Random Idiots’ Opinions: the Confusing Popularity of Online Reviews

Suddenly, we live in a world where everything gets reviewed by everyone, and everyone reads online reviews and gives them credibility.Reviews lady

How did this happen?  For a long time, reviews were a territory reserved for established, prestigious entities like the New York Times Review of Books, or the Zagat Travel Guide, or Siskel & Ebert.  Then Amazon changed everything.  Their website started to allow the public to review books. And no matter what people said about a book,  Amazon would leave the review up. The major book publishers were up in arms:  “How can you allow people to write bad reviews about our books?  That’s bad for business!” they cried.  Amazon didn’t care. They brought reviewing to the masses, and gave everyone a voice.

Shortly thereafter, TripAdvisor came along and let people review hotels, vacation spots and restaurants. And Rotten Tomatoes (now Flickr) let the audience review movies.  And people read them.  Then along came Yelp, and Angie’s List, and Dr. Oogle.  And of course, there is the mother of all review sites, Google (who, coincidentally, bought Zagat and added its reviews to their own.)  It turns out, people don’t really care what the experts have to say anywhere near as much as they like what I call RIO (Random Idiots’ Opinions).  They like to read several reviews and see for themselves what the public thinks. It doesn’t seem to matter much at all how educated, well-informed or articulate these reviewers are.

An ever-increasing number of people will not buy something or use a service without reading RIO’s first.  And if they can’t find reviews about that business, they move on to one that does have reviews.  It’s become a huge industry. Yelp is worth over 4 billion dollars.  So don’t spend much time waiting for this trend to blow over.  If anything, it will continue to expand as more and more people use smartphones for everything (According to Google’s Multi-Screen World Study, 61% of online searches now start on mobile device. Wow.)

There is also whole new industry in writing fake positive reviews.  A recent Harvard study estimated that 20% of online reviews are fake. 20%!! Most are written by shadowy businesses, usually in foreign countries, whose only job is to pump up someone’s business, and get paid for doing it.  There’s even a term for it: astroturfing. Some government agencies are starting to crack down on businesses paying for this, but it’s going to take some time to make a dent in that 20%.

So why are reviews so popular?  I believe it’s just human nature. When we didn’t know about something, we asked someone.  Sometimes it would be a friend, but often it’s a complete stranger. Imagine if ten years ago you walked into a store, looked at a TV, and then could ask 30 people who already owned one what they liked or didn’t like about it.  Why wouldn’t you do that?  You’d weigh each opinion differently, maybe, but you wouldn’t really care what the IQ was of each person telling you. Today that’s called turning on your smartphone.  It’s just too easy.  And you see people doing just that in Best Buy every day.

The appeal of Random Idiots’ Opinions is one of the reasons I think Angie’s List is a weak business model.  To see reviews on Angie’s List, you have to pay a monthly subscription, because the reviews there are all “legitimate”, that is, done by other subscribers.  But will people pay Angie’s List to get what they can already find for free on Yelp and Google, and all sorts of other sites? Don’t think so. (Angie’s List isn’t even worth $1 billion. Pfffft.)

There is a negative side to this level of public freedom of expression. We live in a new world, but it’s not a brave new world–it’s more like a cowardly one.  People feel very empowered using the Internet to vent about a business or even carry out personal vendettas. They can attack virtually anonymously, with impunity.  (The court dockets are full of failed attempts at suing Yelp and/or negative reviewers.)  It’s almost impossible to get a negative review removed.

So what can you do? First, you need to get in front of this appetite for reviewing by using a service like PatientActivator, which surveys your patients after they come in, as a pre-emptive strike, to give your patients a voice, a chance to criticize you in a non-public forum, before they go on Yelp or Google. This is a must-do in my mind.

As an added bonus, you can have those reviews appear automatically on your website, if you have a dynamic website like we build you with WebDirector.  You can also create a page in your website where your Yelp reviews can appear, which keeps people from leaving your website and going to Yelp to see what people are saying about you (and seeing ads for other dentists.)

Of course, the key strategy is to always be generating fresh, positive reviews on Google, Yelp and Facebook.  Which means you need a systematic approach. Otherwise, these RIO’s are going to start affecting your ROI.

If you want a more detailed strategy, download our white paper, “Dealing with Online Reviews” by clicking here.
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2 thoughts on “Random Idiots’ Opinions: the Confusing Popularity of Online Reviews

  1. Hi Fred, love this post. You know how I feel about online reviews and how important they. Its all about changing the office culture but the most important part of the process is just asking for feedback.

I welcome your comments--don't pull any punches!