Is This the Future of Online Reviews?

Many sites are now starting to allow businesses to respond to reviews. This arguably offers “balance” and “fairness” for the businesses, but makes for a curious user experience. Note these reviews on TripAdvisor for a Northern California hotel:


Some site owners have argued to me that allowing this sort of “exchange” between customers and business owners degenerates into defensiveness and name calling. While the responses succeed to some degree in disqualifying or blunting the criticism from the customers, they also reflect poorly on the business itself.

Yelp has created a behind the scenes method for business owners to communicate with reviewers to avoid this. And Kudzu, which does allow comments, has created a business network that allows businesses to publicly endorse one another — thus providing another input for consumers.

There may be no single best approach but, given how important online reviews are becoming, it’s important for publishers and sites to continue to experiment with ways to be fair to business owners and allow them a “say” and to “participate in the conversation” but in ways that don’t diminish the overall user experience.

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20 Responses to “Is This the Future of Online Reviews?”

  1. Andrew Shotland Says:

    Seems like a very slippery slope, but I like getting all of this stuff out in the open. How the business responds is another indicator of what your experience with them could be. While berylwinkle’s response led me to believe that lilboos was a bit of a cretin, it also left me with the impression that berylwinkle is a wee bit thin-skinned.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Transparency is good. But agree re your characterizations.

  3. Frank, theSUGGESTR.com Says:

    Great, now I can spend more time trying to figure out where to eat.. I can read the 10 reviews of the people who loved it, then 10 reviews of the people who didn’t and the 10 excuses from the business explaining why it ‘wasn’t their fault’.

    I’m traveling right now in Europe and it’s amazing how hard it is use to use the internet to find a place to eat that I’m confident I’ll like – even more amazing how much time I can spend reading and still be lost.

    (Even more amazing is that I run a site that is supposed to help with this stuff and I still find it frustrating – I guess I have more work to do).

  4. Greg Sterling Says:

    I totally agree that it’s way too difficult to find a place confidently in mobile. It’s paradoxical and amazing because there’s so much information out there. Or maybe precisely because there’s so much information out there that this problem exists.

  5. Webomatica Says:

    Definitely amusing, although in regards to product reviews, I’ll almost always side with the customer, and discount the opinion of the company. Why? Because I’m a customer, and the company will *always* be biased that their service is the best. Because of that bias, their opinion is irrelevant.

  6. Greg Sterling Says:

    Agree re products. Also, OEMs aren’t likely to try and debate users on product reviews so you won’t get into this kind of situation on that side of things.

  7. Jonathan Says:

    I’d gladly read through a business owner’s response to a bad review — and therefore spend more time engaged on the review site — even when the business owner is “just making excuses.” My view has less to do with fairness for the business owner (which is a legitimate concern), and more to do with getting more information out there for the consumer to base his decision on. I think the exchange could also often end up being pretty entertaining and revealing!

  8. MiriamEllis Says:

    Wow, this really is an interesting development.

    Greg, I don’t understand how the hotel owner would know which of their past guests had left a comment, as in the case of Lilboos. Unless the guest said something like, “I’m the guy who was mad that the hotel wouldn’t store the fish I caught in their fridge,” how does the proprietor know to whom they are responding?

    Would you believe, I’d read that second bad review previously? Perhaps, like me, you are fond of Pt. Reyes? I think I’ve read every review of every business in that area, with tremendous interest.
    Miriam

  9. Eric Says:

    Not all user/owner conversations degenerate into defensiveness and name calling… here’s a restaurant owner in NYC who responds to every review on Citysearch… and was even picked up by NYT food critic Frank Bruni – so he actually parlayed his online conversation into bigger buzz.

    http://events.nytimes.com/2008/03/19/dining/reviews/19rest.html?scp=8&sq=dining&st=nyt

    Interestingly, several restaurant consultants I’ve spoken with in the SF bay area are now advising their owner clients to absolutely NOT reply or engage consumers on reviews sites…

  10. Greg Sterling Says:

    Interesting. But it’s probably a rare owner who can engage in a way that generates favorable buzz along the lines above.

  11. Michael D Says:

    I find it interesting that in some cases business owners can participate in the conversation. From a positive standpoint it provides a way for the business to offer some insight as to the situation. I do think it’s in the businesses best interest though to avoid negativity and name calling and focus more on what good can come from the situation.

  12. Greg Sterling Says:

    Michael D: Agree. “Explaining” negative reviews by trying to cast doubt on the reviewer doesn’t reflect well on the business.

  13. brad Says:

    I just want to point out that this is nothing new in the online review space (though it may be new to local).

    eBay has been doing this for years in their feedback system. We all know their feedback is critical to their model, as without that trust, eBay would never work. For as long as I can remember, they’ve allowed sellers to respond to negative feedback.

    I think the key to take from all of this is that reviews must be carefully thought through before they’re implemented, as they can alienate our paying advertisers, but are key to consumers. They shouldn’t just be integrated as an afterthought.

    http://local-research.blogspot.com/2008/08/advertiser-feedback-on-negative-reviews.html

  14. Mihmorandum | 5 Steps for 5 Stars: Reputation Management for Small Businesses | Local SEO Says:

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  15. serfman Says:

    Interesting. But it’s probably a rare owner who can engage in a way that generates favorable buzz along the lines above.

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