Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Social media marketing and online review sites – connecting the dots

Posted in Web 2.0 marketing by Timothy Platt on February 15, 2011

Yelp, Merchant Circle and a variety of other web sites have been developed as resources that people from the community can go to, to read and post reviews. Businesses can set up profiles on these sites with information about their businesses and what they offer, hours of operations, photos, menus for restaurants and a range of other information sharing options. Very often these sites scrape the web and online yellow pages and other resources to set up starter-profiles and pages people can go to, to review them. And first and foremost people from the community can and do post and read reviews.

These, at least in principle are all third party reviews and merchants and other involved parties are strongly discouraged from posting about their businesses, posing as customers. And these sites always give reviewers a simple and generally five point scale they can rate a business on with five best and one worst. Businesses are then shown as having overall ratings based on reviewer averages.

The basic principle here is very simple but also very powerful, with more and more online channels breaking into this marketing space. Online yellow pages do this, and when you look up a business on a search engine like Google you invariably see review listings with star ratings on that five point (and fractions) scale. Travel sites post user reviews, and increasingly support inclusion of user provided photos and other content.

Online, third party and consumer provided reviews are becoming a basic part of the online experience as expected, routine feedback and cloud sourced insight into quality and value, expected and found (or not.) And this type of crowd sourced review and insight impacts on nonprofit and charitable institutions now as much as it does in the for-profit world. Every business and organization can expected to be publically and openly reviewed, and generally on multiple sites and venues and both from customers they are actively involved with and from customers who have otherwise left and moved on.

I focus on social media as an area of direct concern and involvement in my work, and because I have seen this become a core element of the online experience and for virtually everyone who goes online. I would argue the case that online review sites have in many respects become the killer app for actively interactive social media per se.

• Even when it can be said that virtually everyone who goes online has at least one personal profile and point of presence set up on a site like Facebook or LinkedIn many simply set them up but never really use them. And different people who do use online profiles on social networking sites use them in many different ways. Social networking sites and the personal profiles they support are a strong contender for the role of killer app in online social networking but they are a diffused and amorphous one.

• Social media oriented online apps are another contender here and especially where built-it-yourself options such as Google Apps are considered. But most people would not build their own custom apps and like social networking sites, using them offers a very diffused target for discussion, with apps per se enabling and enhancing virtually every aspect of the online experience as a whole.
• There are a lot of possible contenders here, all of which could be argued to represent social media killer apps, but for this posting at least I would argue the case for review sites. Everyone has opinions and generally strong ones about at least some things. Everyone likes to share their opinions with others, even if we may not all feel comfortable walking up to and talking with strangers at any and all opportunities. Online statistics show that many if not most of us find online reviews a comfortable way to reach out and even to strangers to share opinions. And these same web analytics and related numerical findings show that a great many people like to read reviews, and as a basic part of their due diligence when making purchasing and other decisions.

If online reviews are not becoming a social media killer app, it would at the very least be of help for any business to respond to them as if they were.

• This means tracking and knowing where your business or organization is listed online where consumer and other community sourced reviews are posted.
• This means knowing what people are saying about your business, and it means you’re addressing their messages.
• That means posting online responses but effective response should also include correcting identified problems and building on emerging opportunities where the marketplace says they would like more of something that you offer.

Online reviews are important, and if I was to summarize this posting with any single, brief take home lesson, it is that any and every business or organization should be aware of them, and should be involved in these conversations. This is where the marketplaces and communities you would reach out to go, to find out about you and make their decisions to engage and buy, or move on. And this happens regardless of your more proactive online presence and whether or not your business actively maintains a web site or other doorways to online communications. So get involved and make the online review system that is developing an important factor in your marketing and communications.

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