Power, danger with reviews online
I'm a maven.
I get a thrill from finding new products or services, and recommending them to everyone I know through conversation, both in-person and electronic.
But in an era when blogging and social networks tie your likes and dislikes to your identity, how do you express your thoughts without retribution from the subject of your review?
I Tweeted the name of the farm where my wife and I found, and cut, our Christmas Tree recently. This was a result of the positive experience we had, and a reward should others be trying to find recommendations on this service.
An open approach
My URL is my name. Most of my Web application user-names are as well.
I don't like hiding behind clever anonymity (utvolfan1967!) or a shadowy avatar when participating in online social networks because it makes your contributions feel fake.
Not to mention being "fake" could now be crime due to the Lori Drew MySpace judgment.
I think if we're going to treat the Web like its a legitimate tool for communication then we need to be prepared manage our actions in the same manner as stepping out our front door.
But be prepared to manage the transition of online and reality.
Danger of SEO
Blogging and social networks are search engine magnets if managed correctly. By careful tweaking of both markup and content, you can be assured other users will find your praise or criticism quite easily.
Let's go back to that bad experience at the car dealership. With a blog whose code is optimized, you can simply seed the blog entry title and body with keywords (dealership name, location, car in question, employee names, etc) that users might use while searching to greatly improve the results.
Next, put your link on Twitter. I've found that by cultivating high quality followers, you can almost be assured that many will click your link if it sounds remotely interesting. If that dealership was in Knoxville, and you had many Knoxville followers, most will be interested in something that is relevant to them (location).
And because the currency of the Web (and SEO) is the link, you've just boosted the value of that content several-fold.
Because much of this behavior is second-nature to mavens and other heavy users of the Web, its easy to get caught up in making sure everyone sees your opinion without considering the ramifications.
What happens when someone at the dealership Google's their name, only to find your blog entry as the top result? What if the dealership owner thinks that you didn't give his business a fair shake?
Would you want your off-line profile associated with it's online actions?
Public relations for the individual
Restraint is probably the best advice for individuals who tend to want to record harsh reviews of every purchase or experience. But with careful reputation management using general public relations practices, its possible to express your thoughts about a product or service while avoiding offending the natives (too much).
- Use your real name unless you're being paid to review things professionally (and maybe even then as well). This will help temper -- your real identity is the same online and off -- any overtly negative words you might inject that cause regret later.
- Realize that if you use someone's name (or a business name) in an online review, they will find it. In these situations, it's best to confront them directly. Send them an e-mail as a head's up. Don't let Google surprise them.
- Think about using an application devoted specifically to certain types of reviews, such as Yelp for restaurants and Angie's List for contractors. A review of a restaurant on your blog will work, but could be more effective when backed by the crowd.
- Be honest in your review. If the service was really bad, and you reported this truthfully, the business wants to know about it. Comcast, for example, actively trolls Twitter for feedback.
- Be aware that depending who or what you're reviewing, they may not be up to speed on how the Web works. I've heard of several instances of folks mentioned in negative news stories calling the publisher to request their story be removed from Google. Some onus is on the site to post a follow-up, but this is the historical record, and Google doesn't forget easily.
When done correctly, reviewing products and services on the Web using your own site or social networks can be helpful for many users seeking similar information.
Have you received interesting responses when reviewing products or services on your Web site or using a Web service such as Yelp? Post a comment and tell me about it.