Ratings and reviews are quickly becoming one of the most used features in digital commerce marketing. They can improve SEO, inform customers’ purchase decisions and increase conversion. But what happens when ratings and reviews get personal, when consumers go from evaluating products and services to assessing their Lyft driver, supervisor or even their most recent date? In the proper context, this information can be valuable. But, when we’re talking about people, instead of products, personal reviews can turn into attacks, quickly leading to legal action.
Thanks to growth in the person-to-person marketplace, people aren’t just people. The sharing economy has given birth to sites like Airbnb, PetVacay, Relay Ride, Task Rabbit and Zarly, which allow people to be innkeepers, pet sitters and personal butlers. Just like other businesses, these customer relationships depend on trust in order to mitigate the risk of buying online. But, unlike other businesses, trust is in high demand and low supply when it comes to such an intimate experience as paying to sleep in a stranger’s home.
We’re all familiar with using third party review sites like Yelp! to rate a favorite restaurant or least favorite barber shop, and most digital commerce marketers are actively and aggressively seeking ways to increase ratings and reviews for their products and services. Nevertheless, most of us would be opposed to being rated by friends, neighbors or co-workers. Yet, in order for the sharing economy to work, customers need to assess service providers, providers need to build and manage an online reputation and intermediaries need to instill confidence in their customers.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that tools are emerging to allow people to rate other people. But these sites vary widely in terms of their philosophy, underlying technology and applicability. Karma, a startup company, aggregates public data, uses an algorithm to score people and applies that information to person-to-person marketplaces. Rate My Professors lets students rate their college professors. Peeple, a mobile application due to launch later this year, allows users to write reviews on anyone—a roommate, co-worker or even an ex-girlfriend.
As you can see, there’s a big difference between authenticated ratings and reviews that guide decision, algorithmic systems that score people based on quantifiable feedback and tools that make it easy to produce a potentially harmful and very public evaluation of personal characteristics. Ratings and reviews can add value to any commerce experience, whether you’re buying a mattress or Uber-ing. But, without guardrails, like authentication and moderation, they can be manipulated and used with malice to damage someone’s online reputation, like cyber-bullying for grownups.
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