Social Media Commerce: Understand the Effects of Peer-to-Peer Reviews

One of the most important components of social media for businesses is the peer-to-peer review. Word of mouth (or WOM, as it is called in ad circles) has been the most relied-upon form of business promotion since the beginning of commerce.

Deceptive ad practices force consumers to be wary of what they hear and read in advertising, so a recommendation from a trusted friend generally trumps paid promotions. Getting a reference to dependable service professionals is treated as sharing trade secrets — from friend to friend or colleague to colleague, over the phone and in person.

At the turn of the previous century, WOM was even more prevalent. To protect businesses from spurious rumors, the Better Business Bureau system was founded in 1912. Their goal was to vet businesses and to promote legitimate ones while protecting consumers from mistruths and idle gossip. Today, they are still in business and on the web today.

Now, with new media, the consumer has many more options (and websites to visit) to get reviews and information from their peers. User-generated content on almost any business or service is publicly available for all to peruse.

Search Engine Land — a news and information site covering aspects of search engines and search marketing led by journalist Danny Sullivan — produced their second Local Consumer Review Survey in 2012. To better understand how Internet reviews sway the customer, the study measured consumer trust and appreciation of online reviews.

Approximately 72 percent of consumers surveyed said that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Also, 65 percent of consumers (versus 58 percent in 2010) read 2–10 reviews before they felt they could trust a business.

The survey also asked, “How do online customer reviews influence your decision to use/select a local business?” This figure shows the results, compared to responses received in their 2010 study. More than half of all consumers are more likely to use a local business if it has positive reviews.

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Online word-of-mouth data specializes in just about any profession, product, business, or store. For example, more than 30 sites compile opinions on medical professionals alone. The leaders are Angie’s List, RateMDs.com, HealthGrades.com, and Vitals.com.

If these facts don’t convince you, think about how many people you know who use a smartphone. Do they look at them for directions and addresses? You bet they do. However, those people not only look up directions but also read reviews associated with the businesses they search.

Almost every business has a page on many of the most-visited review sites — whether or not they have set up the page themselves. These pages are put up for all to see without permission. Visitors can post comments, and you can’t erase their positive or negative words. Sites with reviews are the basis for today’s new media transparency.

To paint the most positive picture of your business, you need to go to these sites and claim your page. After you’ve been verified as the owner of the business, you might be able to do the following (depending on the site):

  • Respond to reviews, usually directly on the site but often through site-sponsored e-mails

  • Update your company’s contact information, hours of operation, and details

  • Upload photos of your current products, menus, or services

Some sites also let you purchase advertising, which gives you extra benefits. You’ll be able to promote specials and seasonal deals for readers of the site, and you may even be able to run ads on your competition’s page.

When someone searches your business on the web, the pages with the most mentions of your name appear first. The person goes to these sites to find out how your business rates. The fact that your business appears on sites such as Google+ Local makes your participation in social networks all the more important.

Your activity on your own website, blog, and other online presences fills up the first page of a Google search quickly. These efforts are the best tool to foil review sites when you have been slammed unfairly by bad reviews.

Internet claims abound that if you buy advertising, you have some vague sort of control over the order in which reviews appear on your page. If you’ve been in business long enough, you may have heard of this practice, perhaps in reference to the Better Business Bureau. The rumor goes that after you become a member, they “help” you clean up your reputation on the site.

You will have to rely on your spidey sense and listen carefully to any sales pitches you receive regarding review sites. However, Yelp prevailed in a class-action lawsuit that accused them of manipulating reviews by asking businesses to pay in exchange for removing negative reviews. Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp CEO, wrote the following in a company blog post:

“At Yelp, our mission is to connect people with great local businesses. Part of that work is to protect consumers and businesses from unreliable reviews. Another part of that work is helping small businesses understand how customer reviews work online and how they can help amplify and improve the reputation they’ve earned offline. We will continue to focus our efforts on both.”

To monitor a single page on a site that mentions your business, you may want to set an RSS syndication feed to let you know when additions have been made to the page. Although individual review websites do not offer this service, you can set up an RSS feed for your newsreader by going to the Page2RSS site and typing in the URL of the page. Sweet.

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