I am reminded of a conversation with a Yellow Pages provider who bravely began to allow reviews of products and services that were offered by its client base. I also recall being the one who encouraged them to take this daring plunge. Six months later, they reported the tactic was a success and those clients who were skittish at first realized that not having reviews sent customers a bad signal—one of fear or weakness.
Would I give the same advice today?
From the world of freak-o-nomics (as opposed to Freakanomics), Rob May of cloud-provider Backupify took at SWAG at the economic worth of Tweets, Facebook Likes and Yelp reviews (just to name a few). May estimates a Yelp reviews at $9.13, a Tweet at around one penny and a Foursquare check-in at 40 cents.
Leaving methodology at the door (which is among Worst Practices), it’s important to view this assessment in light of a New York Times piece about reviewing the reviewers The piece referred to an earlier New York Times story in which a retailer offered a rebate to buyers of a custom leather Kindle case in exchange for a positive review. This and other similar Black Hat practices have caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. “Advertising disguised as editorial is an old problem, but it’s now presenting itself in different ways,” said Mary K. Engle, the Federal Trade Commission’s associate director for advertising practices. “We’re very concerned.”
Managing reviews is alchemy of art and science. Amazon balances its position of reviews with one part search engine semantics (which are poised to kick out reviews with objectionable language) and one part community policing. The above cited New York Times piece showcases a blog (of course) Least Helpful (www.leasthelpful.com) that combs through Amazon reviews looking for the comically absurd. One reviewer of the classic Vonnegut novel, “Cat’s Cradle” wrote: “Kurt Vonnegut can’t write his way out of a paper bag.” Amazon could argue that 86% of reviewers gave the book four stars or better, and that reviews are subjective, and they would have a point. But that point would have even greater validity for me, as a customer, if the Seattle mega-merchant was transparent on its process of reviewing the reviewers.
So here comes the advice portion of our program: one of the basic tenets of a brand promise is credulity. Understanding customer reviews and using them to your commerce advantage is a must. But before you can claim to have a winning strategy in that area, it’s crucial to develop and execute a sound workflow (and there are plenty of third party providers to assist) that assures the authenticity and reliability of consumer pundits.