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Reviews, Reputation, and Digital Word of Mouth

Welcome to the world where “word of mouth” meets printed review.

It used to be that word of mouth was just that.  Neighbors standing around on a back patio, grilling burgers, drinking beer.  Kids laugh and squeal in the background.  Fred needs a financial advisor to help with some retirement planning.  Al knows a few guys, one he’d recommend, the other not so great.

A few words are exchanged.  Fred jots down a name.  Done.

Today, this exchange also takes place online.  Al can put his comments – good and bad – onto a variety of review websites.  Fred can look them up, and try to get an idea of what all the “Al’s” out there (virtually all of whom he doesn’t know personally) think about service professionals in the area.

This is both good and bad.  Good because Fred can get multiple opinions quickly and start to form an idea of what financial advisor would be best for him.

Bad because sometimes, Al drank a few too many beers.  He’s an everyday consumer, with no particular qualifications to judge financial advisors.

His experience was subjective.  The guy he didn’t like might be just the right one for Fred.

From the business side, the issue is this word of mouth review process is now written.  Carved into the digital cloud.  It’s spawned a new set of tools and tasks known as reputation management.

Review validity gets skewed.  Tom is a financial advisor who’s willing to slam his competition.  Jane was an employee of a advisor who fired her – she’s not going to have good things to say.

Then there’s Bobby, who has to be the center of the conversation.  He gives advice even though he hasn’t worked with a financial advisor at all.  This actually happens:  people reviewing businesses and products they’ve never used.  They’re know as self-appointed brand managers.

Grain. Of. Salt. 

Like word of mouth comments, online reviews should be taken with one.

You can get some good information from online reviews.  If you read them, they’ll influence you’re decision.

But just because they’re written doesn’t mean they’re the insights of experts.  On the contrary, they’re the personal comments of neighbors, spoken in the context of an afternoon barbeque.

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