are stringer drivers of purchase intention, and those originating from specific sources hold a higher level of trust with the receiver. The purpose of this study was to ascertain hypothesised linkages between eWOM and a parent’s intention to enquire at a senior independent school, and if a causal link between eWOM and registration could be ascertained. A quantitative study approach was adopted by gathering primary data, in the form of a questionnaire, from a sample of parents who had enquired at the school. A larger, secondary data source was obtained in the form of historic admissions data that added an additional secondary dimension. Statistical techniques were employed to discover specific insights and to test the hypotheses.


Primary data collection has been conducted using self-administered survey questions from the aforementioned statistically representative sample. This was emailed to 485 members of the sample group with an expected 25-35% response rate. Questions are closed-ended, and three of these were constructed using the rating and Likert format, in order to produce a mine of coded attitudinal responses that lends itself to quantitative analysis. For ease of quantitative analysis, these closed-ended questions were crafted to mirror information that was already held in the admissions database.

The questionnaire was designed with six questions that cover awareness of the school that they chose for their child, trust surrounding eWOM and actions taken on receipt of an electronic recommendation. Likert answers were subsequently coded with numerical values from -2 to +2.

Data mining was conducted on the admissions database of the school under research, in order to obtain secondary research data. We relied on this historic enrolment data to understand geographically and behaviourally where pupils are coming from, their household income, interests/affinities, crucially how they heard about the school, drivers of enquiry and any core philosophical values they hold. Approximately 2500 records that date between 2016 and 2021 were mined, with no affinity or prejudice; this includes records of families that accepted, deferred and rejected a place at the school.

Questionnaire Sample

Table 1 - Questionnaire Sample

Analysis and Results

The results reveal that for certain variants, there is a significant degree of trust in eWOM, and that under the right conditions, it can influence a parents’ intention to enquire. Further to this, a moderating factor was discovered that causes an accelerated timescale between enquiry and registration for families seeking a residential (boarding) place at an independent school. Whilst it would have been optimal to include several, geographically dispersed schools in this study, its focus was on one secondary independent school in the United Kingdom. Further to this, a detailed longitudinal study into the influence of eWOM might be able to investigate the effect on admissions enrolment over time. It does propose, however, a unique insight into the influence of eWOM and offers a number of suggestions that independent schools could potentially employ to enhance customer service and measure the effects of eWOM.

Three questions covered the issue of trust:

  • Would you trust electronic recommendation by friends or family about independent schools posted online?
  • Would you trust electronic third-party reviews or recommendations about independent schools posted online?
  • How likely are you to enquire at an independent school based on electronic recommendation only?

To gain maximum value from these questions, a simple calculation was devised, unique to this research, to determine the strength of the outcome. From the coded Likert scale, we assume the following:

(Definitely X 2) + (Most probably X 1) + (Probably X 0) + (Probably not X -1) + (Definitely not X -2) = Strength Score

Question Scoring

Table 2 - Question Scoring

The respondents were asked about their awareness of the independent school they chose for their child. Whilst potentially not an exhaustive list, these values represent 100% of the returned values for this question, as the field ‘other’ was not populated. The results were not altogether unexpected, ‘Local reputation’ was the first placed value with 35.37%, followed by ‘Friends, family or other parents’ at 30.61%. Barring ‘Search engine’ at 12.24%, the remaining values were single figure.

Awareness of Chosen School

Figure 1 - Awareness of Chosen School

Question four broadly tackled the issue of trust and electronic recommendation. Direct messages from known and trusted sources, ‘Friends, family or other parents’ was significantly out front, at 59.86%. Next was ‘a shared social media post friends, or family, or other parents’ at 11.56%. At the far end, with 4.08% and 3.4% were ‘A website or blog article’ and ‘A shared social media post by someone you do not know’. 

Trusted Sources of Digital Recommendation

Figure 2 - Trusted Sources of Digital Recommendation

When secondary data is viewed across a five-year timeline, it is interesting to note the respective trendlines; it can be observed that there has been an overall decline in traditional sources of referral, such as ‘Local reputation’, Friends, Family or Other Parents’, and ‘Print Advertising’ but an increase in all other recorded sources over this period.

Year on Year Referral Sources

Figure 3 – Year on Year Referral Sources

When observing percentage values of the referral sources, we see that 29.67% stated ‘Local Reputation’, followed by 28.16% stating ‘Friends, Family or Other Parents’. It should be noted that this is broadly consistent with the primary source of data, with key differences being digital advertising and social media, and the rank order is slightly different.

Combined Referral Sources

Figure 4 - Combined Referral Sources

Hypothesis Testing

In order to reject the null hypothesis, that eWOM recommendation does not have a measurable moderating effect on parents’ intention to enquire and register at an independent secondary school, it must be demonstrated that families enquiring when eWOM is the referral source, have a higher rate of enquiry and registration, and eWOM is therefore a stronger moderator than other sources of referral.

We were able to test this hypothesis by first comparing the rates of enquiry and registration against other sources of referral, using the secondary data source. We began by performing the Chi-Square test of independence. This statistical test determines the degree to which data are incompatible with an assumed statistical model encompassing the null hypothesis, which may be one of the absences of connection or any other defined mathematical form.

We calculated (o-e)2 / o for each cell in the table where o is the observed value and e is the expected value, followed by X2 = Σ(o-e)2 / e. The resulting output can be seen in table 3:

Chi-Square Interim Results

Table 3 – Chi-Square Interim Results

The one-sample t-test compares the mean of a single column of values to a hypothetical mean. This mean value might be derived from a specific standard or from another external forecast. We used the known value of the average time between enquiry and registration for all referral sources, 115 days, as the hypothetical mean. The formula for this test is as follows:

t-test Formula

As the computed p-value (0.001) is lower than the significance level alpha=0.05, one should reject the null hypothesis and accept the alternative hypothesis that eWOM has a measurable, moderating effect on parents’ intention to enquire and register at an independent senior school.

T-test (Time between enquiry and registration)

Figure 5 –T-test (Time between enquiry and registration)

t-test Outcome

Table 4 – t-test Outcome


In conclusion, trust in eWOM is a crucial factor in the marketing success of independent schools, and it is important for marketers to measure and understand this concept. Various factors, including the type of eWOM, the content, and cultural differences, can influence trust. Measuring trust in eWOM can help schools identify areas for improvement in their eWOM strategies and develop more effective ways to build trust with their parents and pupils. Overall, further research in this area could lead to a better understanding of trust in eWOM, ultimately leading to more effective marketing strategies and increased customer satisfaction.

Recommendations for Further Study

Recommendations for further study in the area of measuring trust in electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) could include exploring the impact of different types of eWOM on trust, such as reviews on social media versus product review websites. Further research could also investigate the role of visual content, such as images and videos, in building trust through eWOM. Additionally, it would be valuable to examine the impact of cultural differences on trust in eWOM, as trust may be influenced by factors such as social norms and language differences. Further studies could also analyse how different industries may be impacted by trust in eWOM, and how businesses can tailor their eWOM strategies accordingly.