2018 in Online Reviews. The Year of…More!
Consumer ratings and reviews on services, products, places – and just about everything, have already become an essential part of the digital value chain as a necessary discovery milestone in the customer journey. 2017 was yet another year in which reviews gained growing impact on buyers and sellers alike.
So, what next?
My guestimate for 2018? More of everything and not necessarily of the same. Here are some targets for your line of sight:
With many more platforms offering services to consumers, there are more venues to write and read peer reviews, more possibilities, and easier procedures. Yelp, for example, saw a growth of 18.5 million reviews (published) in 2014, while 2016 added 26 million reviews to the directory. And there are same growth rates on many other 3rd party and e-commerce platforms.
Add to that – more tools used by merchants to accommodate and generate (genuine, hopefully) online reviews such as Trustyou, Yotpo, getfivestars, trustpilot, and others, and lest we forget – though ‘Facebook recommendations’ has yet to pick up (though Facebook’s reach into local with Marketplace is gaining traction), once harnessed, this behemoth is a game changer.
Wearables, IOT, and AR are much more than buzzwords which stretch digital even further into customer journey and e-commerce. So, magnify all the platforms I mentioned earlier with the constant shift to mobile which makes writing and reading (or viewing) reviews all the more so easy and immediate – and what do you get? Exponential growth!
Everything is reviewed today – you can rate jail houses, car parts, or your ex-spouse. Some categories, such as hospitality and travel, are hard core; and as such, reviews are a must for each business or platform. Some, like home repairs or professional services, are late adopters, but eventually nearly every category or vertical has learned to accept reviews as a fact of life. Yes, even governmental institutions (did anyone mention the DMV?) will adopt online reviews as a means to communicate with consumer, to learn and to improve.
Remember that famous Harvard Business School research from 2011 claiming that each additional rating star in Yelp creates 5% more in revenues? Well, guess what – it’s grown…
In 2016, Professor Michael Luca updated his study on how Yelp reviews affect a business – the effect is still there, and growing…
But not only on the revenue side – a satisfied review writer is the best evangelist for your business. And more than this; from my own experience as a review platform manger, over a period of six years one can see small and medium businesses slowly learning to accept consumer reviews as a fact of life, and a constructive one as such; learning and adopting what consumers like or dislike about your product or services can have a great impact on improving your business.
The take for businesses is – make your business as visible and available as possible for reviews to be written.
With reviews comes knowledge to consumers and to businesses alike. And work. And effort. Digital Reputation Management, where reviews play a considerable role, is constantly taking more attention and resources from business owners and marketing managers. Reputation management is an expertise, requiring interdisciplinary knowledge combining marketing, PR, social, service, SEO, and more areas. Enter the DRM – Digital Reputation Manager, for brands and businesses. Fresh out of college? Aspire to this position which will be at the pulsating heart of the brand in coming years.
For businesses who cannot afford a full time position, DRM will be a major task for marketing managers, aided by agencies and tools for the mission, such as Reevo, Igniyte, some of the above mentioned technology providers and more. Expect these to keep thriving in 2018, supporting businesses in navigating their reputation.
More to see
Video is by far the most effective lead creator for businesses. Introducing video to the world of online reviews deserves an article of its own (it’s on my new year’s list) but for now, just think of the possibilities – the ease of posting a product for place review with one’s smartphone, the credibility of such reviews, and, on the other hand, will any gate keeper be able to monitor video reviews? Here too, a credibility issue. Video for sure will dominate the online reviews scene.
More to hear
Here’s an interesting challenge – with voice (alexa, home, etc.) gaining access to our everyday consumer decisions – how do you represent the world of ratings and reviews on this huge but somewhat limited medium? Voice is already out there, altering the very basics of e-commerce. How will this affect ratings and reviews? Will a combination of personalization, location, big data, AI, or Alexa (or home) limit us on our next emergency plumber call to just one service provider which Alexa believes is the perfect fit for us?
Voice is probably the most powerful vector to change the world of online ratings and reviews.
More gate keeping
The trustworthiness of online reviews is constantly debated. As a 2016 Pew research shows, Americans themselves are nearly evenly split. Roughly half (51%) of those who read online reviews say they generally give an accurate picture of the true quality of the product, but a similar share (48%) believes it is often hard to tell if online reviews are truthful and unbiased.
Battling the ever present issue of trust in reviews, platforms will put more time, effort, and technology in battling fake reviews which tarnish the reputation of these reputation assets… frequently under attack for accommodating fake reviews, 3rd party platforms, dealing with the ever-present conflict between enabling a seamless easy process of writing a review as opposed to monitoring and gate keeping will adopt more technologies to battle the industry of fake reviews. Expect DMP technology, more of hardline platform policy, limitations to proof-of-purchase reviews only, and maybe – more steps on the regulator’s side.
AI and big data will enable many improvements in online reviews and if I have to pick out one that is disruptive – personalization is definitely it.
With AI big data, and DMP systems review providers will be able to sort and weight reviews that were based on the experience of people … just like you. Based on your online presence, social, and history, reviews on travel sites will rate, recommend, and present reviews venues for singles that are not into full moon raves and wished for a white sand beach in their next vacation. Or a car mechanic who successfully repaired the same problem you have with exactly the same make of car without making his client feel like a dummy and in perfect fit with your route to work. This will be your very own 5 star rated mechanic. For others he might be too expensive, and therefore rated at 3.8 stars. Or maybe the only reviews that will matter are ones written by your friends on social? The technology is out there, consumer data is available, a mass of reviews to enable big enough data is underway, and the path for personalized ratings is a clear one.
560 reviews on a hotel in Austin, Tx. is great. But will consumers be able to handle this mass? Of course not. NLP and deep learning technologies will enable review providers to just sum it all up for us – give me what my peers say about this hotel in one sentence or maybe a tag or two. A 2015 research by NYU and Trusyou revealed that travelers prefer summarized review content over full text reviews. Good summaries provide all the information require to make a decision and strengthens consumer’s trust in the review platform. Summaries are evermore important in age of shift to mobile, where consumers have even less time and attention to lengthy texts.
Either as a secret ingredient for better personalizing reviews or as an added feature, summing up reviews for your audience will probably be on your to do list for 2018, as a 3rd party platform.
So what should you include on your 2018 to do list?
As a review host (directory, service, or commerce platform):
Make sure your review forms are easily accessible and fit to mobile, keep on the gate keeping and quality check. Next steps are personalization and voice-readiness.
As a business or brand owner:
If you haven’t focused your marketing efforts on DRM – now is the time. Make sure you’re in the game: inducing reviews, responding to ones, and constantly updated on talk of the town – about your business.
Are you mobile? Make sure your web presence reaches your customers.
Learn your customer journey. This is a cornerstone to all the marketing you’ll do ahead and specifically – when and where your client are open to reviews and at which milestones along the journey are they prone to writing reviews about your business.
Evangelize on reviews – make sure your staff, co-workers, and whoever faces your customers is in the know on how, why, and what makes your customers write a review. Work on the sweet spots, eliminate the mines.
Online reviews are like the weather. It’s here, so make the best of it. And remember this – most reviews are good. All reviews are a conversation with your customers you can leverage on. So, if you learn to talk the talk, you’ll walk the walk and have a ball!