Local And The Paradox of Participation

Yesterday’s SearchDay article referenced a Yahoo-Harris Poll conducted in October about user-generated content and its importance to local buying decisions. The poll involved roughly 2,700 U.S. adults. Here were the verbatim questions and the top-level findings:

Are you more likely to post a rating or review of a local business if it is a positive review, a negative review, or are you equally likely to post a positive or a negative review?

Likely to post a review (net): 67%

Negative review: 9%

Positive review: 8%

Equally likely to post a positive or a negative review: 50%

I am not likely to post a review at all: 33%

When it comes to deciding whether or not you will patronize a particular business, are you more likely to be influenced by a positive review, a negative review, or are you equally likely to be influenced by a positive or a negative review?

Likely to be influenced (net): 79%

Positive review: 23%

Negative review: 9%

Equally likely to be influenced by a positive or a negative review: 47%

I am not likely to be influenced by a review at all: 21%

These data suggest the end of a couple of myths and conventional beliefs historically held about user-generated content:

  • Few users are inclined to post reviews

  • Users will only post negative reviews

There’s also a belief that users will only post reviews of arts & entertainment venues and related content (i.e., restaurants, bars, movies) but not “mundane” local businesses such as plumbers or other contractors. But while the survey apparently didn’t ask about verticals or content areas it strikes me that a culture of participation has arisen online that will eventually permeate all categories.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently put out survey data that showed “more than half (55%) of all online American youths ages 12-17 use online social networking sites.” In addition, of those “social networking teens,” 48% visit social networking websites daily or more often.

This shows that as these young people get older and start making “life cycle” decisions (jobs, cars, real estate) they’re going to be inclined to rely upon user-generated content as well as generate it themselves – consistent with the Yahoo-Harris findings.

Community and social media are now all but ubiquitous online. Each new major media site re-launch now includes perfunctory community elements. But even as community elements on websites are pervasive, and notwithstanding what I’m calling “the culture of participation,” there’s a fundamental challenge in getting people to participate.

How many profiles can and will people create? How willing are they to author reviews on 10 different sites that solicit them? (Is there such a thing as review fatigue?) This is the paradox: community is everywhere but getting people to join and actively participate is hard.

I have had occasion to advise sites on techniques for getting people involved and participating. And while some strategies work better than others there really isn’t any tried and true “formula” or “magic bullet.” Content begets content and participation begets participation – it’s a kind of “chicken and egg” problem.

Indeed, nobody wants to be the first one at a party or the only one in a restaurant.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Search Engines: Maps & Local Search Engines | Search Engines: Social Search Engines | Search Marketing: Local Search Marketing | SEO: Local | Yahoo: Maps & Local

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • http://www.naturalsearchblog.com Silver

    Users tend to rate/review things which they have more of an emotional response to, whether it be positive or negative, I think.

    Users typically feel more strongly about Movies for instance, and are more likely to rate them than something like Car Inspection businesses.

    Restaurants, which engage emotional response through visual sense and through the sense of taste achieve a greater response from Gas Stations, as another example.

    Your question on whether users will go rate something at multiple different sites is interesting. I think they’d be more inclined to rate stuff at a site they consider to be the main/authoritative one for the subject matter.

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