Avvo logoRecently, one of our clients, Avvo, launched ratings and reviews.  You can now rate and review lawyers online.  I know because I was emailed by one of ours, Clay Arendes, as soon as Avvo went live.  I gladly wrote a review on the wonderful service we have received from him for almost two years now.  Although I marinate in Web 2.0 daily, the act of writing a review on Clay made me realize something: I write more reviews on people than I do on products.

It is always dangerous to make any conclusions based on only your own behavior.  You need to look no further than the failure of Webvan, which raised $1 billion based on the premise that everyone in the U.S. was like San Franciscans.  But I still find it fascinating that I am more compelled to write about people than products.  Perhaps it is the nature of my job or personality type.  Or perhaps most of us talk more about people (i.e., generating more word of mouth) than products in everyday life.  Let’s not forget how many Americans voted on the last American Idol (74 million in the last round).

In a previous post, I gave the three reasons why I believe consumers write reviews: 1. ego, 2. social connection, and 3. good karma.  But these three rules may be slightly different when writing reviews on people.  The majority of reviews I have written on people have been on LinkedIn.  LinkedIn recently reached a tipping point, as you may have noticed from the increased number of "let's-connect" invitations that you have been receiving.  The network effect is kicking in (more on that subject in the brilliant book Information Rules), just as it has for eBay, Amazon.com, MySpace, Facebook, Second Life, StumbleUpon, Digg, Threadless, and many other businesses literally built on community.

I am often solicited to write these reviews (on people), not dissimilar from the way we at Bazaarvoice suggest our retail clients encourage their customers to write reviews on their purchases.  But I have a more emotional connection to people than I do to products, and therefore I am likely to act when asked.  And writing a review on a former employee or service provider on LinkedIn takes me a lot less time (5 minutes) than writing a recommendation letter for an MBA applicant (2-3 hours).

In any case, I believe that reason #1, “ego”, needs to be replaced with “emotion”.  I am compelled to thank the person publicly by writing the review – it's the reciprocity principle in action.  The other two reasons, “social connection” and “good karma”, fit fine.  I’m also not sure if the "J-Curve" will hold up when reviewing people.  From my own experience, I haven’t written a single negative review on LinkedIn.  I just won’t write the review at all if I don’t feel comfortable with doing so.

But that may be different on Avvo.  One thing is for sure with their launch – it is a whole new world for lawyers.  Just wait – this is coming for doctors, dentists, teachers, consultants, and all forms of service providers in a big way (I say “big” because there are already examples of all on smaller-trafficked sites).  Imagine for a moment joining a new HMO and having access to all members’ ratings on pediatricians.  Revolutionary, yes.  Incredibly useful, yes.  Scary, for some.  But I am convinced that it is just a matter of time before every person, place, product, service, or thing becomes reviewable – and very easily accessible to all.  And I am optimistic about this future, ultimately believing that it will lead to more accountability and better service overall.

But like I said at the beginning, let’s not make any conclusions from my own behavior.  As the founder of Coremetrics, spending seven years immersed in Web analytics, I learned that data tells the real story over time.  We’ll analyze Avvo and other clients as they build people-review volume and report back on the trends once they become clear.  For now, I would love to hear from you.  Do you review more people than products online?  Why?

Update 6/16: What timing!  I am a little behind on my TechCrunch reading, and was alerted by one of our Sales Directors that Avvo is now being sued by lawyers that are unhappy with negative reviews!  This is pretty ironic given my post yesterday was about how skewed to the positive I am when rating people. 

I'm assuming that Avvo expected this given the nature of some lawyers.  Avvo's CEO, Mark Britton, responds to the lawsuit on Avvo's blog.  There is a heated debate between readers of each blog post that is worth reading (although the reactions are as you would expect).  I applaud Avvo for providing a controversial, and highly useful, service.  And I hope that ultimately this press helps Avvo establish a well-known brand early in their history (remember that they just launched in beta).  My prediction is that the lawsuit gets dismissed and Avvo gets a ton of free press out of it.

2 Responses to “The Emotional Difference in Reviewing People vs. Products”

  1. John Squire

    Excellent post Brett! I just went to Avvo to give my support to what they are doing. Weaving Webvan and Second Life into a missive on Avvo, that’s creative.

  2. John Squire

    Excellent post Brett! I just went to Avvo to give my support to what they are doing. Weaving Webvan and Second Life into a missive on Avvo, that’s creative.

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