website for Fivver communication research

Illinois State faculty and students conducted their communication research using the Fivver website, an online marketplace where people sell and buy microtask services.

A simple question led to a research project that took two School of Communication graduate students and their professor more than 6,000 miles away from Normal.

The question was posed by then-Illinois State student Eric Varney ’13, M.S. ’15, while he and Professor Caleb Carr were looking at Fivver (pronounced five-er). The social network operates as an online marketplace where people advertise microtask services, including voice-over work, at rates starting at $5. Varney wondered why people hawking their audio services were posting pictures and videos of themselves.

“If I’m literally hiring them just for their voice, why are they giving me a picture? And so that opened up the conversation,” said Adam Mason, a master’s student who also worked on the research project.

Out of that conversation, Carr launched a study, using Fivver, to examine how employers weigh online information sources when hiring someone. Carr recruited Mason and fellow first-year graduate student Robert Hall to help with the research. Varney is credited as a co-author on the study for coming up with the idea.

School of Communication Professor Caleb Carr

School of Communication Professor Caleb Carr

The paper is under review at an academic management journal and was accepted for the 66th Annual International Communication Association Conference. Mason and Hall presented the paper during a panel session at the conference, which was held June 9-13 in Fukuoka, Japan.

The conference gives attendees the chance to see the latest research in their field and is great exposure for the students and the University, Carr said. “We are bringing Illinois State to an international stage.”

Illinois State Communication Professor Rebecca Hayes and recent alumnus Joseph Oliver ’16 also presented their research at the conference.

Carr said the conference’s paper acceptance rate was 42 percent. He had four of his five papers accepted, but noted that Oliver had a superior acceptance rate considering both of his papers were accepted.

“That was incredibly significant,” Carr said. “This is where the titans go to talk and present. Now these scholars are part of the elite.”

“Self-construal refers to the grounds of self-definition, and the extent to which the self is defined independently of others or interdependently with others.”—Oxford Bibliographies

Oliver’s papers came out of classes he took with Communication Professors John Baldwin and Daniel Cochece Davis. He researched the connection between Japanese students’ English competence and their self-construal, and police militarization.

“When I heard that I had gotten two papers accepted, I was astonished,” Oliver said. “(The conference) is the largest gathering of communication scholars in the world. It is an excellent opportunity to showcase your hard work, appreciate what others are contributing, and enjoy the company of people who are excited about discovering more through academic inquiry.”

Oliver lives in Kyoto, Japan, where he works as an English teacher and attends classes. During his undergraduate studies, he studied abroad in Japan and had conducted some of his research there for his linguistics paper.

For their trip to Japan, Mason and Hall received $5,400 from an Illinois State student fees fund. “This reflects about 70 percent of the total estimated costs and was incredibly supportive and heartening to see the students of ISU support their peers’ research and engagement this way,” Carr said.

Does it hurt to be ugly?

Adam Mason communication research Japan

Illinois State master’s student Adam Mason presents the Fivver research at the International Communication Association Conference in Japan.

Mason said Fivver presented a valuable research environment to judge job seekers’ employability because money—due to the low prices—isn’t a driving factor on the site. The social network also allowed the researchers to look at how different factors interact when employers are deciding whether to hire someone.

The team already knew from previous research that good-looking people are more likely to be hired. But what the researchers wanted to know was whether that applied for jobs like radio work where physical attractiveness shouldn’t matter. “You literally never see them,” Carr said.

What the Illinois State researchers found was that attractiveness does matter and does have an influence. It can pull up a good employee and pull down a bad performer, Carr said.

However, comments made by other people about a job seeker’s work (think Yelp customer reviews) were the top factor in determining someone’s employability, Mason said. These comments are important because they aren’t something the job seeker can control.

Those surveyed also valued a job seeker’s presentation of their work, Mason said. Coming in third in this hierarchy was the job seeker’s attractiveness.

communication research Japan Fivver Robert Hall

Illinois State student Robert Hall presenting Fivver research in Japan.

“At that point I guess what we found was that maybe people aren’t so bad after all,” Mason said. A job seeker’s attractiveness could hurt them, but not so much in that it would eliminate their chances of getting a job. “These are tiebreakers, not deal-breakers,” Mason said.

Carr was the lead author on the study and said Mason and Hall contributed by writing sections of the paper and conducting some of the research. “It was a real great collaborative effort in that regard,” Carr said.

The panel sessions give researchers the opportunity to speak about their studies and get feedback and field questions from scholars from around the world.

“These are like the scholarly conversations (the students) have in the classroom but amped up on steroids,” Carr said. “That’s why people fly around the world to go to this conference.”

Kevin Bersett can be reached at