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While web marketers have long been tracking the growing influence of online consumer reviews, a study from Opinion Research released August 2008 has found the influence of these reviews has reached a tipping point.

Specifically, the study "The Art of Engaging the Customer: Proactive Steps to Delivering a Differentiated Customer Experience" found an eye-opening 83% of all respondents said online evaluations and reviews now influence their purchasing decisions. Moreover, another 32% said they had personally posted feedback or a review on the web after an experience with a product or service.

"Businesses today exist in an era in which it’s nearly impossible to escape the likelihood of being evaluated—there’s nowhere to hide," says Linda Shea, SVP of Opinion Research, which also does national polling for CNN. "Even a single negative review, when posted in a very public forum, can have a significant impact on a prospective buyer’s decision."

Key web players, including Amazon.com, eMusic, and eBay have long had thriving review communities that carry extremely weighty influence over what is seen and sold on these sites. Indeed, web reviewing has become such a craze that even musicians who may have just a few hundred followers offline now trigger a multitude of responses from online reviewers at YouTube.

Interestingly, these brave pioneers decided to embrace reviews on their sites that are both positive and negative. Essentially, they buy into the lately circulated theory that a company demonstrating complete "transparency" on the internet earns the greatest respect from today’s most sophisticated web surfer. Others are hedging their bets, satisfied that by posting glowing reviews only, they’ll be able to look trendy and bring in more business to boot.

Either way, there are plenty of service providers ready to help companies build and manage online review domains, as well as provide turnkey systems that a firm can manage in-house.

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