How is Social Search Working Out For You?

We may not listen to our friends. We may not listen to our family. But we do listen to people online, telling us where the best products are, the best services, the best places to get Chinese takeout at 3:00 a.m. Social search harnesses the incredible power of virtual word-of-mouth and consumer generated content, reviews, and ratings. We tend to give these words more credence, certainly a consumer saying,

“This product worked really well for me. It’s awesome,” holds more sway than a company saying the same thing. But is that exactly the problem?

Focusing on social search is indeed important: not only do consumers give it credence, so does Google. The search engine counts +1s, likes, pins, tweets, and other shares. Each of those is a tiny vote of confidence that can build credence. An increasingly common tactic is to “persuade” visitors or customers to give a positive review or rating in return for some incentive.

This is common on sites like TravelAdvisor. Hotel owners have been known to pay guests for positive reviews or offer other incentives, such as discounted rates on their next stay. This is a rather grey-hat area, but there is a thriving market for completely black-hat purchasing of reviews. This is becoming widespread throughout China, India, and other countries where these review “mercenaries” make pennies per review.

In a Boston.com piece, “A Dark Force, Unleashed Online,” writer Gareth Cook notes, “Being on Facebook or Twitter can lull you into complacency. You have a sense that you are among friends. But know this: one of your new friends could be a teen on another continent, working for pennies on the hope that you’ll make one false click.”

Not only does this impact the consumer, it impacts every legitimate business that gives its patrons the chance to write reviews. How do you separate the honest from the paid? The white hat from the grey or black? Social search may end up being too powerful to be of much use.

Leave a Comment