Drive Engagement with Consumer Reviews

From good to bad to downright malicious - user reviews vary greatly. These snippets of unfiltered opinions offer multiple benefits to merchants willing and able to market them (appropriately). The first being search engine optimization, but the list of opportunities doesn't stop there.

Consumer reviews can also increase audience engagement and influence other shoppers' purchasing decisions. Eddie Machaalani, co-CEO of Bigcommerce, is a big believer in their impact.

"Consumer reviews and social proof have always been one of the most powerful marketing tools, with some analysts predicting it's 33 percent of a consumer's purchasing decision," said Machaalani. "The reason for this is that product reviews build trust, and that trust increases conversions." There are plenty of ways for merchants to repurpose this user-generated content for their benefit and that of their consumers.

While displaying reviews on a website is definitely useful for consumers who are already browsing there, merchants should also promote positive reviews in all of their marketing initiatives to reach a larger audience, both online and off. The question becomes how merchants can implement reviews into their broader marketing efforts.

Email Marketing

Few advertising channels can garner a better return on investment (ROI) than email. Pair a promotional email and consumer reviews, and it's a win-win situation. For example, a merchant who is launching an email campaign to promote their best-selling Valentine's Day products could easily add a favorable consumer review to complement the message. This not only reminds the subscriber that the holiday is coming up, but also provides them with gift ideas recommended by their peers.

One way merchants can implement reviews into their email campaigns is with the Ratings and Review solution that Listrak launched earlier this year. Instead of manually inserting reviews into a message, this solution automatically incorporates a merchant's best reviews into emails, which, according to the company's CEO, can be very beneficial for merchants.

"In addition to influencing immediate purchase decisions, ratings and reviews can result in consumers being more engaged with the brand, prolonging the customer life cycle and increasing customer lifetime value," said Listrak CEO Ross Kramer.

Email isn't the only place where merchants can use reviews to grab their customers' attention, as usergenerated content can also be leveraged to engage more "social" consumers.

Social Media Marketing

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ also provide merchants opportunities to promote their positive consumer reviews and acquire new ones.

In fact, chances are that merchants are receiving consumer reviews on these sites already. If this is the case, they should make sure to not only engage with these customers on these networks, but also publicize these reviews when possible. On Twitter, for example, merchants should retweet their positive customer feedback, while on Facebook and Google+, merchants can start a Group or Community to encourage consumer conversation.

One brand that effectively uses Facebook's Groups to encourage consumer reviews is Listen to Your Gut, an ecommerce retailer selling a line of natural stomach care products. Social proof is important to its business because holistic products are typically alternative treatments to more widely used prescription or over-the-counter medicine, thus less information is available about them. This is why the company maintains an open Group Page on Facebook, which is devoted to interacting with, and obtaining reviews from, customers.

Visually driven social networks, like YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram, also present opportunities to encourage audience interactions and promote consumer reviews. On YouTube, merchants can post videos that show how a new product works and ask for consumer feedback in the comments section. By doing this, merchants can increase product awareness while engaging with their audience.

Businesses can also repurpose the video by posting it on sites like Facebook and asking for feedback from that social network's audience too. Conversely, merchants can use a similar strategy by publishing images of new or popular products on Pinterest, Instagram or Tumblr and then use these posts to ask for fan feedback or publicize positive reviews from shoppers across channels. Even with all of these tactics, the Web isn't the only place where consumer reviews can be put to good use.

Offline Marketing

Merchants can integrate user reviews into their offline marketing strategies to reach a whole new group of consumers.

An example of a big-named brand that recently used this tactic is Procter & Gamble. The company leveraged user reviews from ExpoTV to create an ad for its Crest Pro-Health line, which ran in a variety of magazines (see image). The ad boldly quotes the reviews, which makes the product more relatable to potential customers. The ad asks its audience to submit their own product reviews on Facebook.

Another way brick-and-mortar retailers can incorporate flattering reviews is through instore signage, a savvy practice in the age of smartphone-carrying customers. For example, merchants can post QR codes next to popular products, which, when scanned, will take customers directly to consumer reviews for each specific item.

Once positives reviews have been incorporated into one's marketing strategies, one question remains.

What about Negative Reviews?

Merchants are never thrilled to discover a negative review on their site, but this undesirable user-generated content is actually good for business - sort of. While it would not be a good idea to use these reviews in acquisition initiatives, merchants can gain valuable product insights from this customer feedback. Machaalani, of Bigcommerce, suggests that negative reviews can also help boost a merchant's credibility.

"Online retailers should think about being as transparent as possible when it comes to reviews," said Machaalani. "Don't be scared of negative reviews - or worse, delete them. Studies have shown that shoppers who read bad reviews convert 67 percent more. Why? Because when a retailer only displays positive reviews it can look suspicious or fake. Keep it honest and do your best to work out your customers' issues, which could result in a positive review, too."