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Give someone a social hand and write a review

thumbs_upI am not ashamed to admit that I consult yelp.com for everything ranging from places to get good gelato to dentists to help me when I’ve found too many good gelato joints. I also use Google Local to find other service providers and to compile my own reviews. On top of that, I can’t buy anything, in real life or online, without checking Newegg or Amazon reviews. I’m a social review junkie and for good reason: I’m rarely disappointed with purchases as of late.

The whole review landscape has changed for the better lately. What used to be just lazy one-liners have turned into a type of creative outlet for people with something to say about the things they consume. The more I research the more I find people taking their own time to really give back to people they’ll never meet. Also, with the proliferation of Twitter and Facebook connect, reviews have gone social. Reviews have gone from an anonymous thumbs-up to a network-wide recommendation.

It’s easy to forget that this valuable information comes from real people taking their own precious time to construct helpful and sometimes very creative reviews to help others avoid pitfalls and find the best [insert anything here] available. There are people out there with nothing better to do, that’s true, but so many reviews (mine included) come from a strong desire to give back to a community that caused the discovery of something great. It’s more about community than ego, more about making sure this system stays healthy than just quenching boredom.

So I’m here to remind you in the nicest way possible to get out there and write reviews about the stores and products you can’t live without and the ones you want to annihilate.

Write a Review to Help Out a Buyer

There are a disturbing number of options out there just waiting for our approval (watch this great TED talk about how the massive proliferation of choice has actually made us less happy). There are a million meal choices, thousands of different car models and configurations, and hundreds of individual options for each consumer good we decide to consume. Honestly, there are too many choices to make.

Take, for example, buying a printer. First, you have to decide how you’re using the printer. That will help you determine how the image should get on the paper. Now, do you need color? For photos? Do you need to scan as well? How about faxes? How fast should it print? How many ink cartridges? Do you have a brand preference? Is size important? Do you need wireless? At every turn you’re faced with a cacophony of pros and cons making you feel less and less capable of making a simple decision for yourself.

Here’s where product reviews come in. Pick what you have to have, choose a price range, and pick the best rated model. If you don’t have as much trust in an anonymous community of people as I do, this, at the very least, can help you narrow down the choices. I certainly wouldn’t pick a printer that 10 people gave a 1 star rating, would you?

In order for this great system to work, we all have to give back. So…

  1. For every product you buy before of user ratings, go back and review that product on the site you used. Even if there’s already 100 reviews, add one more.
  2. If you’re head-over-heels, write a love letter. If not, just give it an appropriate number of stars, add a couple sentences of explanation, and leave it at that.
  3. If you’re going to take the time to write something, explain your rating. Stars are great for the aggregate but it’s the comments that really help us all decide.

Write a Review to Help Out a Business

One of my prime motivators for writing reviews is the small business that I’m helping because of it. I’m all about giving back to the digital community but I love the idea of a small Thai restaurant or an auto body repair shop or a bar getting the credit it deserves because of something I said. Allow me to explain using two recent experiences.

kebob
At one favorite place looking at another

I drove way out east to eat at a Thai restaurant a few months back. It is called Thai Taste and it gets great reviews on Yelp. We had eaten at (and enjoyed) all the Thai places in our area and wanted to try something different so we went to Yelp. It was a longer drive than we’d usually make for a quick bite but the reviews compelled us. The place was almost totally empty but the woman who took our order was very friendly and the food was quick. I was talking to her while paying and told her that we came because of Yelp. Her face lit up and she told me how nice the people were on there and how it had driven a good amount of new business. She seemed so delighted and surprised that these strangers would say such nice things about her. The food was great and we’ve already been back again.

I’m selling my car to make way for the 2010 GTI being shipped to me from Germany (sorry, had to mention, I’m really psyched about it). A couple years of street parking had scuffed the bumpers up fairly bad and it needed a professional scrub-down. I found a place called Bumper King just by searching the area but needed more than just a website with pictures. I called and got an estimate but wanted to shop around a little. I went to Yelp to check him out and saw one good review from a returning customer. I also found a ton of great reviews on Google so I made the appointment. Not only was the owner about the nicest guy I’ve ever worked with, they came and picked up/dropped off my car two different times, were incredibly flexible about the times they came by, and did a fantastic job. I returned the favor by writing a great review on Yelp which caused someone to message me to tell me they were using him because of my review. This guy deserves all the business he can get.

Businesses are people too. Give back to the great ones…

  1. Write your review as a sales pitch. You really are marketing on their behalf so make it count.
  2. Assume that the business will read your review. Help them understand what was great and, more importantly, what could be improved. Even good reviews can include an improvement suggestion (if applicable).
  3. Don’t be a troll. If you had a bad experience, write honestly about what happened and if it seemed like a one-off thing (poor service on a busy night, say), give them the benefit of the doubt.

If You Don’t Research Before Buying, You Should

With things like doing a search before asking a question and using on-line applications like Gmail to manage and backup your contacts I find it tough not to assume everyone just does it. Same thing goes for on-line research; I can’t make any move involving the exchange of currency without consulting The Oracle (read: Google). But not everyone does and I’m here to help so here are a few times.

  • For consumer electronics, there is no better place to go for reviews (or, typically, prices) than Newegg.com. There is a core cabal of super-users, IT professionals, and gadget freaks that don’t hold anything back. If you’re in the market for a cell phone, a computer part, or a digital camera, this should be your first stop. If you’re still stuck after Newegg, try reviews.cnet.com or Amazon to augment.
  • I mentioned Yelp but, for those not in the know, Yelp is the best place to find anything in your area. Want a great place to eat you’ve never heard of? New to an area and want to see the best stuff? Just can’t decide where to go? Start here. If you’re a business, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with starting your own page and asking your customers to post a review.
  • For reviews on anything and everything else, try Amazon, they probably sell it, other people have probably bought it there, and some of those people probably left feedback about how it turned out.
  • Looking to find the straight dope on a particular car, new or used? Try the Car Lounge forums at forums.thecarlounge.net. The on-site search function is not fantastic so the best way to find your answer is to use Google to search the site. On the top right, you’ll see a link “Google Search.” Click that and try a few queries like “2010 GTI” or “used Outback.” You’ll get a lot of results back unless you’re specific but it will be real-life information (combined with a little silliness and probably some arguing).
  • Google seems to be compiling quite a bit of reviews these days which makes perfect sense since it’s where most people start when they’re looking for something. Whether it’s product reviews on the shopping site or local reviews on Google Maps, there’s plenty of information to be found and a lot of feedback out there. Watch out, though. Google doesn’t require you to have an account to place a review so I find them a bit thin at times and not always the most useful.

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