Monday, March 16, 2009

Review Sites: Friend or Foe?

One of the biggest differences between the first generation of Internet companies and the second generation (often referred to as Web 2.0) companies is the way that content was created, organized and retrieved.

In Web 2.0 companies:
  • The content is created by the users instead of by a paid author or editor.

  • The content is organized organically through tagging and association with a particular topic.

  • The content is retrieved through searching (as opposed to browsing) and ranked through ratings and community feedback.

As a result of some pretty cool work done by a lot of companies, and aided through the simple passage of time, community-created content has become quite good and highly accurate. I remember the beginning of Amazon.com's customer ratings . . . they were generally ok, occassionally insightful and sometimes misleading. Now, with the passage of time and the application of some good technology, they are pretty much spot on. The reviews that are posted at the top are generally the best ones and are incredibly informative.

Its pretty much a foregone conclusion that the best place to get information about consumer products, autos, restaurants and travel destinations is at consumer review sites. Its changed the way that consumers shop and the way that major brands think about marketing their products and services online. Probably the biggest lesson that they've learned is that they can't run and hide.

So, what about legal services? At first blush, most attorneys shudder at the idea that a less-than-knowledgeable consumer might review them negatively. As evidenced by this post, many immediately consider suing for defamation if the review is negative and/or less than completely true.

Legal issues aside, one thing is clear to me: the single most powerful aspect of the Internet has always been the ability for one to write about anything and publish that information so that everyone could see it. Its not going away . . . its only going to increase. Any economics professor will tell you that capitalism works best when "perfect" information exists - it allows everyone to make better decisions.

So, if your business is based on your reputation (and most are), the only logical response is to participate in the discussion. No consumer expects everything to be perfect. Everyone understands that auto companies can't produce 100% flawless cars and hotels can't be expected to have perfect service 100% of the time. So, the key is to participate in the discussion. The more you publish, the more control you have over your online reputation.

I can't say when legal services will have ratings and reviews like autos or travel. I'm not even sure that the same ratings and review approach will work in legal. But, I am sure that those that are active in the online community and share information about their expertise and their practice will benefit.

So, start today. Start a blog, put more effort into your website, or join one of the Q&A sites. Or, check out the content syndication platform we've built at ExpertHub. Its a great way to share your expertise and build your online exposure in a way that you control.

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