Thursday, January 24, 2008

Operationalizing Trust

A recent article in MarketingVox describes a UK shopping site that takes consumer recommendations a step further. TouchLocal is a directory site for local businesses all across the UK. It recently added “circles of trust” to its consumer reviews.

We know that consumer reviews are important when Internet users are researching projects. But, truth is, most reviewers are unknown quantities and readers often wonder if they are trustworthy. Maybe even more important, “Is the person using the same criteria I’d use in judging the product?”

The user identifies groups that she wants to join. Then she can invite her friends to join the groups. TouchLocal makes it easy to export the entire contacts list from an email account—a good way to lose friends, in my opinion! The user can be more selective by entering addresses manually and can also identify friends who are already registered with TouchLocal.
Then, according to the M2 PressWIRE service:

Using its custom "Circles" social networking engine, TouchLocal users put other members into circles of trust that are graphically represented on screen. For example, a sibling or close friend is likely to be in the highest circle of trust whereas a colleague or acquaintance may be in another circle. These circles then combine to give users both expert knowledge and increased confidence in choosing the local companies they want to work with.

Apparently the user assigns friends to the trust levels based on how well she knows them and their levels of expertise. Sounds good to me!

I don’t know of any product comparison sites using this particular model in the US. There are a number of sites where users can easily communicate with one another, and they seem to be growing rapidly.
Well established sites like TripAdvisor not only provide reviews but also allow the user to ask questions of other users. Again, respondents are likely to be unknown quantities, lessening the value of their advice.

Users like to review products and their main motive appears to be helpfulness, pure and simple. Recent data from Forrester (Marketing First Look newsletter, January 23, 2008)shows many recommendations but relatively little taking place on the web. In situations where users who are known to one another have experiences in common—and local shopping seems to be a prime instance, adding trust to the mix may well increase the number and value of recommendations. It seems to be worth a try!
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