4 community leaders in the online space

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Have you heard? Word of mouth -- in the form of online product reviews and consumer feedback -- is one of the most powerful tools available to digital marketers. Just listen to what four entrepreneurial pioneers whose companies specialize in online word of mouth have to say about it: 

Sam Decker, CMO of Bazaarvoice, says Jupiter and Forrester studies indicate more than 70 percent of shoppers seek out reviews before purchasing a product. Todd Greene, COO and cofounder of Trusted Opinion, believes the best way to decide if you'll like something is to listen to what your friends have to say about it. Daphne Kwon, CEO and cofounder of Expo TV, cites a study that found word of mouth to be the most influential source of product information. And Justin Cooper, cofounder and chief innovation and marketing officer of Passenger, argues that harvesting feedback directly from consumers creates the most powerful type of word of mouth: advocacy.

Each of these companies is helping consumers and brands tap into the power of word of mouth in its own unique way. And as their success stories grow, so too do their client lists, membership rosters and monetization opportunities.  

If you've ever read consumer product reviews on a major retailer's website, you've probably come across Bazaarvoice's work. Serving 270 clients in more than 15 different industries, Bazaarvoice hosts and services user-generated content that can live anywhere on a client's website, introducing "social commerce" into the site.

"Our meaning behind that term is to create interactions between visitors and customers in ways that drive measurable results," says CMO Sam Decker, author of two books on word-of-mouth marketing. Those results are primarily purchase decisions. "There's a lot you can do to create community and interactions, but it doesn't necessarily help the other 95 percent of people make a purchase decision," Decker adds. "Our interactions, our products, are set up in ways to distinctly help those prospects make a purchase decision."

The products to which Decker refers are: Ratings & Reviews, which allows customers to post reviews and potential customers to peruse them; Ask & Answer, a community-based FAQ; and Stories, a brand-engagement product that lets people share stories that may be tangential to the product itself. These products, particularly R&R, have proved to be a boon for many of Bazaarvoice's clients, helping increase purchases and add credibility to their websites -- even more so when not all of the reviews are favorable. While 80 percent of the reviews posted through R&R are positive, conversions tend to be higher for products that don't have 100 percent positive reviews, according to Decker. "It's that authenticity and that sort of balanced approach that people are looking for," explains Decker. 

Bazaarvoice also offers programs designed to amplify the content it gets from consumers. Amplification may include making the content search-optimized, creating landing pages and microsites to attract natural search or even syndicating reviews into shopping-comparison engines like Shopzilla. Poignant reviews may also make it into other marketing materials, such as catalogs or consumer emails. "We've had case studies, with Golfsmith, for example, where you put reviews in an email and make a top-rated email, and it has a 42 percent higher revenue per email," Decker says.

So, given that Bazaarvoice specializes in leveraging consumer word of mouth to help clients boost their bottom line, how much of Bazaarvoice's success relies on the word of mouth their clients spread about them?

"We're definitely on the backs of our clients," says Decker. "A lot of clients speak on our behalf, and we do a lot of press releases and case studies at our summit, and really, the results speak for themselves. And that's what clients are looking for."

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