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Using Online Reviews in Creative Selling

Dec. 1, 2012

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By Katherine Taken Smith, DBA and W. Glynn Mangold, PhD

Think about the last time you purchased a book or selected a movie to see. How did you go about it? The chances are that your decision was influenced by what someone else told you. Imagine that you have just arrived in a new city and are looking for a doctor, a dentist, or a real estate agent. How would you go about it? The chances are that you would, again, rely heavily on someone else's recommendation.

Most of us would agree that word-of-mouth has always been a potent force in the real estate marketplace. In the past, consumers told other consumers about their home, their mortgage company, and their real estate agent. While some consumers were more talkative than others, one's ability to communicate was primarily limited to face-to-face and small group conversations. But, now, consumers can communicate with hundreds or even thousands of people with only a few keystrokes. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, and a host of other social media venues have now made word-of-mouth recommendations even more convenient. Word-of-mouth (and specifically, word-of-keyboard) is more powerful than ever before.

Consequently, the power in the marketplace is shifting from the seller to the buyer. Go to Zillow (http://www.zillow.com), choose your favorite real estate market, and examine the ratings and reviews found there. If you were looking for a real estate agent to help you buy or sell your home, would you be influenced by these ratings and reviews? Leveraging these mechanisms and the growing trend towards online reviews, real estate agents can take advantage of prominent online venues, regardless of the size (or relative budget) of their business.

Selling to Millennials

It is not surprising that those who were born between the early 1980s and 1990s are heavy users of these new social media venues. Often referred to as Millennials, many members of this generational cohort are now in their early adult years and constitute an important home buying market. In fact, there are approximately 77 million Millennials (Taylor and Keeter 2010), which constitutes the largest generational group since the Baby Boomers.

A 2011 article we published in Business Horizons specifically addresses the impact that online reviews have on Millennials' buying decisions across a broad category of products and services. Entitled "Selling to Millennials with Online Reviews," the article examines whether Millennials are influenced by online reviews and which online venues they are most often using to voice their opinions. The topic of positive versus negative reviews is also explored, along with gender differences in the posting of reviews. Specific recommendations are provided for leveraging online reviews in the selling process.

Our Study

Our survey of 227 Millennials reveals that this generation is undeniably posting reviews online and being influenced by these reviews. Respondents show a definite preference for two online venues: Facebook and company websites. Respondents were more prone to post positive reviews than negative reviews. Males voice their opinions online significantly more often than females.

Do Millennials Read Online Reviews?

Respondents were asked how often they read online reviews written by consumers when they are seeking product information before making a purchase. They were asked to respond on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 equals never and 10 equals very frequently. Interestingly, 82% were on the positive end of the scale, answering with a score ranging from 6 to 10.

Are Online Reviews Influential?

Using the same scale, respondents were asked if they are influenced by online reviews. Again, a majority of respondents were on the positive end of the scale, as 79% answered with a score ranging from 6 to 10.

Who is Posting and What are They Saying?

Males voice their opinions online significantly more often than females, as shown in Table 1. A study by Kau, Tang, and Ghose (2003) indicates that there are substantially more males than females who rely on the Internet for product information. Companies that target males as their primary customer should be actively leveraging online reviews.

Table 1
Frequency of Millennials Posting Online Reviews

Type Males* Females*
All reviews 5.14 3.81
Positive reviews 4.96 3.98
Negative reviews 4.35 3.05

*Mean scores on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is never and 10 is very frequently.
Gender scores are significantly different for this type. Sig=.005
Source: Mangold, W. Glynn and Katherine T. Smith (2012), "Selling to Millennials with Online Reviews," Business Horizons, 55 (2), 141-53.

Using the same 10-point scale, respondents were asked specifically about posting positive versus negative reviews regarding a product or company. Both genders are posting positive reviews more frequently than negative reviews. However, there was a statistically significant gender difference in the number of negative reviews posted. Findings indicate that males have a higher propensity to write negative reviews. Companies targeting females as their primary shoppers still need to consider the male consumer because he may be influencing the opposite gender through online reviews.

Which Websites are Used Most Often for Posting Opinions?

As shown in Table 2, Facebook and company websites are the most frequently used online venues for voicing opinions concerning a product or company. Interestingly, there was no significant difference between males and females in regard to how often they use each of the online venues for voicing opinions.

Table 2
Online Venues for Posting Reviews

Venue Means
Facebook 4.34
Company websites 4.32
Consumer rating/review sites 2.49
YouTube 2.07
Twitter 1.96
Blogs 1.90

*Mean scores on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is never and 10 is very frequently.
Gender scores are significantly different for this type. Sig=.005
Source: Mangold, W. Glynn and Katherine T. Smith (2012), "Selling to Millennials with Online Reviews," Business Horizons, 55 (2), 141-53.

How to Leverage Online Reviews in the Home Buying/Selling Process

Online reviews are influential in the decision-making process and there is potential for real estate agents to leverage this new tool. The following recommendations for leveraging online reviews in the selling process are summarized in Table 3.

  • Monitor. Online venues should be monitored for reviews pertaining to you and your real estate agency. For example, many agents may want to keep a close eye on Zillow, Angie's List, and Yelp! Monitoring can also be accomplished by keeping track of communications on and surrounding Facebook groups and pages, by bookmarking relevant blogs and websites, and by subscribing to RSS feeds. Some companies use a technology-based monitoring solution. For example, Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts) is a free and easy-to-use service. TweetDeck (http://www.tweetdeck.com) allows users to monitor conversations across a variety of social media platforms. Google Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics) can provide insight into which review sites are driving traffic to your agency's website.
  • Encourage satisfied customers to write a review. Your agency's website should contain links to rating and review sites that are relevant to your local market. Encourage your satisfied clients to provide ratings and reviews on those sites. Your agency may want to consider a website design that enables clients to post ratings and reviews directly to the site. Personally thank those who post a positive review.
  • View negative reviews as opportunities. If you can turn a dissatisfied customer into a satisfied one, you may create a loyal customer who will ultimately promote your company. Find out exactly why the reviewer is dissatisfied and take actions to solve the problem. Use the comments feature to let viewers know that you are concerned and are willing to make things right. When the problem has been resolved, make sure that those reading the review site are aware of the resolution. Use the information gleaned from negative reviews to correct problems that are common to your organization or market.
  • Claim your account. It is extremely important to make sure that online information about you and your agency is accurate and that your websites achieve page one rankings in local Internet searches. This is more likely to happen if you "claim" your search engine listings and create accounts or profiles with relevant rating and review sites. A few of the relevant sites include Zillow (http://www.zillow.com), Google Maps (http://maps.google.com), Bing Local (http://www.bing.com/local), Yahoo Local (http://local.yahoo.com), and Yelp! (http://www.yelp.com). Fill out as much information as possible for the site listing. This is important because the amount of information included, along with the number of reviews, appears to influence rankings (Jantsch, 2010a, 2010b).

Table 3
Recommendations for Leveraging Online Reviews

Recommendations Tactics
Monitor

  1. Observe communications in Facebook and other social media venues
  2. Perform Twitter hashtag (#) searches
  3. Bookmark relevant review sites
  4. Use a technology-based monitoring solution

Encourage online reviews

  1. Showcase positive reviews
  2. Encourage regular customers to participate in the review process
  3. Provide interesting and relevant content
  4. Use opt-in-email lists to encourage regular customers to post reviews
  5. Express thanks to people who have provided positive reviews
  6. Make your website user-friendly for reviews (e.g., provide links to review sites)
  7. Help customers write and publish reviews by providing tutorials and links to sites such as Google Maps, Yahoo! Local, or Yelp!
  8. Highlight positive reviews by showcasing them on the company's website, newsletter, and advertising materials

Negative reviews are opportunities

  1. Positively engage the customer (i.e., acknowledge the problem; apologize; explain why the problem occurred; take steps to "make it right;" follow up when appropriate)
  2. Correct the product and service problems that are discussed in reviews

Add reviews to brad advocates program

  1. Create a brand advocates program if one does not already exist
  2. Find positive commenters on social media
  3. Invite positive reviewers to become brand advocates
  4. Encourage brand advocates to write reviews by:

    • Providing interesting and relevant content
    • Providing tools that assist the advocates in spreading information
    • Showing appreciation for positive reviews

Claim your account

  1. Create accounts with sites that provide local rankings
  2. Follow the steps necessary to claim and control the listing. Filling out as much information as possible will improve the ranking
  3. Continuously update your listing with fresh content

Source: Mangold, W. Glynn and Katherine T. Smith (2012), "Selling to Millennials with Online Reviews," Business Horizons, 55 (2), 141-53.

Conclusion and Implications

A power-shift is occurring in the marketplace today. People are able to influence hundreds or even thousands of home-purchase decisions with a few sentences placed in online venues. Advances in user-friendly technology will most likely increase a client's propensity to rely on online reviews. Opportunities exist to leverage online reviews through strategies that are positive and proactive. Besides leveraging online reviews, agents are encouraged to promote the quality of their services. Information contained in online reviews may enable clients to better discern quality and buy from those agents who provide the highest quality. If so, high-quality providers may be rewarded with more clients and commissions while low-quality providers may find their professional lives becoming more challenging. The playing field is likely to become more level for small agencies as clients shift their attention from high-cost, mass media advertising to the online venues that small businesses are sometimes better able to afford. Thus, any size business can effectively leverage online venues in creative selling.

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References

Jayson, Sharon (2010), "Study: Millennial Generation More Educated, Less Employed," USA Today, (February 23), (accessed November 13, 2012), [available at http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-02-24-millennials24_ST_N.htm].

Kau, A.K., Y.E. Tang, and S. Ghose (2003), "Typology of Online Shoppers," Journal of Consumer Marketing, 20 (2), 139-56.

Jantsch, J. (2010a), "5 Ways to Get Rockin Reviews," Duct Tape Marketing Blog (August 26), (accessed November 13, 2012), [available at http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog/2010/08/26/5-ways-to-get-rockin-reviews]

Jantsch, J. (2010b), "5 Ways to Rock Customer Review Sites," Duct Tape Marketing Blog (February 1), (accessed November 13, 2012), [available at http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog/2010/02/01/5-ways-to-rock-customer-review-sites].

Mangold, W. Glynn and Katherine T. Smith (2012), "Selling to Millennials with Online Reviews," Business Horizons, 55 (2), 141-53.

Taylor, P., S. Keeter (2010), "The Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change," The Pew Center, Washington DC, (accessed November 13, 2012), [available at http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/213/report_display.asp].

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About the Authors

W. Glynn Mangold, DBA
Distinguished Professor of Marketing, Murray State University

Dr. Glynn Mangold holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Marketing and Emerging Technologies at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. He received the Doctor of Business Administration degree from University of Memphis in 1985 and has served on the faculties of Murray State University, the University of Louisville, and Eastern Kentucky University. He currently serves on the editorial boards of Business Horizons and Journal of Services Marketing. He has previously served as Electronic Resources Editor for Marketing Education Review and as editor for the Journal of Business and Public Affairs. Dr. Mangold has 76 publications to his credit, with much of his research focusing on the marketing of services and on the role of social and digital media in the marketplace. His teaching interests focus on social media marketing, selling and sales management, and retailing.

Katherine T. Smith, DBA
Assistant Professor of Marketing, Murray State University

Dr. Katherine T. Smith received her Doctor of Business Administration degree from Louisiana Tech University. She teaches consumer behavior and promotion management at Murray State University. Dr. Smith has previously taught at Texas A&M University, University of Mississippi, and Louisiana Tech University. Her teaching and research interests include online advertising, mobile marketing, social media, and green marketing. Dr. Smith's research articles have appeared in a number of publications, including Business Horizons, Journal of Consumer Marketing, and Journal of Strategic Marketing. In 2012, she received the Distinguished Research Award from the Academy of Marketing Studies. She serves on five journal editorial boards. She has co-authored several books. In addition, she has made presentations at professional meetings in the U.S. and abroad. In 2010 she received the Outstanding Educator Award from the Academy of Educational Leadership.

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