No matter where you look, it seems like every piece of marketing advice is highlighting the importance of customer reviews. From Google star ratings to the testimonials that get posted on your website, just about every brand has some type of “review” presence, for better or worse.
The numbers make it easy to understand why. Research has found that a whopping 92 percent of consumers check online reviews for local businesses, with 73 percent of these people making a decision after reading six reviews or less.
It’s clear that online reviews are incredibly important, which makes tracking and managing them essential for business owners. But why are consumers drawn to these reviews in the first place?
Here’s a closer, more detailed look at some of the psychological principles — three of them, to be more specific — that cause the buyer brain to crave digital reviews:
1. The power of word of mouth.
Though businesses of all sizes have shifted much of their marketing budgets to digital tactics like social media and SEO, no method seems to have reached the power of word of mouth advertising. While a flashy ad campaign can be persuasive, it doesn’t compare to an individual sharing their personal experiences with a product or service.
With advertising, you see what the company wants you to see. With word of mouth, you get an honest opinion from a seemingly regular person. Though online reviewers are typically unknown to the person reading their comments, such individuals typically fulfill the same “word of mouth” role as family or friends, especially when real-life acquaintances have no experience with the brand.
The person leaving the review isn’t getting paid to market the product. Instead, they’re providing direct feedback based on their own experiences, whether good or bad. Readers use these reviews to help guide their own behavior.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, “individuals’ behavior is shaped by what people around them consider appropriate, correct or desirable.” With more word of mouth opinions, it becomes easier for individual users to make what they feel is the correct decision.
2. Building transparency.
It can be tempting to assume that a bad review will drive customers away from your brand. But this isn’t always the case. In fact, research has found that “68 percent of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores, while 30 percent suspect censorship or faked reviews when they don’t see anything negative at all.”
With transparency comes increased trust — and few things are more important for gaining and retaining customers. We don’t expect every person to have a “5-star” experience with a particular company. While a large number of negative reviews can hurt your business, seeing one or two low ratings can actually confirm your transparency to potential buyers.
When brands respond quickly and openly to negative reviews, they can further bolster this image of transparency. In many situations, this can cause the dissatisfied customer to later adjust their review score. At the very least, it creates an opportunity for your brand to demonstrate its commitment to customer satisfaction.
3. Social belonging.
An interesting motivator behind reviews is building one’s own social capital. As stated by a study from the Journal of Consumer Behavior, “The individual’s need to belong and the individual’s level of self-disclosure increase their probability of engaging in positive [word of mouth] behavior…[this] fostered the desire to talk to others about their preferred brand.”
In other words, consumers don’t just crave reviews as a source of information. Many also have a desire to increase their own sense of social belonging by sharing their opinions with others.
These actions are viewed as something that will reflect positively on the person writing the review, either because they will be perceived as a knowledgable source of information, or that they’ll gain personal satisfaction from helping family and friends solve a problem.
Unsurprisingly, research has found that physiological arousal associated with highly positive or negative emotions also contributes to this desire to share. The more extreme a person’s experience with a product or service is, the more likely they are to share this information with others.
Leveraging online reviews.
In a time when much of our lives are spent online, reviews offer a form of social proof that replicates — and in some cases even replaces — traditional word of mouth. Potential customers want your online presence to be backed up by social proof from their peers. Are you doing everything in your power to ensure that online reviews are helping you build your business?
As you take steps to encourage customers to leave reviews and respond appropriately to negative feedback, you’ll be able to build a strong online presence. As you provide this social proof, you will achieve lasting sales success.