Directory Publishers: Key Success Factors for User Reviews Deployment

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Champions. You need to identify your site champions (power users) and nurture them. Give them perks, benefits and empower them.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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).
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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?

8 thoughts on “Directory Publishers: Key Success Factors for User Reviews Deployment

  1. Great post Seb ! I was missing those great insights lately !

    IMHO, one of the most difficult thing to do is to Engage merchants to join conversation.

    I think a good deployment would include a simple way for merchants to leave comments, most probably by email to simplify and accelerate their action (no url, no login, etc.).

    Most merchants are still very 1.0 so anything that makes it easier for them is worth it and without them the community is very one-sided.

  2. Thank you for sharing such practical insights about how to leverage ratings and reviews in a social media context Seb!
    You think a separate “cooler” brand is need in order to build a community and drive participation around merchant reviews or brand related commentary. Can you elaborate a little bit further on this subject please and quote a few good examples that illustrate this you’ve seen lately please?

    Have a nice WE!

  3. I agree; difficult to get most businesses to engage. But monitoring tools will be welcomed by SMBs and may show them a path toward more engagement.

    I’m wary of “incentives.” They work for some but add complexity. Yelp created an “elite squad” that got access to special perks, so perhaps you’re right. But Yahoo Answers’ point system is a mess in my view.

    Separate brand is a huge issue but I tend to agree.

  4. A portion of the conversation is also happening in the Local Search, Directories and Directories Linkedin Group.

    Oren Greenberg said: “Seb, some of the points there were certainly key I think. Re separate brand – that’s dependent on the directory in question. Re twitter – skeptical, or part of a social media marketing tactic in general. 2,3,4,5 are fundamental.Its also important to understand that many types of companies won’t receive reviews due to their nature by a pure UGC/community approach. It requires a different twist – this being the biggest challenge with the exception of critical review mass, all depends on acquisition volume.”

    Ben Barney said: “Hi Seb, great summary. I also believe that a directory brand is not conducive to building a community that want to share their positive as well as negative experiences. Directory brands seem to appeal to those individuals wanting to complain about a business rather than attract users who want to actively engage and share their experiences. Integration of ratings and reviews on incumbent IYPs has always been plagued with the issues around the impact of a negative review on a high spending advertiser and pressures from the advertiser to remove certain user-generated content from their listing. Therefore, as you say, best to build this community on a separate brand. Not sure I agree that it is required to organise offline events for the community. I can not see Google offering evening socials to those imparting reviews directly on Google. But then Google is different animal entirely! ”

    To what Oren replied: “Offline events proved to work for Qype (UK) and I also believe Yelp do it in the US. Re Google, the review quantity (and quality) doesn’t add up to the social driven directories + google aggregates reviews + the Google local search volume is easily 10 fold that of these sites.”

  5. @Andrés I’m thinking of players like Yelp, Qype or TrustedPlaces that have managed to generate a lot of activities around user ratings & reviews vs. what you can find in business directory web sites today. I’m also looking at initiatives in the directory space like Local.ch in Switzerland, Rejta in Sweden, YP.com with AT&T Interactive, Truvo.com with Truvo and Tupalo with European Directories. See this post I wrote a few months ago.

  6. Well done Seb. I fully agree with a separate brand and that’s exactly what we will be doing here in Macau. The offline events could be challenging though.

  7. Additional comment on Linkedin from Mohammed Ali Raja:

    “Some great points Seb. I like the approach taken by UrbanSpoon to aggregate professional and user reviews. The YP categories are far too numerous to be covered in a similar way. Directory sites still do need to understand how to balance the B2B commercial interests and the B2C user model. I would put this down as a key issue to resolve before venturing into the review space. Touch Local have been offering reviews and have decent revenue – I wonder how often they are asked to remove a bad review from a paying customer? Multiply this problem many times for a traditional YP player which has a lot of well established relationships at risk. Therefore a well thought through policy is essential.”

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