Reviewing the Reviewers
What motivates online consumers to post feedback and reviews about products and services? The findings of a recent survey suggest that maybe John Locke was right: People are born good. Either that or the "good" are just more inclined to post their opinions on the Internet.
"There has been a longstanding misconception that a lot of the opinions expressed on the Internet have a tendency to be negative," says Brad Fay, chief operating officer of word-of-mouth-marketing consulting firm Keller Fay Group. "What we found was very much the opposite."
The survey was commissioned by Bazaarvoice, a Texas-based provider of social commerce applications, and survey information was collected from 1,300 respondents who posted reviews on the Web sites of Bazaarvoice clients. Most respondents (68 percent) had at least some college education, and most (64 percent) earned a salary above the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 average; 44 percent were female and 56 percent male. These figures suggest that those who are posting reviews -- or at least those reviewers inclined to respond to surveys -- are well-educated and can speak for themselves. "[They're] not just people that have no job and are sitting at home writing reviews," says Sam Decker, chief marketing expert at Bazaarvoice.
Bazaarvoice commissioned this study to determine the characteristics that define an online reviewer. "The people who write these reviews," Decker says, "are your most loyal, repeat purchasers." More important, he adds, they are a brand's influencers. Therefore, Decker believes this study was important to retailers in two ways:
- To understand why customers are taking the time to write reviews; and
- to understand how to reward them and encourage them to continue to write reviews.
According to the survey, 70 percent of respondents ranked "helping other customers make good decisions" as extremely important. "Reviewers are more altruistic. [They] want to help others," Decker says. In addition to benefiting other consumers by sharing their experiences, 56 percent of reviewers said that they are also motivated by the desire to reward companies that have done right by them. That figure was significantly higher than what Bazaarvoice had anticipated.
Although the study did not directly address the fear of negative reviews that many businesses have, it does serve as a reassurance that people aren't out to get you. Moreover, given the sheer amount of user-generated content that's available on the Web, it's become very difficult for those with malicious intentions to take over, Fay says. He also believes that consumers in general are "pretty savvy" at differentiating what's helpful and what's not. Many customers engage in a form of "storytelling," he adds, which helps to establish a sense of authenticity and credibility, which further helps other consumers to identify -- or not -- with that particular reviewer.
Feedback has been collected for decades, but now, marketers are providing a forum instead of pushing out a simple evaluation survey. "Open up the dialogue from consumer to consumer," Fay says. He advises marketers to treat their whole customer service infrastructure as a word-of-mouth asset. "Some people say, 'Well, I'm in a boring category,' but look at what Dove has done with soap -- taking something that's humdrum and turning it into something that's got meaning to people and that they're engaging with," he says.
In light of the study's results, Decker advises marketers to solicit customer reviews by highlighting the fact that the content will go to helping other customers, rather than the company. Moreover, recognizing consumers who do post will help to perpetuate such behavior. "We don't advocate paying for reviews or giving incentives," Decker says. But some strategies include offering sweepstakes (with each review good for one entry) or providing "top reviewer" status on the site.
What Decker says he was most surprised by, however, was the fact that only 13 percent found the fun in writing reviews as extremely important. "I do believe there's an ego part of this," he says. "We thought that would kind of fit into the fun part." Nevertheless, this does underscore the fact that consumers are investing the time and energy into writing reviews for reasons beyond their own self-interest.
In an era where it's all about hearing the consumer's voice, experts agree that marketers are going to have to dive in. "While they can take baby steps to get feedback," Decker says -- such as posting just the ratings or just the number of visitors -- "the impact is far greater by having people actually write content about their products."
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