Are online product reviews relevant and credible? Another way you could ask this question is do you trust offline word of mouth from friends and aquaintances. And are online reviews as credible as offline word of mouth?

According to a study by MIT and University of Michigan they found a high correlation between offline word of mouth and online reviews for movies:

 

Another interesting finding is the higher correlation of offline word of mouth to online word of mouth compared to offline word of mouth to critics reviews.

 

This doesn’t surprise me. Usually when I talk to friends about a movie I hear similar feedback. Now a woman may give me slightly different ‘perspective’ on a romantic comedy than her husband ?, but the general recommendation is nowhere near as diverse as critics’ reviews. See the reviews on Invincible, from B+ to D+.

Ultimately, the question for authenticity is relevant for online reviews. There is the possibility of shills, fraud, and ‘astroturfing’. The truth is, with over 40 clients and hundreds of thousands reviews, we don’t see much fraud (and we’re getting pretty good at catching them). Of course, nothing is fool proof. With the growth of consumer-generated content, this will continue to be a focus for us to stay ahead. It’s also why our solution includes several fields to add context to the review. In usability studies we find that provides shoppers with review relevance as well as *reviewer* relevance.

The Edelman group found that ‘trust in someone like me’ has tripled over the last two years. The key phrase here is ‘someone like me’. Shoppers identify with the reviewer based on the content of the review, user attributes, and product attribute ratings.I would also assert the community of customers and shoppers are the best judges of authenticity and relevance. With helpfulness votes (which is sortable) and abuse reporting, shoppers themselves can ‘smell’ fraud. We find many of our clients' cutomers are compelled to jump in with their own review when a review that is ‘off’ is posted. So between our content analysts (we read every review and review several factors for fraud) and customers, we can maintain a high standard of authenticity.

3 Responses to “Can Customers Trust Online Reviews?”

  1. LinkedIn is an excellent example of a site which relies heavily on the online and offline social network trust. They aren’t in the market of product reviews yet, but as of Monday branched into service reviews. There are talks however of product reviews in the near future (primarily books and movies to start).

    In the end, do you think social networking sites will have a competitive advantage? According to the MIT study you cited, maybe not enough to worry about. Your thoughts?

    “Mr. Guericke thinks LinkedIn has an advantage over competitors because its service revolves around personal recommendations rather than receiving referrals from unknown people.”
    http://www.redherring.com/Article.aspx?a=19201&hed=Cultural+Changes+at+LinkedIn

  2. LinkedIn is an excellent example of a site which relies heavily on the online and offline social network trust. They aren’t in the market of product reviews yet, but as of Monday branched into service reviews. There are talks however of product reviews in the near future (primarily books and movies to start).

    In the end, do you think social networking sites will have a competitive advantage? According to the MIT study you cited, maybe not enough to worry about. Your thoughts?

    “Mr. Guericke thinks LinkedIn has an advantage over competitors because its service revolves around personal recommendations rather than receiving referrals from unknown people.”
    http://www.redherring.com/Article.aspx?a=19201&hed=Cultural+Changes+at+LinkedIn

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