In my dual role as industry blogger and co-founder of a company that provides social media technologies to local media companies (including ratings/reviews), I’m often asked about deployment of user ratings/reviews in the context of a directory publisher.
Here are my current thoughts (in no particular order) about what’s needed to successfully deploy that core user feature:
- A separate brand. Up until a few months ago, I would have said that core directory brands were adequate for user ratings and reviews but I’ve come full circle on this. I think you need a separate, “cooler” brand in order to build a community and to drive participation around merchant reviews.
- Community management. You need to hire staff to animate the community online and in person in all your major markets. You need to organize real offline events (i.e. get-together and parties) to build up the cohesiveness of your user ecosystem.
- Champions. You need to identify your site champions (power users) and nurture them. Give them perks, benefits and empower them.
- Rewards system. To influence “positive” user behaviour, make sure you have a virtual rewards system with titles, badges and/or reviewer levels. Make sure that reward system is holistic to take into account user and business interests.
- Friend system. You absolutely need a “friend” system to allow users to see what their “friends” are doing in the site. Don’t built it from scratch. Use an existing identity system like Facebook or Twitter.
- Engage merchants to join conversation. Directory publishers have great ties with small businesses. They should use that relationship to invite them to come to the review site to engage conversation with users. This starts by allowing businesses to claim their listing(s) and inviting them to leave comment when activities (sales, events, etc.) are happening at their store.
- Mobile application. As a lot of activities around merchant reviews happen at the point of sale, you need a mobile application (certainly iPhone and Blackberry) connected to your review site.
- Weekly email. You need to send a weekly summary to all your site users to give them a digest of everything that’s happening in their city and/or their favorite categories/merchants. This gives your users a reminder to come back to your site and check out the latest activities.
- Crosslink/embed content in your other sites. Even though I recommend creating a new brand for user reviews, you should definitely embed content and links in all your other network sites (for example, in merchant listings and profile pages).
- Activity stream + widgets. You need to have an activity stream showing all activities (user reviews, comments, discussions, searches, top, etc.) on your review site and you need widgets to allow 3rd party sites to embed those activities on their own websites.
- Promote your new site. “If you build it, they won’t necessarily come”. You need to make sure you’re actively promoting your site through advertising, social media and public relations. That’s in addition to community management and event organization mentioned above.
- Local Twitter accounts. Create Twitter accounts for all your major local markets to broadcast local activities to Twitter users interested in following up what’s going on in their city.
Do you agree or disagree with these success factors? Did I forget any critical ones?