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Surprise, you no longer own 100% your brand online!

A recent study indicated that 26% of adult users of the Internet (about 33 million people) in the US have rated a product, service or person using an online rating system. Are you one of them? Probably. More importantly, has your business/organization been discussed or reviewed online?

I made a few assumptions in this article:

  • People are inherently afraid of risk.

  • People prefer to interact with those they feel most comfortable with.

  • Buying something on the Internet is viewed as risky by many shoppers.

  • People don't trust advertisements.

With that foundation, let's talk about the power of reviews on the Web.

Think for a second about the number of sites where people can post their opinions regarding products, services, stores, sellers, hotels, destinations and so on: Amazon, CNET, Overstock, eBay, Citysearch, Tripadvisor, Pricegrabber, MySimon, Carpoint, Become, epinions, Bizrate, eBags... the list is growing!

Simply said, people are talking online, and they are likely talking about your company or its products and services, especially if you are selling direct to consumers. Online reviewers absolutely realize that the reach and impact of their sentiment about your company is greatest on the Web, especially compared with all other communications means (mail, email, phone, fax, face to face, etc.).

Let's look at the larger picture.

Reading the comments of real people that have bought the same product or service helps us as buyers feel more confident and comfortable in our purchasing decisions, especially when an item is bought sight unseen.

A Consumer Reports or Car & Driver report on a Honda Civic Hybrid won't always compare with the opinions of numerous owners who have driven the car every day for years.

When I typed "honda civic hybrid" into Google, the first non-Honda site listed was Yahoo, where there were 26 reviews of the car by actual drivers. A few spots down, I found MSN's site with several owner reviews, and a bit further down epinions had well over 20 reviews. There were over 60 real owner reviews only one click away from Google's first page of search results. That's powerful!

The Power of Blogs

Do not neglect the importance of blogs and how they affect the way your brand, products and services are perceived. Often, these blogs become little fiefdoms with large followings and tremendous influence; they become trusted sources of information to their audiences, which will often revisit these blogs to stay on top of their recommendations and reviews.

Two of my favorites are treehugger.com and gizmodo.com, both of which are very popular among targeted audiences and are likely to review several products or services in a week.

Here is a live example. While researching a brand for a HDTV, I found this thread. Hmm. Maybe I will go for a different brand after all.

Have you ever done a search to see which blogs are discussing your products, services, customer service, prices, etc.? You should.

If you want a real quick and easy way to find blogs discussing your company's products, use blogpulse.com's trend tool and input your company name or product names or model numbers. You can also use blogpulse.com's search tool to find the actual blogs reported in the trend tool.

Keeping an Eye on Forums

The same methods used for staying on top of blogs can be used to help you do the same with forum postings. Usually, forums allow anyone to post, so that sense of an individual's authority on a topic is lessened.

Where forums have an advantage is that they allow for multi-user conversations, whereas blog communications are usually one-to-many, with little question and answer. Before you purchase a digital camera, a forum allows you to get answers to specific questions from actual owners (often enthusiasts) of the product.

Now that your eyes are opened to the importance of reviews and how they influence consumers' purchasing decisions, in part 2 I'll provide some insights on just how reviews can help:

  • Product managers and executives to build a better mousetrap

  • Marketing teams get more bang for your advertising buck

  • Sales teams to get moreā€¦ sales

  • Customer advocates to retain customers

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wil Reynolds is the founder and head marketing strategist of SEER Interactive (www.thinkseer.com), a search optimization and Web marketing firm located in Philadelphia.