Not too long ago, when potential customers wanted to know about the quality of your product or service, they relied on the opinions of friends and family. Word-of-mouth is still alive in today’s connected world—it’s just become exponentially amplified with the use of online reviews. One good (or bad) review of your business can echo through cyberspace indefinitely.
Online reviews drive sales in a big way, says Lisa Gordon, founder and CEO of Pollen-8, a company that brings together small businesses, marketers and online reviewers to promote products and services. “According to Yahoo Small Business Advisor, 70 percent of consumers consult reviews before making a purchase.
"For large brands, using devoted online product bloggers and social media has become part of the marketing mix, and it’s something small-business owners can also do,” adds Gordon, who created Pollen-8 after working as a mobile app creator and discovering the value of having bloggers review the apps. “Today’s customers seek opinions from a wide variety of reviewers—from those with a large following to niche reviewers with a small but passionate following.”
Until the recent surge of online reviews, the brand itself created its own testimonial through marketing—but not always convincingly. “Every coffee shop on every corner in New York City claims it has the world’s best coffee," Gordon says, "so which one are we to believe? Now that consumers have a tool and a voice, they can weigh in and advocate for products and brands on the world’s stage, and through blogs and social media, the reach is nearly endless.”
Online reviews have such a strong impact on potential customers because they come straight from the consumer, says Christine Oyama, assistant designer of Gratitude-Heart-Garden Florist and a florist on BloomNation. “In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven culture, everything's available in the palm of your hand, and the fact that a consumer can find a review in minutes—that translates into a powerful thing for small businesses.”
Oyama has found that online reviews drive sales in a big way. “We have great reviews online, and that's given our customers and potential customers the confidence that they'll receive a great service and product. We’ve found, for instance, that positive reviews from brides have helped with booking weddings.”
Consumers increasingly look to reviewers when trying a new product, and reviews play a big role in the sales and overall awareness of a product, agrees Joanna Davis, publicity coordinator at ZinePak, which creates custom, interactive content for targeted super fans of music, movies, sports, events and brands. “Everything we do at ZinePak is designed to elevate the experience of super fans. What better way to do this than to partner with bloggers and reviewers who have an audience of the most dedicated fans? For one of our latest ZinePak releases, we partnered with some amazing bloggers who reached a ton of fans and even got the ZinePak in the hands of some of the cast members of Orange Is the New Black.”
Online reviews are especially critical to building an e-commerce business, says Thomas Kelly, founder of the Chili Lab. “More than anything else, reviews have helped build our social media presence," he says, "and stirred up a lot of conversation about our brand and products.”
Getting a Hand From Bloggers
If you'd like to start working with bloggers to obtain reviews of your products, Davis and Gordon suggest the following tips:
1. Do your homework to locate influential bloggers and reviewers in your product category. “While it's ideal for the review to reach the greatest amount of people possible," Davis says, "it's more important for the review to reach the right people who'll be genuinely engaged in the conversation about the product with people who've used it firsthand.”
2. Decide on your goals for the review, and be specific when you express them in your pitch.
3. Provide all necessary information, such as links to social media accounts and websites where the product can be bought, as well as any additional information that may be helpful to the reviewers and their audiences.
4. Be cooperative and accommodating, and try to build lasting relationships with the reviewers. They'll likely be more valuable than you initially realize.
5. Be generous with product samples. Send only full-sized samples and products that best represent your business. Never ask reviewers to return products once they’ve been reviewed. And offer a second sample to be used as a promotional giveaway to the blogger’s readers.
6. Ensure that the product is a good match with the blog. Do your homework to make sure the blogger's audience is the target audience you're trying to reach.
7. Know that bloggers occasionally request payment in exchange for reviews. Decide in advance what you're willing to do.
8. Remember to thank reviewers for their reviews. You want them to understand how much you appreciate the time they took to use and discuss your product.
9. If you get a bad review, don’t defend yourself and your product. If you feel the review may have some validity, try to understand what changes your product might need and make adjustments.
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