By adaptive - December 15th, 2011

Pioneered by Amazon and now adopted by every online retailer, reviews and recommendations have become a familiar sight right across the Internet. With Facebook removing its reviews tab, how should ...

Pioneered by Amazon and now adopted by every online retailer, reviews and recommendations have become a familiar sight right across the Internet. With Facebook removing its reviews tab, how should corporate users react to this bold move?

With the dominance of the web in consumers’ everyday lives, brands have never before been under such scrutiny. A simple ‘does my bum look big in this’ from the changing room has now become a post on a social media site inviting comments and advice from networks of friends several hundred strong.

From the comfort of the sofa and the virtual changing room, advice is no less welcome as the shopper scours the web for reviews from total strangers, a vicarious try-before-you-buy. Good reviews are hard currency to brands.

If reviews are such a strong currency across the online commercial channels, why is the most successful social network in history ditching its reviews facility? Facebook’s stated aim is to integrate brands and shopability into its user experience, so why abandon arguably its most important ecommerce tool?

Simply, it wasn’t being used. “The reviews weren’t a valuable proposition for the user and therefore they weren’t for brands either,” states Hal Stokes, social media director at Essence, a digital agency with experience of working with the Facebook brand. “They made the right decision.”

Facebook users don’t balk at brand involvement in their social network as was once suggested. When the communications are pitched just right, communities positively welcome commercial interaction. Research by NM Incite shows that 60% of social media users create reviews of products and services. In fact, consumer-created reviews or ratings are the preferred source for information about product or service value, price and product quality.

Inside knowledge

Elsewhere review functions are enormously successful, almost too much so. Hotels and restaurants complain they are being sent out of business by the high volume of searingly honest (or, it has been alleged, dishonest) reviews posted on sites such as TripAdvisor.

“Ratings and reviews make a material difference to consumers. They influence purchase decisions – that’s a given,” states Daniel Hewitt, head of social solutions at Demand Media “But people want trusted reviews, they want to see who the people are that are leaving the feedback.”

This is ultimately the benefit of reviewing products on Facebook, so why did their own reviews function not work? “The difference with the social environment is that consumers ask the question rather than go there to seek an answer. Where should I go skiing? Is this the best pushchair?” In this case, consumers will go to their own trusted network of friends, not a brand page. “The previous reviews were siloed in a walled garden,” Hewitt adds, “It should be one community, one view, one experience.”

“You are engaging in a forum that's ostensibly been designed for consumers, not businesses, and the constant changes to the various functionalities screams out that Facebook, although desperately trying to appeal to businesses, is still very much in a trial and error phase,” claims SiteForum director, David Bashford.

“Those that feel they have been cheated via the removal of a valuable service which will be detrimental to their carefully crafted social media strategies, could well decide to take the leap and create their own social communities, something which I think would prove much more beneficial in the long run,” said Bashford.

Brand value

More and more brands are seeing the value of integrating software and apps that feed into their pre-existing web properties as a way to collate valuable feedback. But essentially, rather than creating a silo where the reviews seem to exist in a vacuum, these applications deliver added value in terms of engagement through user generated content, data and search engine optimisation (SEO).

Bazaarvoice leads the market in applications that deliver ratings and reviews to the brand. Using a product called Search Voice Inline (SVI), it embeds the text of the first few reviews on a product into the product page’s code, increasing its SEO potential. For client Evans Cycles, Bazaarvoice implemented SVI in June 2010. Evans Cycles saw a 23% increase in search engine visits to product pages. Additionally, the retailer’s keyword reach — the number of search terms referring searchers to Evans Cycles’ product pages — increased 14%. In Q2 2011, the brand saw a 34% increase in review volume, year on year.

Indeed it seems that consumer behaviour in the social sphere is polarising. Consumers will happily talk about brands with their personal network and some of the most honest and valuable data for brands is available here. Many brands that might be considered corporate behemoths and unsuited to the ‘voice of the people’ tone in the social environment garner the most Facebook Fans. According to Ignite Social Media’s latest survey, Dr Pepper leads the way with the nearly 150,000 fans actively engaging with the brand with a Facebook fanbase of 10.5m.

However, reviews activity is very much limited to interactions between friends on each other’s walls. In order to discover how consumers feel about your brand in the social networking environment, it is perhaps better to look to independent monitoring tools such as Brandwatch or Alterian.

On the other hand, creating a review function within a brand’s own web presence is also successful. Consumers who visit already have a vested interest in the product, being about to buy or having already bought into the brand. Here, brand owners can acquire data, create brand advocates and use enhanced functionality such as video or blogging software to generate greater SEO. This is clearly the case with national brands like Argos that use reviews highly effectively right across their online catalogue.

For pure play reviews sites sitting in between these two distinct areas of social versus branded environments, the future is less clear. Those integrating a full shopping comparison function such as dooyoo and ciao will no doubt continue to fulfil a consumer need, particularly in bargain-driven times.

However sites such as TripAdvisor are already discovering that the consumer need has evolved. The consumer seeks trusted reviews from an identifiable source. The crux of TripAdvisor’s woes has been the untraceability of its reviewers leading to hotels able to post undeservedly positive ratings, or disgruntled customers to abuse the system.

Facebook reviews offered both trust and traceability but now that it’s gone, brands continue to recognise the worth of feedback from the social network. Whether it is through embedded software and links on fan pages or using third party reputation management programmes, brands will continue to look to the social sphere for honest, unbridled consumer opinion.


To learn more about social reviews and other essential social commerce strategies, check out the Social Commerce Summit, taking place on the 13th and 14th March in Boston. The conference features expert insight and best practice from companies like Disney, Macy's, Staples, Nieman Marcus and H&R Block. Find out more here.



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