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Can you trust social media reviews?

Eric Nei - Monday, October 16, 2017

CAN YOU TRUST SOCIAL MEDIA REVIEWS?

Absolutely, but only if you know how they happen. Social media reviews on sites such as Facebook, Yelp and Google Reviews are the new word of mouth. As a consumer, you likely look at reviews before a purchasing decision. Seventy-two percent of consumers shopping for services and products online do look at reviews. But, do '5 Star Ratings' really mean anything? Can comments be trusted? Here are a couple pointers to help you use review wisely in your purchasing decisions.

MOST RECENT vs. MOST RELEVANT

First, set up how you see reviews. As of 1/9/19 Facebook provides two options; most recent and most helpful. When you organize reviews by most recent, the result is obvious. When you organize reviews by most helpful it appears that Facebook weights negative reviews, or perhaps reviews with engagement, heavier than positive reviews or reviews without engagement. 

When shopping, I keep reviews to "most recent" for a couple reasons. People change over time. This allows me to see how a company is growing and learning. I'm fine working with a company that is committed to constant improvement in products or services. You can get hints about that kind of thing by watching their ratings and interaction with customers starting most recent and moving back in time.

The advantage of "most relevant" is that you can quickly ferret out concerns and address them when you begin to interact with the company. 

DO REVIEWS AND RATING REALLY MATTER?

For the business owner, getting reviews is easy, and all business owners know that social media is the new word of mouth. So why wouldn't a business owner go after ratings and reviews? There are a few reasons. They may not have a digital presence. Even with a gazzilion websites out there, as of mid 2018, about 46% of small businesses still do not have a website. There are lots of legitimate reasons for a company to not have a digital presence through a website or social media. But let's assume you are shopping for a product or service that would normally include a website. 

So, again, if you are shopping in an industry that normally shows a digital presence, why no reviews? There are only a couple reasons I can think of. First, perhaps they are concerned about increasing their level of transparency with customers. Second, they know their reputation is not so good, but they have a steady stream of new customers coming in, ignoring the lifetime value of repeat customers. Third, they don't know how. (The last one is easily, and cheaply, addressed by hiring a third party vendor to do the work. More about that below.) Third, they are resting on a large number or repeat of new customers, giving little concern for the feedback of either group.

My conclusion? With reviews and ratings being so easy to collect, go with the company with more reviews.

HOW ABOUT QUALITY? CAN YOU TRUST THE REVIEWS AND STAR RATING I SEE?

Would you rather trust a company with perfect 5 average rating, or a 4.7 rating? I'll reveal my bias. Is any business perfect? Several things can affect average star rating, and you should consider the weight you put on average star ratings. Why?

First, reviews can be purchased. That's right. There are companies out there that pay companies that hire people to do nothing but write reviews. To me, that's just wrong. How do you get around that? It's not easy unless you can begin to research the reviewers themselves by geographic location or first and last name. Other than that, I know of no fool proof way of figuring this out. There are some red flags to watch for: a small new company with a lot of reviews, reviews from outside your geographic area when you know the service area of the company you are looking at, and the same reviews showing more than one place. (I've seen this while surfing reviews on used cars; same review, different website, different make and model of car, with the review just slightly tweaked.)

Second, a couple bad ratings can really pummel a business that doesn't have many reviews. For example, if a small start up has 10 reviews with 9, 5 star ratings and a single 1 star rating, their average rating will be is 4.6. However, if a company has 49, 5 star ratings and a single 1 star rating, their average is 4.9. So, when looking at the average, look also at the volume.

Third, companies can hire reputation management companies. The problem from the consumer side is that these services provide an option for the business owner to filter out negative ratings and reviews if they want to. The business owner can 'pipeline' a review below a certain score so that they can contact the customer privately to explore what is going on. They can also just ignore it, allowing their average rating to be artificially inflated.

Full disclosure, my company uses Broadly for this service, but you will see if you look at our reviews that we regularly interact with customers. Our average rating is a true average rating. 

Fourth, franchised businesses will often share reviews to boost local reputation. For instance, Anyname Restoration company has 50 locations spread across 7 states. A new Anyname Restoration company opens in your town. That new franchise may "borrow" reviews from another franchise location. "Anyname Restoration provided an amazingly fast response when my basement flooded. Amanda K."

In the end, I prefer to favor companies that average a 4.3 to 4.8 star rating, have a the highest volume of reviews in their service area and in their industry (unless they are a franchise), and show consistent interaction with those leaving reviews, and that interaction is with both positive and negative reviews.

DOES THE CONSUMER HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY IN THIS

I think so. In the 21st century the power of 1 has been multiplied exponentially. Corporate giants may still remain beyond your influence but even the big ones are taking notice of the power of 1. However, small local companies can live or die based on a few social media posts. You can now seriously help or harm virtually any small business. This means the business AND the consumer have a greater responsibility when it comes to acting with integrity and thoughtfulness. 

When you have a bad experience with a business you can either A) blast away publicly venting your emotion in the disguise of trying to protect other consumers, or B) offer suggestions publicly for improvement and help build a business that you may one day be happy to work with again. In a way, social media gives you partial ownership of the company you are reviewing. Will you use your digital power and opportunity to hurt or to help? I'm not trying to guilt trip you into holding back necessary feedback, good or bad. I am trying to raise the bar for everyone to use social media to improve local business performance. 

In short, social media reviews and comments are the new "SALE!" sign for small business. They get your attention. You just have to know what you are looking at when you are using reviews to make purchase decisions.

Feel free to jump in on the conversation with us here or on Facebook .

Sincerely,

Eric Nei, the Cleaning Guy, CEO
Clean As Can Be Services, LLC





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