Thursday, April 24, 2008

TouchLocal Reaches Out

A few weeks ago I wrote about UK site TouchLocal that was offering Internet users a trusted environment in which to exchange information and search for local businesses. Today I got an email from them. This is only the first or second I’ve gotten; they definitely aren’t pestering me. But they clearly are reaching out to encourage users to write reviews of local businesses. As you can see from their advertising page, they are also working to get local businesses to add their listings. That’s not an easy thing to do if my local area is an example of local business use of the web—and I suspect it is.

So reaching out for reviews is a nice thing to do. Is it worth a couple of airline tickets? Two recent studies suggest that it is. The first, reported in Marketing Charts, indicates that product recommendations/reviews are the most important issue in bringing customers back to a retail site. The passivity is also evident here; US users seem to be more interested in reading the reviews others have written than in writing their own reviews. Interesting. Even more interesting is the age and gender differences seen in the study results:

•Fully 41% of those age 18-24, the prime demographic for the social web, say they’re most likely to return to a site that makes recommendations. Only 29% of those 55-64 say so.
•Women are far more likely to be influenced by a welcome greeting - with 20% saying it’s the feature most likely to get them to return, compared with 12% of men.
•The older you are, the more you want to give feedback: The upper three age groups were more likely than the bottom three to say that a site that solicits their feedback is most likely to make them return.
•A few groups went against the overall trend by not selecting “recommendations” as their No. 1 choice: non-whites (they chose both “unique experience” and “feedback” ahead of recommendations), those with post-grad education (”unique experience” was slightly higher), and those with incomes under $25K (first choice was the “welcome”).
•There’s a wide gap between the lowest-income bracket and all others:
oOnly 26% of those who earn less than $25,000 per year chose “recommendations,” 10 percentage points below all other income categories.
oRespondents in the lowest income bracket were far more likely to prefer a “welcome” - 27% said it was the feature most likely to make them return, at least 13 percentage points higher than the other income categories (14% of those earning $25K-$50K and those earning $75K+, and 12% of those earning $50K-$75K agreed).
“The economy is fragile and the competition for the consumer dollar is fierce, but as these findings make abundantly clear, online commerce is now a two-way street - and retailers need to embrace that reality,” said Jason Meugniot, Guidance president and CEO.

Another confirmation comes from a Forrester study via eMarketer. Once again product reviews top the list, even more desirable than special offers or price comparison tools. Similarly, the ability to upload one’s own content is at the bottom of the list.

My own experience suggests that just making it easy for users to contribute may not generate much activity—especially the older and the more upscale your target audience is. The TouchLocal contest is one way—a relatively expensive one!--to reach out. I wonder what else can be used to motivate the passive viewers to become active contributors. Any ideas?
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