Ask The Expert: Strengthening Customer Reviews & Your Business Rating

Dennis O'Malley, Ready Pulse

Dennis O’Malley, Ready Pulse

While most businesses are becoming technology-saavy these days when it comes to online presence and customer service, there are still many areas for improvement. One of those areas that may often be overlooked is business ratings and reviews. Giving your consumer a place to check in and give feedback is a great way to gauge how you’re doing, and a way to spread positive reinforcement about the business across social networks and the web, and to drive traffic to ecommerce sites.

Today, more and more consumers are shying away from generic ratings like five-star reviews, mainly because they are looking to share their opinions in a more authentic, in-depth way, in places where they know it will be seen, according to Dennis O’Malley, CEO of Ready Pulse, a company focused on strategy, revenue, and marketing efforts. Action sports brands are certainly not oblivious to this concept, and several who are ahead of the curve include GoPro, with its Photo of the Day gallery, and Under Armour’s What’s Beautiful consumer contest.

We checked in with O’Malley to get his perspective on the evolving face of consumer rating and review platforms, how businesses can maximize positive feedback and exposure, and how your business can zero in on more authentic, meaningful customer feedback.

What are your thoughts on the current state of user product reviews and ratings on websites ?

I think most web ratings and review options for businesses right now are lacking, and there aren't a lot of choices, but that's changing. The value of existing ratings and reviews for businesses have declined. People don't leave their real names, you usually don't know if they bought the product. Consumers don't share in text and five stars - they share in a natural voice, with multimedia, and don't mind providing their identity.

The social web is changing the landscape of how people share experiences and feelings about virtually everything. We're hitting a tipping point where the aging ratings and reviews interface is starting to fall short for consumers navigating through an online experience where Facebook, Instragram, and Pinterest are defining consumer feedback, expression, and brand enthusiasm. Today's 10 point surveys, 5 star rankings, and text-based reviews don’t elicit or capture natural brand enthusiasm in a visual, curated, personalized way that is exploding on these social platforms. Consumers have been sensitized to living in the ratings and reviews box, but the box only exists because it's easier and established on ecommerce platforms. But that's changing.

Let's start with 5 stars as a rating mechanism. They're great for restaurants and movie rentals because they provide a quick way to skim through a lot of choices and gauge sentiment. But they're not applicable to high quality brands in action sports. The relative value of 5 stars has lost meaning because everything is seemingly 5 stars these days. The Wall Street Journal reported that the average rating for all things online is 4.3 stars out of 5. eBay data demonstrated the median rating for “Item as Described” was 4.8 out of a possible 5. Looking at Yelp, 67% of all ratings are four or five stars, and virtually everyone who rates a video on YouTube gives it 5 stars. People just don't trust ratings and reviews when they are not authentic.

The second element--customer reviews--certainly are a sought after asset for virtually every business. The problem is they're sparse for the most part without a concerted effort to get them, and on the flip side, when you have lots of reviews, the best testimonials are often buried deep in product-level web pages. And let's face it, most people don't really like writing reviews on an ecommerce page; there's no engagement, no shared experience, or feeling of being part of a community. What about reviews for an entire product category? Or brand as a whole? What about pictures or video that reviewers can add to their story? They don't exist in 1.0 online ratings and reviews.

There's a trust and authenticity factor. Certain forms of social proof are more trustworthy than others, and have a higher impact on shopping conversions. Passionate testimonials that link back to a customer's social platform are more believable than anonymized survey-type reviews from "-John, Ohio." Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter accounts are verified by a third party, where simply showing a rating number on a site from an anonymous posting is not backed up by anything.

So where are people sharing?

The rise of platforms like Pinterest and Instagram shows that people are sharing visual content. These platforms are quickly becoming a driving force for user-generated word of mouth marketing online and over the mobile channel. And while consumers consider reviews online, they prefer to see input from people in their own social circles, and Facebook is the dominant platform for sharing amongst friends and social circles. Most brands have done a good job of leveraging the sheer scale of these platforms to engage with audiences and they have amassed a wealth of feedback and positive brand expressions from their fan base. And for action sports brands in particular, it's an ideal time to maximize these authentic, spontaneous, personalized, visually rich social testimonials for more powerful word of mouth marketing to broaden awareness and market demand for their brands, categories, and products.

What's next for ratings and reviews online that action sports brands should consider?

It's amazing to see how much loyalty and admiration consumers share socially for their favorite action sports brands. It's a lifestyle, and the passion people have for the gear they wear to outfit their lifestyle makes this audience segment ideal for harvesting and promoting social testimonials because they tend to be visually compelling, telling a story with imagery and video. This is gold on the Social Web because of how genuine, enthusiastic, and appealing they are. It's also gold for ecommerce marketers, because these rich testimonials not only benefits a retailer's reach on social networks, but this kind of social proof increases conversions on ecommerce shopping pages and in email campaigns.

Action Sports brands should showcase social testimonials on their websites at the brand, category, and product level to increase SEO and online conversions. Get out of the box that limits social proof to ratings and reviews only for individual products. Quite often, social proof from brand advocates comes in the context of product categories and for a brand itself. And in online ecommerce, more is better when it comes to good user generated social content, so leveraging category-based social testimonials is a compelling way to boost SEO and provide social proof for an entire product line. And for Action Sports brands with a sales channel of online retail outlets, equip your distribution chain with your best brand, category, and product-level social testimonials on their websites. If this sounds hard, it's really not. The technology exists today to plug in and promote curated, handpicked social testimonials across multiple websites with relative ease.

What are some best practices for adding social testimonials to e-commerce websites?

Think of social testimonials as your best advertising. Use good marketing judgment to segment and identify testimonials that support the call to action of the ecommerce page they are placed on. Think about the user experience and use the right layout to showcase testimonials in multiple form factors such as feeds, albums, and galleries. And add new testimonials over time to create a strong community experience for shopping visitors. The results are longer site visits and higher conversion rates stemming from authentic, visual, and timely social proof that are much more compelling than ratings and reviews.

About Dennis O’Malley: As co-founder and CEO, Dennis leads ReadyPulse focused on strategy, revenue, and marketing efforts. Prior to co-founding ReadyPulse, Dennis lead several businesses at Moxie Software including their Global Services teams, and their Moxie Insight division. Before Moxie, Dennis was a VP Sales for Gartner (NYSE:IT) and built several new businesses, including their Emerging Technology and Venture Capital businesses. Dennis started his career selling copies door to door and helped BR Printers become the leading on demand print and fulfillment provider in the US. Dennis graduated with honors from the Santa Clara University MBA program and holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the same school. Outside of time with his three young daughters he can be found swimming, biking, or running in some off road area.