Many marketers are wrestling with practical implications of Social Media Marketing concept. One of the challenges is a lack of a clear and practical concept definition. Everyone seem to know what it means and doing “something” about it, but only very few can boast a provable and measurable success. I chose to focus on a specific subset of the SMM that in my opinion provides the most effective method on increasing sales without monumental budget requirements.
If you agree that consumers, and that include businesses in context of this conversation, fundamentally shop for “desirable outcome” and a shopping process is focused on risk reduction of achieving that outcome, you would probably see why the customer reviews are so important. Many marketers are often uncomfortable with an idea of funding a messaging effort without retaining control of the content, but that is precisely why this Media is called Social. A customer review is usually a personal “story” describing how a person, who had expectations (possibly similar to yours) experienced reality of of their decision to purchase that product or service. A “negative” review can often sell your product or service more effectively by alleviating prospective customer’s fears because the review writer expectations were different from the the reader’s, the writer’s experience was closer to the reader’s desirable outcome, and negative tone gives the story a lot more credibility.
Let’s assume that I masterfully convinced you that customer reviews, under curtain conditions, provide sizable uplift in sales. If you don’t buy this line of reasoning there is some research on that subjects which supports the premise. You can find here and here. If you knew it all along, you are more interested in what are the “certain conditions”, and how exactly do you get your customers to write these reviews.
Humans communicate by telling the stories – stars (Liekert scales and such), attribute ratings and any other attempts to filter and organize customer reviews, are helpful, but they often fail to produce sales uplift if used excessively. They distract consumers from reading the “stories” and prevent them from personal engagement. The idea of engaging customers in writing more reviews by offering them “fill in the blank” forms often leads to waste and distrust as consumers, who look for this product reviews, feel cheated when they land on the product page with pre-fabricated, check box reviews.
Number of reviews is critically important for production of sales uplift. There is no exact, magic number that would guarantee the desired effect as it is highly contextual to the complexity of the product or service and its price (i.e. risk involved). Too few reviews for a product may make it look not credible to many consumers, and too many reviews may intimidate some from even making the decision. The latter case could possibly be mitigated by thoughtful “filtering” mechanisms and it is not a problem for most marketers. Only a very small number of customers are engaged enough to write a review. I “mashed” TV units shipped data from iSuppli Market Research with a number of reviews for these TV brands available online to come with an average that is well below 1%.
Engaging your customers to write more reviews is probably the most challenging task. There is no shortcuts here. Any marketers who succumbed to a “brilliant” idea of planting reviews written by not-customers should know that it is illegal ( it was successfully prosecuted in NY), it produce adverse effects, and did I mention that it is not ethical? Misleading social media seeding techniques have become so widespread that the European Union enacted Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations to protect the public from the most deceitful activities.
To do it right you need to understand why customers write the reviews on the first place. What are the motivations? There are a few studies conducted by Cone Research and others that delved into this subject. When you understand what motivates very few of your customers to write the reviews you need to select appropriate existing interaction points between your company and a customer, such as warranty registration process or scheduled maintenance, to ask them for it. The way you communicate the request is very important and has to loop back to the motivations. If you ask for endorsement or referral – you miss the mark and fail in this Social Media Marketing class.