Why Do Consumers Write Reviews?

As a Top Reviewer and Vine Voice at Amazon, I’m often asked to take part in surveys about online reviews. As a person whose life is largely dedicated to information, I’m always happy to help people conducting research, so I comply — and therefore I have seen a lot of surveys about online reviews. The surveys are usually pretty predictable. If they ask about reviewers’ motivations, the reasons they offer as options tend to fall into just a few groups:

  • Helpfulness — reviewers often are people who find online reviews useful and want to do their part to share their experiences and knowledge. (According to Demandforce, this is by far the most common reason.)
  • Prestige — for some reviewers, being a Top Reviewer in one community or another is its own reward.
  • Content — reviewers often have their own blogs or publications, and their reviews are for their readers.
  • Goodies — some people review products because they like getting free products to review, or swag from companies that send thank you gifts to reviewers.

I recently encountered a survey with a very different set of options. “I write reviews,” their multiple choices began,

  • because the company harmed me, and now I will harm the company!
  • because I want to take vengeance upon the company.
  • because my contributions help me to shake off frustration about bad buys.
  • because I like to get anger off my chest.

They also had some interesting suggestions for positive reviews:

  • because this way I can express my joy about a good buy.
  • because I feel good when I can tell others about my buying successes.
  • because I can tell others about a great experience.
  • because I expect to receive tips or support from other users.
  • because I hope to receive advice from others that helps me solve my problems.

While the typical researcher seems to be making the economist’s basic assumption — that people will make rational decisions to take actions that benefit them or their communities — this researcher was looking for more emotional motivations.

The guys at Freakonomics estimate that only 1 of 1,000 readers of a book will leave a review, and I think they’re probably overestimating. Books get more reviews than CPG products. Reviewing local businesses is probably even more rare, because most local business don’t intentionally encourage reviews as publishers do. Freakonomics sensibly asks what good the 1,385th reviewer of a Harry Potter book hopes to accomplish.

Vengeance may be a motivating force.

Before social media, it was a truism that people were far more likely to share a bad experience with a business than a good one. A customer, we were told, would tell one person they had a great experience in your store, but would tell five people about a bad experience. Marketing Charts confirms that people are more likely to share a negative brand experience.

Online reviews are probably a bit different. Blurting out the story of the rude salesclerk or disappointing product to the next friend you see is a lot less trouble than writing a review. Research shows that people are more moved by in-depth reviews that discuss both positive and negative aspects of a brand in detail. Few of us are so motivated by a passing irritation or disappointment that we’d go to the trouble of crafting a good review just to get it off our chests.

Still, the researchers looking into the emotional rather than rational motivations for reviews may have something. If you want to tap into those emotions, you can:

  • Give consumers an opportunity to get their feelings off their chests by making it easy to share negative as well as positive feedback about your brand, and respond to negative feedback in a respectful way. Consumers are less likely to desire vengeance if they feel that you have listened to them and done what you can to make things right.
  • Encourage customers to express joy about their positive experiences with your brand in the form of a review. Ask those happy clients to leave a review somewhere online — and make it easy for them.
  • Try a survey. 14% of Amazon’s top reviewers are professional writers; that’s a lot more than you’d find if reviewers were a random sampling of people. Your customers may tweet about a bad experience to get it off their chests, but they’re not likely to share their general ongoing satisfaction with your brand. Send out a brief survey and you’re more likely to catch those general positive feelings.

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