A recent article from Scientific American was very critical of user-generated content. The article, from writer Michael Moyer, offered site examples of Amazon.com, TripAdvisor, and Yelp. Moyer writes that the collective conclusions offered in consumer comments are, “inaccurate at best, fraudulent at worst.”
The article did make valid points, with analysis and quotes from established and very smart contributors such as Wharton professor Eric K. Clemons. He offers a judgment of user-generated content based on its inherent biases, that those reviewing have a stake in their comments since they invested money. Consumers could be happy with their purchase, or upset about it, and those conclusions will skew collective conclusions inappropriately.
I believe what’s missing from this article is a dose of reality – that “crowdsourcing” and user-generated content should never be on the receiving end of quantitative analysis. A numbers-first analysis simply does not do justice to what those reading product and service comments or ratings and reviews value – the qualitative opinions of fellow consumers. Anything from a story about using a product to a user’s knee-jerk reaction can be valuable to any consumer making up his or her mind. For many shoppers, these comments are so important they seek ways to reference them while in a physical retail location. Smart manufacturers are accommodating this evolution in consumer behavior.
Online marketing, in all of its iterations – from search to display to onsite targeting and email – creates a “measure-first” response from many marketers. But, as Einstein so eloquently stated, “Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted.” Consumers place tremendous value on the opinions of fellow consumers, and then draw their own conclusions.
User-generated content is the ideal companion to direct digital marketing. The value a consumer places on email, mobile, and Web communications is the key to effectiveness – and there is plenty of evidence that consumers LOVE user-generated content. The core direct digital marketing channels are the key to delivering that valued content more efficiently and effectively.
What types of user-generated content influence your purchases?