Years ago, before there were such things as social media, user reviews, and the Internet, there used to be a men’s store in my hometown of South Bend, Indiana. Their tagline was “one man tells another.” They were ahead of their time, and that simple phrase is at the very heart of today’s socially-driven marketing.
What that store knew then, and what companies are today beginning to acknowledge, is that the best advertisement for your brand isn’t going to come from television, print, or banner ads. The best advertisement is when one man (or woman) tells another.
Relying on customers instead of an ad agency to spread the word is risky business, since you lose an element of control over the conversation. But consumers will give more weight to a personal recommendation than they will a television commercial, and because of the prevalence of online user reviews and review platforms which take extra steps to ensure a review’s legitimacy, buying decisions are heavily influenced by this type of social user-generated content.
What’s wrong with television ads?
There’s a reason behind the logic of moving to direct social engagement tactics like user reviews, and that’s because the younger demographics just don’t respond to television commercials as much. In a Boston Consulting Group survey, it was shown that millennials engage with brands more deeply than do Baby Boomers. Fifty two percent of Millennials use social media on their mobile devices to note that they like a brand, while only 33 percent of Boomers do so, and thirty-nine percent of Millennials post product reviews. According to the BCG report, “It is more difficult through traditional marketing to convince a U.S. Millennial than an older U.S. consumer that a brand is relevant to him or her. Millennials turn to much wider networks for advice.”
Historically, a common tactic in advertising was to provide testimonials from experts, which for a time, was successful. In a 1949 television commercial for example, consumers were told that doctors prefer Camel cigarettes over other tobacco brands, but today, millennials just aren’t buying it. Millennials care less about what the experts say and more about what their peers say. The key to a review strategy is maintaining the integrity of the reviews.
All you have to do is ask
How do you get customers to write reviews? The best solution is the simplest one – just ask.
A curious town in the middle of the desert built by wiseguys, Las Vegas exists solely to provide a venue for pure indulgence and pleasure. More social media posts, user reviews, and unsolicited commentary exists about the pleasure palaces there than any other tourist destination in the world, and the casino kings that rule the desert have mastered the art of encouraging conversation.
After returning from a family trip to Las Vegas last month, I found an email from the Guest Relations officer at the Venetian, who understands that success in the hospitality industry means attending to details, making everything as pleasant as possible, and then encouraging guests to tell their friends. The email is a perfect example of the right way to encourage reviews – it’s simple, short, and polite, invited me to write a review, and provided a link for doing so.
The officer didn’t know ahead of time whether I had the time of my life, or thought the whole trip was a disaster, but that’s a gamble he and the Venetian are willing to take in asking guests to write reviews – after all, they are a gambling institution, it is one of the most impressive resorts on the Strip, and the odds are in their favor for good reviews. And in the rare event of a poor one, they take the time to personally respond.
What review sites do you want to be on?
Larger review sites like Yelp!, or Angie’s List are some of the best known brands, and directing users to one of those gives you a better chance of recognition, the benefit of association with a well-known review brand, as well as added credibility since there is a vetting process.
Finally, there are spam review sites that should be avoided at all costs. These are the ones with thinly-written reviews (many of which are obviously fake), and what are obviously paid affiliate links to each company’s website. Affiliate relationships are not an indication that a review site isn’t credible, but if there is a relationship, it should be disclosed plainly.
User review best practices
- Lose control! Encourage the social conversation and become a part of it, but don’t try to control it. Trying to force direction, editing or deleting posts, or paying for positive reviews, all are tactics that run contrary to the sentiment of social advertising and user-generated content.
- Gently encourage participation. Ask for the review without being demanding or needy.
- Make it easy for them. Use tools like Yotpo to auto-email customers after a purchase, and give them a quick link so they can make a review easily.
- Never buy reviews or offer incentives! If word gets out that you’re buying fake reviews (which tend to be pretty transparent and obvious), or even that you are giving incentives or free products in exchange for positive reviews, you will instantly lose all of your credibility. The reviews must be organic for them to have any meaning.
- Carefully select the review sites you want to direct customers to. Review sites should have transparent policies on how they rank and what their financial relationships are with brands.