A new local/UGC site launched today at the TechCrunch event: Comment.com. It seeks to be a kind of CRM middleman between local businesses and consumers, managing the delivery of positive and critical feedback to “17 million local businesses.” The business model is a premium services subscription (for businesses). Unlike conventional review sites, however, the submitted comments aren’t public or distributed online. Here’s how the press release describes the service and the business model:
Consumers who visit comment.com enter the name of a company they’d like to comment to and receive a comment form. The comments they make are sent directly to the company’s decision makers. Comments aren’t posted for public review. Using the free and optional Club Comment feature, a consumer can request a response without revealing his or her identity . . .
On the business side, comment.com is a tool for service and product improvement as well as customer feedback management. Businesses get valuable insight in real time and the feedback goes to the person who can address the issue. Companies can sign up for a free basic membership by registering at the site. Basic membership allows them to receive comments via e-mail.
For $7.95 per month, companies can become Premium members and gain access to a secure, feedback management dashboard where they can save, organize, forward and respond to comments. They can also print graphical reports, track multiple locations and even create a comment widget for their own Web sites.
You search for a specific business and then provide your feedback:
This is an ambitious undertaking. But now for my critical feedback: it’s going to be very, very, very difficult to get consumers to write reviews without context and in a kind of “vacuum” on this site. It’s not clear what gratification, response or “feedback” consumers will receive from the site (beyond acknowledgement of their review/comments). Over time, if this takes off, businesses will potentially respond directly to consumers and that no-doubt is in the VC presentation and would make this a success if it happened.
Generally today consumer-oriented startups have to have both a “destination” and “distribution” or syndication strategy. They start with the former and wind up with the latter. However I think there’s a flaw in the “destination” part of the strategy for Comment.com.
The company offers a comment widget to go on business websites. This is what will make or break the service — getting adoption and distribution of the branded comment boxes onto third party sites. For example, partnering with an existing SMB platform/channel/directory would be very helpful. MerchantCircle, for example, could potentially use something like this on its profiles to facilitate dialogue between owners and customers (although there’s always good old email). But more broadly that’s what I mean by context.
SEO will also be critical to build traffic and branding. However, most people searching for local business names are looking for contact details or directions and not a review form for after-the-fact comments. Accordingly here’s a potentially constructive suggestion:
- Create branded SEO-friendly profiles for all those businesses, with maps and contact info
- Put this form on those pages
Update: Comment.com is showing some comments on its homepage despite saying that comments aren’t going to be posted for public view. The site may need to reconsider that policy in the near term.