In December of last year, I responded to a journalist who was “seeking the input of a professional who has analyzed and can share with me the impact of blogs and online reviews of restaurants and hotels on both industries. To what extent do they influence readers’ opinions, and, ultimately, what effect do they have on the bottom line?” The story was never published but these are some of the thoughts I sent to the reporter:
First, people do not trust institutions, be they government, corporations, or even nonprofits. But they do trust other people so the opinions of other individuals have much more sway than organizational communications. Thatâ€™s always been the case; the only difference is itâ€™s writ large on the Internet.
I think blogs have a great deal of influence because of the nature of blogs. They are written in the first-person and in a conversational tone which creates the feeling of intimacy; as a result, blog readers come to feel they know the blogger even if theyâ€™ve never met. There is a strong level of trust between a blogger and his/her readers. So reviews–either positive or negative–on blogs have a good deal of influence with the bloggerâ€™s readers.
Reviews at online sites like Yelp or in the local sections of search engines have a lot of influence as well but not to the degree that blogs do.
Think about the way people find restaurants through search. If they want to go to a new (for them) restaurant, for example, theyâ€™ll likely search for the type of restaurant they want (pizza, say) and the city in which they live to find a pizza place near them. That type of search at Yahoo or Google gives you a map of pizza places near you with ratings (Yahoo) and/or reviews (Google).
If theyâ€™ve never heard of the restaurant, theyâ€™ll likely look at the reviews (or maybe just glance at the number of stars it has) to determine whether they want to go there. The good thing about reviews is that businesses have a chance to respond to any criticism and, at the least, get their side of the story included if there are negative reviews.
If thereâ€™s a star rating system, people will likely weigh how many positive ratings there are versus negative ratings. If there are plenty of positive ratings, they may then dig deeper and read some of the reviews. If there are mostly negative ratings, they likely wonâ€™t bother and will look for another establishment.
The same dynamic holds true for hotels.
Some articles that include statistics on the influence of reviews and blogs: