While Web marketers have long been tracking the growing
influence of online consumer reviews,
released in June from Opinion Research reveals the impact
of these reviews has reached a tipping point.
found 83% of online shoppers said the evaluations and
reviews they find on the Web are now influencing their
purchasing decisions. Another 32% said they had posted feedback
or a review of a product or service online.
"It's nearly impossible to escape being evaluatedthere's
nowhere to hide," says Linda Shea, a senior vice president at
Opinion Research. "Even a single negative review posted in a
very public forum can have a significant impact on a
prospective buyer's decision."
Besides numerous blogs, there are many independent consumer
review sites rating the petfood industry. You'll find thousands
of reviews of petfood products on sites such as:
Online retailers, including
, now include reviews along with product descriptions.
Old Mother Hubbard
are also getting in on the act.
Interestingly, some review site pioneers-heavyweight online
retailers Amazon, eMusic and eBay-have decided to embrace
reviews on their sites that are both positive and negative.
These companies buy into the "brave new Web" theory that a
company demonstrating complete transparency earns the greatest
respectand most repeat businessfrom today's sophisticated
online shoppers. Other sites seem convinced that by posting
only glowing reviews, they'll be able to look trendy while
bringing in more business.
Plenty of service providers specialize in the online review
space to help companies build and manage online review domains
or bring in turn-key systems that can be managed in-house.
"Blogs, discussion boards and other forms of interactive
media are the most cost-effective customer feedback mechanism
ever invented," says Paul Gillin, author of
The New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social
Generally, these online review communities fall into three
- Social hang-outs (think
), which offer a review domain component;
- Completely private, invitation-only sites; and
- Communities that exist solely to solicit reviews from
extremely happy customers.
Most popular are communities borrowing from the
model. Web marketers say you'll only be able to achieve
that look and feel by offering a full array of community
fostering features, including discussion boards, chatrooms,
instant messaging, blogs, photo, audio and video posting.
You'll also want to jump-start the community's nerve
center-the discussion board-by posting commentary on a dozen or
so topics, then encouraging visitors to offer reactions and
opinions to the discussions you've started.
Providers specializing in MySpace-type communities
, an online community service provider that specializes in
designing and helping companies run private meeting places, can
help you build an invitation-only review site. While these are
generally much smaller than public sites, many firms have
discovered a big pay-off when they choose who will belong to
their review community.
Some of the biggest names in business-including Dell,
Macy's, Sears, Charles Schwab and PepsiCo-have sites that limit
all review activity to public evaluation of the company's
products and services. Many of these communities are driven by
highly sophisticated review software packages, which walk
visitors through every step of the process and encourage them
No matter which type of review community appeals to you,
such gathering places will likely continue to appear. "Expect
at least one-quarter of the
100 to announce online communities," says Brad Bortner,
Top Market Researcher Predictions for 2008