Your Customers are Talking About You

By Edward Cone  |  Posted Friday, December 10, 2010 23:12 PM

by Samuel Greengard

Pew Internet reports that 24 percent of American adults have posted comments or reviews online about the product or services they buy. Moreover, 58 percent say that they perform online research for products and services that they are considering purchasing.

Welcome to the new world of IT-driven marketing.

Old world: you spent truckloads of money promoting and advertising your brand. You carpet bombed discs or keychains or whatever until you bludgeoned the public into recognition...and submission.

New world: Lots of people, particularly the younger set, don't give a moose's rear end about what you say or do to promote your company or brand. They're more interested in what their peers say or how their social group connects to your company or brand.

The review sites popping up all over the Web are emerging as a more powerful force than the strong arm of any corporate marketing department. Let's face it, people trust their peers more than they trust a corporate entity.

Sites like Yelp, Epinions and Angie's List have made a full-blown business out of consumer reviews. Retailers such as Amazon, Apple and Barnes and Noble have also jumped on the bandwagon. And, within the travel industry, TripAdvisor has practically revolutionized the way people choose vacations, hotels, you name it.

Here's the bottom line: It's increasingly difficult to hide blemishes, flaws and genuinely bad products and business practices. It's becoming harder to bamboozle people or claim that 312 people commenting on a problem are entirely delusional.

Yes, competitors occasionally attempt to plant fake reviews and some online reviewers clearly have an axe to grind. TripAdvisor, for example, has come under criticism for some of its posts. However, there are ways to identify cheaters. And the fact remains: the vast majority of posts are valid. Alas, the truth often stings.

In fact, debating the validity of online customer reviews misses the point. They're not going away.

Smart companies understand that they must develop the IT tools to monitor review sites as well as social networking services such as Twitter. They're proactive about addressing customer issues and problems before they go viral. Some businesses are now allowing reviews on their own site--and for their own products--and learning to live with the good and the bad.