While web marketers have long been tracking the growing influence of online consumer reviews, a Reuters.com article points out a new study from Opinion Research has found the influence of these reviews has reached a tipping point.
Specifically, the study found an eye-opening 83 percent of all respondents said online evaluations and reviews are now influencing their purchasing decisions. Moreover, another 32 percent said they had personally posted feedback or a review on the web after an experience with a product or service.
“Businesses today exist in an era in which it's nearly impossible to escape the likelihood of being evaluated – there's nowhere to hide,” says Linda Shea, a senior vice president at Opinion Research, which also does national polling for CNN. “Even a single negative review, when posted in a very public forum, can have a significant impact on a prospective buyer's decision.”
Many builders are probably already familiar with these types of review sites, which include Angie's List (www.angieslist.com), a rate-your-builder and other service provider site that is regularly advertised on national TV. A similar site that has made some builders cringe is My3Cents (www.my3cents.com), which hosts a special section devoted to home builder reviews.
Companies looking to get the most from this game-changing trend are responding by creating review forums on their own websites. Bring in the reviewers where you can see them, many of these companies reason, and at least you'll have a chance to separate the notables from the numskulls.
Interestingly, the bravest of these pioneers have decided to embrace reviewers that are both positive and negative. Essentially, they're buying into the lately circulated theory that a company demonstrating complete “transparency” on the Internet earns the greatest respect from today's most sophisticated web surfer.
Others, not surprisingly, are hedging their bets, satisfied that by posting glowing reviews only, they'll be able to look trendy while simultaneously bringing in more business to boot.
Either way, there are plenty of service providers ready to help companies build and manage online review domains, as well as provide turn-key systems that a firm can manage in-house.
Observes Paul Gillin, author of “The New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media,” “Blogs, discussion boards and other forms of interactive media are the most cost-effective customer feedback mechanism ever invented. You won't get a representative sampling of your customers, but you will get your most passionate customers.”
Bazaarvoice (www.bazzarvoice.com), one of the leading service providers in this space, urges companies to go the transparency route. Its flagship product, “Ratings & Reviews” module, is designed to solicit unvarnished reviews about a firm's performance, which are published on the company's website.
Another popular review tool from the company is “Ask and Answer,” which enables consumers to swap info about goods and services in a Q&A format that is also unvarnished.
Meanwhile, those still a bit skittish about the concept of “transparency” will probably be more interested in Genuosity's (www.genuosity.com) KudosWorks. This is a glowing-testimonials-only service, through which extremely enthusiastic customers offer write-ups on a company filled with accolades that are based on their personal experience.
Genuosity solicits the testimonials with contact tools it places on your website as well as in marketing e-mails. And it helps customers who respond by directing them to a post-your-own-testimonial module which includes tips on how to write a humdinger.
Another service provider driven by the keep-it-positive philosophy is Zuberance (www.zuberance.com). Rather than soliciting individual testimonials, the company specializes in building an entire cyber-community around your website, which is filled with naturally occurring “evangelists” – people who are truly jazzed about a company's goods or services and feel compelled to tell the world about it. (Think Apple fanatics.)
Zuberance's governing principal: Devote your energy to providing as many online/offline tools to enable these evangelists to express themselves positively about your product or service.
Still other review community creation specialists include:
• Affinitive (www.beaffinitive.com): This company's “Enclave” solution essentially replicates the functionality, look and feel of a MySpace or Facebook right on your website. Consumers joining your new community can create a profile, blog, share photos, post videos, send private messages, add friends, create and participate in forums, and chat live.
The idea behind the approach is to make your place on the web a destination site where people will meet and inevitably wind up talking about your products or services. The solution also includes a survey tool, which can be used to create a “24-hour focus group” to generate feedback and opinions that are collected and analyzed in real-time.
• Capable Networks (www.capablenetworks.com): Another destination site community creator, this solutions provider's service also includes personnel who create and edit content for your new community, moderate your forums and interact with community members.
Essentially, the solution is designed for companies looking to jump-start a vibrant, hopefully evangelical community very quickly. One caveat: In exchange for the personalized help, Capable Networks includes a rider in its contract stating that it owns and operates your community as a separate entity.
• WebCrossing (www.webcrossing.com): This firm is one of the granddaddies of community and social network creation, and began making software for social interaction when those spaces where simply called discussion boards or bulletin boards. Its latest product, WebCrossing Neighbors, rivals the MySpace/Facebook model and comes complete with special interest groups, personal user spaces, blogs, file and photo sharing, search and user access controls. It's a very good solution for a firm that wants to create its own review community in-house with the help of very powerful technology.
• Communispace (www.communispace.com): Communispace's philosophy on customer feedback/review sites is simple: smaller is better. Instead of attempting to create a mini-MySpace on your web site, Communispace invites 300-500 of your best customers and/or prospects to brainstorm ideas, exchange advice with each other, comment on market trends and work through business issues.
The firm says its own in-house study of 20 Communispace communities found that 82 percent of community members said they were more likely to recommend the sponsoring company's products since joining the community. And 76 percent said they felt more positively about the company after joining its community.
A final thought: If you don't have the time, money or inclination to create a review domain on your site, there are still plenty of service providers who will monitor what is being said about your firm on the web, and alert you when it appears things are going badly. Key players to check out include: Nielson BuzzMetrics (www.nielsenbuzzmetrics.com), BlogSquirrel (www.cyberalert.com/blogmonitoring.html), Factiva Insight: Reputation Intelligence (www.factiva.com/factivainsight/reputation), and MotiveQuest (www motivequest.com).
|Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. www.joedysart.com.|