While most companies conducting business in the digital marketplace are at least somewhat familiar with the impact of social influence, the scope and strength of its true power within a customer base is only now being revealed. Of course, product reviews are among the beating heart of social influence, the undeniable and remarkably powerful collective voice of the modern consumer that moves markets and can quickly separate leaders from the also-rans that litter e-commerce.
As an innovator and leader in helping companies transform market reviews to actionable insight, O360 can say with absolute certainty that, despite the tremendous importance wielded by product reviews in digital commerce, not all product reviews are created equal.
Simply put, as consumers jump from site to site in search of reviews that will provide relevant, impactful guidance for any given purchase, they leave a trail behind them that retailers can use to their benefit if they know where and what to look for. Failure to do so means companies are missing the tremendous opportunity reviews provide in capturing and acting upon unbiased, unprompted opinions that build a sense of brand trust and loyalty that, ultimately, deepen engagement and increase conversions.
To build a well-informed strategy that maximizes the insights provided to companies from product reviews, businesses should understand the differences between three common types of online reviews – natural reviews, syndicated reviews, and product sampling community feedback – to better inform their social influence strategy and derive the most value from each of the three types.
With 8.4% of all domestic retail sales now stemming from the online space and online retail growing at 3x the rate of overall retail sales, companies need to instill a sense of urgency to their strategy to gain the most relevant information possible from crowd-sourced, consumer data wellsprings.
The truest, most sincere, sometimes even blunt-to-a-fault opinions are those that require no prodding and are freely voiced by the individual. In online reviews, natural reviews embody this notion where consumers visit a brand or retailer’s website on their own accord to write an authentic, often emotional review of a recent experience with a product. Natural reviews are strongly linked to brand loyalty, and consequently, they have a direct, potent impact on customer behavior and subsequent brand performance.
Given the authenticity of natural reviews, they often carry the most value to a brand but, like most valuable things in life, such value makes them rare and consistently in demand. In fact, that rarity sometimes forces retailers to syndicate genuine reviews on other platforms whenever possible simply to leverage their strengths in some form, even if they don't originate within their own site.
To increase the willingness of a customer base to provide such sought-after natural reviews, brands can adopt a handful of best practices.
- Offering gift certificates, even smaller ones, to customers as encouragement to engage in discussion has been shown to increase feedback between 500 and 800% within a matter of mere weeks.
- Requiring customers to login to a site to leave a review will automatically weed out the majority of insincere, inauthentic reviews, leaving only those that are credible and of most value to the community. Requiring a login also makes it much easier for brands to actively moderate and analyze their online user community.
- Integrating aggregate metrics from customer comments – average rating icons, for instance – within a brand’s marketing strategy can parlay the power of positive natural reviews to ads, catalogs, or even copy on websites and other advertising channels.
As previously mentioned, brands will often rely on syndicated reviews to increase the reach and impact of their social influence strategy, aggregating the reviews in partnership with firms like Bazaarvoice or PowerReviews and subsequently syndicating them to retailer websites. The strategy can magnify review counts on products and services, even though such reviews aren't as organic as natural reviews and are duplicated on multiple sites and platforms.
Although perhaps not as innately valuable as natural reviews, brands use syndicated reviews as an entry point into the consumer conversation and to create a personalized buying experience that is simple and easy to navigate. Between participating in conversations and customizing the consumer’s journey, the brand enhances their understanding of their audience and improves that important customer experience.
Given the nature of syndicated reviews, the same review for the same product can simultaneously appear on multiple platforms. Both a blessing and a curse, such an occurrence effectively allows a brand to blanket a variety of different channels to maximize visibility and the chances of a potential customer finding a positive review during their product research. However, if that customer was to read that same review on multiple sites, it can also create a sense of manipulation and negatively impact the perceived authenticity of the review.
Still, even with the potential pitfalls involved with syndicated reviews, they are an example of the pros outweighing the cons. Even with diminished impact due to their repetitive nature, the sheer increase in overall numbers can significantly increase the likelihood of a consumer choosing one product over another, even when that customer only reads a handful of the hundreds of reviews in researching their purchase decision.
Product Sampling Communities
Like syndicated reviews, product sampling communities provide brands with reviews by partnering with third parties like Pinch Me or Influenster. Such reviews are another example of taking the good with the bad – giving brands ample reviews to integrate into their online communities but significantly impacting their authenticity by labeling them as either promotional or created through a product sampling effort.
Despite their diluted value, brands still frequently use these types of communities, especially for products that traditionally display intense, long-lasting brand and product loyalties. Pet food brands, for instance, where customers tend to stick with products over the longer-term once they find one their pet enjoys, commonly use product sampling communities to try to persuade consumers to try a different product.
In this case, even though the reviews themselves may not be as convincing as natural reviews, their sheer numbers alone can be enough to convince a customer to try a new product. Through our own experience at O360, we find this segment of reviewers to consist mostly of female Boomers, the demographic that is most active in the product sampling communities. In return for receiving free samples, participants are required to provide feedback, and as a result, these reviews don’t exhibit the same level of emotion or depth of content as natural reviews.
Identifying the Right Reviews
Primarily through our Digital Landscape offering, O360 makes it simple and straightforward for brands to distinguish between natural reviews, syndicated reviews, or feedback funneled through product sampling communities. Since we provide both the source and the website on which reviews are posted, companies can gather immediate insights into which particular types of reviews are ultimately driving engagement and sales for the brand.
In a competitive environment where social influence carries more significance to brands by the day, it is crucial for companies to know which reviews are truly driving consumer consideration. With the help of O360, businesses can efficiently and effectively distinguish between reviews that are simply boosting counts and those that are truly influencing purchase decisions across similar products and competitors. When margins for error are razor thin, O360 can provide the highly nuanced insights needed to draw the most benefit from social influence.