When the Internet first arrived on the scene, many fretted about its impact on our social structure. Many voiced fears that it would weaken the ties we had with our peers. In fact, quite the opposite has proven to be true. The Internet now plays a bigger and bigger role in allowing people to gather, compare and cross-check information, and find support when they face important decisions. The Pew Internet & American Life Project calls this phenomena "networked individualism".
People also love to share their opinions. In a recent report, the Keller Fay group found that the average American has about 56 conversations around brands every week. And whereas before, these opinions were confined to personal spheres, the web gives the little guy a platform to connect and share his or her opinion on a global scale.
The user review has been one of the most powerfully disruptive forces on the Internet. First popularized on e-commerce sites like Amazon.com, user reviews are now beginning to spread into other industries as well, including real estate (I've mentioned AgentLine before). And they can have an extreme impact on a company's bottom line. Especially if they are bad.
(I know if I'm shopping for, say, a new digital camera – the first thing I do is hit up Amazon's reviews of the unit and see what other people are saying about it)
Several new sites have launched recently that are trying and combine these two forces: social networking and the user review. One of the best is Judy's Book, so-named after one of the founder's mothers.
Judy's Book offers an interactive forum where users can share rankings on everything from restaurants, to shopping to real estate. In the real estate section, you can rank and review individual agents, inspectors, appraisers and property managers among many others. There's even a list of the best agents in each metro area.
If you're not watching this list in your city, then at your peril.
One nice feature behind Judy's Book that I haven't seen elsewhere though, is they offer business owners a rebuttal if you are getting slammed in a review. You can sign up to receive alerts whenever your business is reviewed and Judy's Book allows you to weigh-in with a one-time response to a review, if you want. This seems to me to be a fair balance.
Marketing has been traditionally about broadcasting your message – what I like to call the 'Spray-and-Pray' model. But that's changing in the face of these new social patterns. The future of marketing is about listening to the community, tailoring your message and narrowcasting to your audience.
More great reading on this subject here: Church of the Customer Blog
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