Where do people go for local referrals, and where should they go?

Here at WhoDoYou we’ve been asked more than once ‘why not encourage people to ask friends for referrals directly on social media?’ i.e. why bother going to WhoDoYou, if most of the results on WhoDoYou come from social media to begin with?

Well, I’m glad you asked. Er, well, I suppose you didn’t ask, but I’m happy to answer because it’s yet another nuanced layer in the WhoDoYou solution that really creates user delight. Perhaps the most important part of the answer is this somewhat surprising, but eminently understandable fact: most of the time, we are consumers of, and not contributors to, social media.

Think about the percentage of time you spend reading what others have written, and how often you write. Now it’s true there are a small percentage of people that speak loud – and often – on social media. And that’s more than okay – the beauty of these platforms is that it allows each of us to find the balance with which we’re comfortable. For some it’s on the far quiet end, for others, it’s the three-times daily picture of what you’re eating and a running commentary of your thoughts, ideas, meetings and free-flow associations.

For our purpose, however, it’s a reminder that most people don’t actually like to post broadly to social media, particularly when asking favors of a broad group of people. Which is why, it’s very powerful to be part of a group where friends are asking for and giving referrals all the time, and these valuable nuggets can be re-used when the next person needs a local recommendation. That’s almost the dictionary definition of a community, where friends help each other, and in this case, the help keeps on giving because it’s stored, catalogued and searchable.

Which brings us back to the original question – should people go to Facebook or Twitter to ask for referrals, or go straight to WhoDoYou? Our answer: yes. If you prefer (or are willing to put up with) the experience of asking friends for help, go ahead! If the conversation is public, we’ll capture it for the next person who’s searching. And if you prefer to search directly on WhoDoYou, you’ll probably find great information from friends and neighbors. Either way you win, and that pleases us because our main goal is to help people find the best local businesses. If you can do that with WhoDoYou, great!

We welcome your feedback on the concepts here, and are always happy to discuss with our customers, users, partners and friends. Thanks in advance for your thoughts,

Yoav

Building a local business on the strength of reviews

On this blog we have often focused on how people should find and evaluate local businesses. Of course we believe that WhoDoYou is a great way to find trusted recommendations for local service providers.

But what if you are looking to be found? We have lots of small businesses approach us to understand how WhoDoYou can help their business grow, and often we hear a degree of frustration in the dizzying array of choices, services and options. There are reputation management companies, listings specialists, and campaign managers. As if that weren’t enough, it is increasingly becoming clear to small businesses that they MUST have a strong “review footprint” online.

By review footprint, I mean the ease with which users can find out information about you on various media, platforms and locations. It has become common knowledge that positive, high quality reviews can have a big impact on your bottom line, so if you don’t have many reviews, you may want to get started today.

We always suggest that businesses make sure, first and foremost, that their profile information is correct and up to date on the review sites. But that’s really table stakes – what’s most important is to encourage your customers/patients/clients to contribute their honest endorsements.* Never ask someone to lie, and never (we mean ever!) pay for people to write reviews. Aside from the fact that it’s wrong, the consequences of being caught can be devastating.

It can often be hard to motivate customers to write reviews, since people are busy and have lots of priorities. So, we’ve seen a few things help with the response rate for writing reviews:

  1. Get them at the ‘moment of truth‘ – or put another way, try to prompt your customers right after you provide service. Not only will the experience be fresh in their minds, but also the request will be made in context. And generally speaking, people do want to support businesses, particularly local ones, if they’ve done a good job
  2. Ask for specific feedback – if you are an electrician that takes pride in your punctuality, ask customers to let others know how much they appreciated you being on time. Or if you’re a doctor, feel free to suggest that patients speak about your bedside manner. Again, don’t write it for them, but feel free to prompt (recognition is always easier than recall…)
  3. Remind, remind, remind – As we’ve already established, most people are simply not review writers. There are always people, however, that would write a review if prompted at the right time, and in the right way. So without being pushy, remember to remind them to pay it forward – some percentage always will.

Now this blog post would not be complete without mentioning WhoDoYou. Specifically, where do we fit in this environment of reviews that build up local businesses? Well, we are great believers in the power and authenticity of conversations on social media. That’s why we focus much of our time on surfacing the recommendations already made between friends and within existing groups.

We also encourage WhoDoYou users to write structured reviews, because it’s a way of sharing opinions on WhoDoYou without being asked by a friend. Essentially, this is the equivalent of being asked by a business. And one of the most powerful ways to extend the reach of these reviews is to share them on social media – the exposure and long-lasting effect is hard to quantify, but undoubtedly powerful.

So, if you’re a small business and feeling a bit overwhelmed with this whole business of reviews, relax, try following our 3 simple tips, and watch the referrals start appearing at your doorstep.

Good luck, and if you have any comments, please share.

*Please note, some review sites forbid small businesses from asking for reviews. We think this is absurd. It is not the act of asking which promotes bogus reviews, it is the manipulation and paying which creates fake reviews. At WhoDoYou we strongly believe – if you do a good job, prompt your customers and they’ll write honest reviews. After all, you’ve earned it!

Happy Holidays from WhoDoYou

With the end of the year fast approaching, we wanted to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season, and a happy new year.

2013 certainly has been a great year at WhoDoYou. We collected a massive number of authentic and trustworthy recommendations for local businesses, we built some snazzy new features, and rolled out a redesigned site. But most important (by far), we helped hundreds of thousands of people, just like you, find high quality local service providers. As the success stories pile up and more people write in thanking us for helping them find a trusted local business, we feel more convinced than ever that WhoDoYou is positioned well for success in the future.

We look forward to continuing to provide you with the best service possible to help you find trusted recommendations. Stay tuned as we have lots in store for you in 2014!

From all of us at WhoDoYou, we wish you and your families happy holidays and a great new year!

Yoav and the WhoDoYou team

WhoDoYou selected as a finalist to compete in the BIA Kelsey LOCAL LiftOff Awards

We’re super excited to announce that WhoDoYou has been named a LEADING IN LOCAL future star by BIA Kelsey and selected as a finalist to compete in the LOCAL LiftOff Awards held in San Francisco this week.

The contest will take place at the LEADING IN LOCAL: Interactive Local Media conference. WhoDoYou will compete against 10 startups with the audience voting for their favorite at the end of the three-day conference.

We care a tremendous amount about creating an innovative and trusted resource and to ensure that consumers and service providers find our site valuable. We’re proud and honored that WhoDoYou has been recognized for this by being shortlisted.

It’s still early days yet but these awards will help us spread the word that there is quite simply one place to go for finding and sharing trusted recommendations.

So, wish us luck and if you’re in San Francisco come and vote for us! Find out more about the conference and awards.

From Refrigerator Magnets to WhoDoYou

True story. I began writing a blog post early this morning about some interesting industry trends in the social, local search industry (at least they’re interesting to me). I got partway through, and then it was time to go into the office. I got into my car, drove about 30 feet, and realized I had a flat tire.

A few years ago I would have changed the tire myself. But I recalled a neighbor told me about a great tire repair service – turns out she had a magnet on her refrigerator with the number:

I called Moshe’s Tire Repair service and was absolutely blown away. As you can see in my review below, they came to my house within 20 minutes of the call, put on my spare, took the original to fix, and by the time I arrived at their ‘tire hut’ the original tire was all but fixed. Five minutes later I was on my way, and the whole thing cost me about $15. $15!! Can you imagine?

I was so pleased I went directly to WhoDoYou and wrote a review that gave details of my experience.

But perhaps as important, I posted the review to my newsfeed on Facebook, because I know that people will see the endorsement, and next time they need a tire repair service, they’ll know where to go.

Okay, big deal you say, Yoav is a company founder, of course he’s going to write a review. Well, that’s true. But it’s also true that I experienced a genuinely great service, and I’d like my friends to know about it. Where else would I let them know? Where else would they think to go to get trusted opinions from friends?

You got it, they’ll go to WhoDoYou. While many of the recommendations on WhoDoYou are gathered from public conversations on social networks, we also have plenty of reviews that people write in when they are ‘moved’ by a service experience. Usually it’s a positive, like my tire repair experience, but sometimes it’s negative; these are useful too for the next person to see who not to use.

Most important is that there is one place to go for finding and sharing trusted recommendations. So, the next time you need a tire repair service, a dentist, plumber or other local service provider, head on over to WhoDoYou and see who’s been recommended. And if you have a great (or terrible) experience, feel free to write up a review. Your friends and neighbors will thank you.

Yoav

Giving Thanks at WhoDoYou

As loyal readers of this blog know, I generally focus my comments around the issues of social, local search. I like taking various angles and exploring them in more detail – dynamics at work in the industry, new developments related to our site, the importance of getting the solution right to help people at their time of need. It primarily flows from my passion – and the commitment of the entire WhoDoYou team – to tackle this problem of trusted reviews. We really believe in the importance of our mission, and we’re working very hard to solve the problem in a way nobody else has yet tried.

So, while the complexity of identifying free text conversations and converting them into structured recommendations is sometimes daunting, it is important to pull up once in a while and focus on the big picture. Today, with the Thanksgiving holiday approaching (for those in our US audience), it seemed an appropriate time for me to stop and say thank you to the many folks that are so deserving of our appreciation.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank our users. We really (and I mean really!) appreciate feedback when you send it in. We like hearing all opinions, even if they’re negative, so we can improve our solution. And most of all, we thank you for your trust. Finding and choosing a local service provider doesn’t seem too sexy, but when your sink is clogged at 11 PM and you need a plumber, you really need to rely on your friends and neighbors to help you find a trusted professional. When users log in to our site with Facebook they also put their trust in us, and we hope you’re rest assured that we’re taking careful measures to protect, and certainly not to misuse your information. There too we’re always open to feedback should you have any.

I also want to thank our investors who have faithfully supported us. The ongoing wisdom, questions, feedback, and yes – even criticisms – all help to move the business forward. We’re putting all we have into making this a success, and we appreciate your continued role in making it happen.

I couldn’t write a post like this without thanking the great team at WhoDoYou for your ongoing commitment. It’s not easy doing a startup; there are many zigs and zags along the way, lots of uncertainty, and a pretty small office to contend with. But you keep pushing to make WhoDoYou a success – it’s an honor to work with you (this goes for our extended team of freelancers too!).

And finally, I must say thanks to the families, friends and loved ones within the WhoDoYou orbit. I know this sounds like the tone normally reserved for a note announcing a company closure, or acquisition, but it’s not necessary to wait for one of those outcomes to say thanks. I know it’s not easy to watch spouses, mothers, sons and dads work around the clock. Early stage companies have a way of eating up time and attention, and for the support and understanding, I say a sincere thank you.

I hope those that celebrate Thanksgiving, and others who happen to read this blog, can take a minute and just say thanks to the people around them who provide ongoing support and caring. I don’t know about you, but it sure feels good for me to say a few well-deserved thanks.

As always, if you have any comments, please send ‘em along.

Thanks,

Yoav

Finding Trusted Providers – What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Here at WhoDoYou we can sometimes seem a little obsessed with finding trusted service providers. If you’ve never had a bad experience with a local pro, well, you’re pretty darn lucky. But if you’re like the rest of us that periodically has had some difficulties, you’ll likely recognize how helpful it is to have a service like WhoDoYou – one place to find the most highly-recommended local businesses. And if you’ve ever had a truly horrible experience, you can at least know that you’re not alone.

See below for the true story that a WhoDoYou user recently sent us (this account has not been edited or modified in any way, except to remove the author’s name):

“I know this will sound like a paid or solicited ad but it’s not! Last Monday night we had a terrible experience that would have been completely avoided if we had simply consulted WhoDoYou. I will NEVER make that mistake again. In short, at 9:30 pm when one of our kids finished showering, water started to back up in the bathroom, pouring out from behind a cabinet, filling the bathroom floor. We were anxious having had one other water issue in the house, but we did not have a regular plumber to call, and just that day had received a magnet on our mailbox advertising a 24-hour emergency plumbing service. I did think about logging in to WhoDoYou to find out who friends of ours recommended, but really it was quicker just to call the number and I wanted someone to come quickly to get the situation under control. Well, what an enormous mistake that turned out to be.

They came, the plumber and his assistant. The water issue got far worse before better, at one point water was literally flowing through the upstairs hallway and down the stairs. They claimed a pipe cracked as they were working on it, but they then “fixed” it (we could not see the pipe ourselves), there was an enormous mess and all along they assured us they would fix the problem but that it was all going to be very expensive. When there is water pouring through your house your main concern is that they stop it and get it under control before damage is done. We did not ask prices, they did not offer, we were trying to get the water to stop flowing. Three hours later it was all finished and fixed (so it seemed, anyway) and they quoted us the most outrageous sum of money. Something BEYOND what we could have possibly imagined. We argued and they argued, but at 1 o’clock in the morning when there are two large men standing in your home who have seen your four children (now sleeping), men you really know nothing about and they are demanding money, you do what you feel you need to do. So we paid them this crazy sum, in 3 checks (two post-dated) and they left.

We were traumatized that night and the next day (and somewhat still). The next night water backed up again, and this time we took the time to consult WhoDoYou and found a plumber recommended by friends. He came and was honest and experienced and he fixed one small thing that the previous “plumbers” had not. I told him the story and he confirmed that we were truly scammed by those other plumbers, paying about seven times the highest reasonable rate. We checked with one more plumber who confirmed the same.

We feel so sick about this and we have hired a lawyer now to get our money back, but it is unlikely. We have learned a lot, most of all that we should always get a personal recommendation before bringing workers into our home. We will definitely start checking WhoDoYou from now on when we have to hire people for the house.”

For obvious reasons, we have not included this user’s name, and we hope they do get their money back from the unscrupulous plumbers. It is truly our mission at WhoDoYou to help you and your friends avoid these kinds of situations. So please try WhoDoYou the next time you need a trusted provider. After all, the worst that could happen could actually turn out to be pretty bad…

Comments and feedback are welcome, as always. Thanks!

Yoav

Sick of hearing about big data? Try some small data, you may never go back

So, have you heard the latest crack about big data?

“Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it….” Dan Ariely, Professor at the Center for Advanced Hindsight (and Duke).

Kudos to Prof. Ariely for making light of possibly the most overused cliché of our age – big data (with apologies to “The Cloud”). There are a lot of good reasons that industry folks are pretty excited about big data. Crunching massive amounts of information to generate actionable, predictive conclusions certainly has great promise. Indeed I recently attended a conference where a company that builds in-store technology tools to measure shopper behavior said that they collect 10,000 data points for every unique store visit. And, they have already captured more than 600 million visits. I’m not a mathematician, but if you multiply 600,000,000 x 10,000 you get a really large number. That’s probably useful for big data purposes.

But, for all those non-industry folk, who have no idea what to do with 600 gazillion data points, WhoDoYou has something for you. Specifically, we are using small data to give you as much insight and power as the big boys have with large data. To be really specific, we’re talking about making the everyday decisions around which professionals to use. When searching for an accountant or a mechanic, you know that many of your friends and people you know have already done a similar search. Even better, many of them have quality professionals they’ve been using for years. The problem is, YOU don’t know who they’ve been using, and to capture the information from your friends, or from trusted locals in your area, can be difficult or unpleasant (broadcasting messages via social media, not knowing who to ask, not wanting to bug all your friends every time you need some professional). While this is a pain point that people feel every day, no big data solution that does trend analysis on hundreds of millions of inputs will help you solve what seems like a pretty basic question: who’s the best pediatrician in town?

The good news is, this data exists within your friends and locals’ networks. It’s just called small data, and it turns out to be pretty hard to find and catalogue it. That’s what WhoDoYou is here for – we search for the needles in your many haystacks, and the little nugget of gold in the mass of rocks and dirt. There is so much data and so many conversations happening all around you – none of which help when you want an answer to a very specific question, as in, who is the best piano teacher for your daughter, or what’s the best dentist for cheap, yet high quality care.

You see we specialize in capturing the small data, just the bits you really need. On a typical day across social networks people use common category terms (plumber, lawyer, notary) literally millions of times. But it turns out that only a tiny fraction of those mentions include people asking their friends for help, and fewer still of these public conversations result in a high quality recommendation. But when they do, we’re there for you, capturing, cataloging, and storing the information for when you need it most. That’s why we call it small data, and it’s the reason that our solution – although rooted in big data and deeply technical machine learning algorithms – works so well for people like you, just trying to find basic answers to really important questions.

So the next time you hear people talking about big data and wonder what the heck they’re trying to say, just relax, and think about small data. You know, the stuff that helps you answer the questions you really need, without all the hyper-fad-buzzwordery.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, we love hearing from you. So please be in touch.

Yoav and the WhoDoYou team

How Online Review Sites Can Regain Consumers’ Trust

The below article is written by our very own Yoav Schwartz and appeared in Street Fight, November 4, 2013.

Since the dawn of the web, community boards, forums and review sites have been affected by the problem of bogus reviews. While users increasingly expect to see reviews of businesses before making purchases or hiring decisions, they are becoming ever more wary of the opinions expressed online.

A recent Wall Street Journal headline blared “Fake Reviews Are Everywhere,” citing eye-opening research from professor Michael Luca at Harvard Business School that suggests at least 20% of reviews on Yelp are bogus — and possibly more. Even Amazon, often considered the gold standard of review quality is not immune to the problem. A 2011 study by a team at Cornell found that of Amazon’s top 1000 reviewers — as rated by other users — fully 85% (!) received free products but did not disclose this potential source of bias.

Given the scope of this problem, how do we in the business of local search begin to change the tide of trust? How can we help the end consumer while still improving the local search experience? To answer these questions, I will first unpack the problem, then present a framework for where trusted reviews matter most, and finally provide some suggestions for what can be done by those in the industry to address the issue.

First, let’s examine the often unarticulated concept of what makes reviews so powerful. It is axiomatic to say that reviews are helpful when searching for local businesses, but in fact, their most important function is driving the user to a purchase decision — it’s the choosing that actually matters. In an age where data is everywhere, local listings are table stakes – anyone can find a provider. What matters today is giving the user an effective tool to narrow down large lists of potential businesses, to the one or several candidates that are the best fit.

And when seeking fit, not all searches are equal. In some cases, finding a local business is primarily an exercise in matching location and capabilities — for example locating a nearby gas station or ATM. Reviews start becoming important when users require advice or guidance. When searching for a restaurant or gym, honest opinions can prevent an inconvenient, or unpleasant experience. Even more important, when seeking a mechanic, or pediatrician, the downside of a bad choice can be severe.

As a consequence, reviews for just these kind of businesses have exploded, and the trend has not been lost on SMBs. More than ever they understand the impact of reviews on their business (“A half star increase in Yelp ratings translates into 19% increase in sales”). So the incentives are pushing those with a vested interest to game the system, and this vicious cycle is beginning to erode people’s trust. Indeed a Maritz study from just last month suggests that among users of review sites, between 40%-60% of people do not trust the opinions they read! (“Confidence Crisis: 40 Percent Don’t Trust Online Reviews”).  That’s 40% of the users of review sites – imagine how other people feel!

While this crisis of confidence continues to play out, many have been left to wonder whether there is any solution. Academics have tried developing algorithms to root out fake reviews, and some people claim they can pick out the good from the bad. Neither approach is likely to change the game; they simply don’t work.

There is, however, reason for hope. In fact, there is a solution that has already started to work across a variety of review and comment sites. What is this magic bullet, this panacea? In one word: identity.

Consumers make decisions based on trust, and just as trust is established in the offline world by people that are familiar or known to each other, so too must the principle of trust be extended online. That means reviews, opinions and recommendations must be submitted with identity. It is easy to spot the trend already in progress; a majority of news sites now require Facebook login to comment, and Google’s recent announcement of including identity in ads is one more clear indication that trusted opinions sell.

It’s true that pundits have been touting social as the savior of local search for many years. In fact, it reminds me of the voice recognition world, back when I worked in that industry in 1999. People loved to say at that time that voice recognition had been “a year away” for the past 20 years — now it’s been nearly 15 years since then, and Siri and her siblings are still working to gain credibility. So what’s different now for social media and search? Is there any way we can actually achieve social, local search, and help consumers make informed decisions about local service providers, and on the way, unlock the massive potential in this market?

The answer is a resounding yes. If you haven’t already, provide a way for users to establish identity, and with it, credibility. There are many tools to accomplish this, from Facebook and LinkedIn to Google+ and more. Also, try to authenticate the connection between a reviewer and a transaction whenever possible (the New York Times recently profiled a new initiative between TripAdvisor and American Express to do just that – kudos!). And finally, push as deep as possible to drive to the source of authentic conversations. At WhoDoYou, we try to make it easy for people searching for local businesses to see advice already shared between friends — and link back to the original conversation. There are many examples of companies that are either hosting this dialogue, or building communities where real people can share honest information.

As long as there are economic incentives to create bogus reviews, unscrupulous people and businesses will continue to exploit the platforms that make it easy to deceive. For the local players seeking to help users in selecting a great business, use the offline world as a guide. Require an identity, build communities of real people sharing advice, and give legitimate customers a megaphone to honestly rate the service received. If these steps are taken, we can begin to welcome in a new era of trusted reviews, and perhaps finally reach the holy grail of local and social.

Yoav Schwartz is founder and CEO of WhoDoYou.

WhoDoYou trust?

freud

WhoDoYou’s core value proposition can be defined in one word: trust. We consistently highlight trusted recommendations, trusted advice, trusted friends, etc. But in this post we’d like to explore the basic concept of trust a little more in depth. Who defines trust, and is the definition malleable? Does a trusted relationship necessarily infer trusted advice? And most importantly, what are the practical implications for people seeking help in finding trusted local businesses?

Before we get to the research, let’s point out a few obvious truths in the land of reviews. First off, when someone is paid to review a business and does not disclose it, you cannot implicitly trust their review. Secondly, if you can’t establish a person’s real identity, you may not be able to trust their opinion. This is important because many local business listing sites do not require a login (or “identity,” e.g. Facebook login or moderator approved membership). This can often result in people writing biased reviews – negative or positive – on behalf of, or against a particular business.

Intuitively, we all know these things to be true. But what else do we know about trust that can help us in finding recommended businesses and local service providers?

Contrary to much popular belief, psychological research shows that the Internet and social media are changing the way we encounter friendly relationships in positive aspects. People who use blogs, websites and email to discuss politics and current events become more socially engaged over time. In a 2010 study with 626 children and teens, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia found that lonely adolescents reported using the Internet to make new friends, and that they communicated online more frequently about personal and intimate topics, ultimately reporting higher levels of self-esteem. Our online friends may be more helpful than expected.

Why is there cynicism towards anonymous strangers anyway?

Studies show that it is mostly based on experience and learning. The vast majority of honest, authentic interactions end in a positive way. But if you’ve ever been betrayed by a stranger (think ‘a bogus restaurant review’) the experience probably taught you to question the type of trust you are going to build in the future. In a 2010 experiment (by Fetchenhauer and Dunning), study participants expected only 52 percent of people – with whom they had interacted directly – to be trustworthy in sharing monetary winnings. But the actual level of trustworthiness was a solid 80 percent. So when there is no ulterior motive, even strangers tend to be more trustworthy than we think.

So we know people are a bit wary of trusting strangers, but do we trust them when seeking advice? And what about friends on social networks, who are often connected to us, but not trusted friends in the traditional sense? In an observational study, Dunbar studied the content of people’s conversations in public places and classified conversations according to such broad categories as politics, sports, technical information and social exchanges. Social topics account for nearly 65% percent of speaking time with little variation due to age or gender, and within that, seeking advice was one of four main social topics. Additionally, according to a large scale study of 58,000 participants done by Forrester Research, 70% of consumers trust brand recommendations from their friends as opposed to 10% who trust advertising.

All of which reinforces the basic intuition we each have, that lies at the heart of our mission at WhoDoYou: authentic advice you can trust. We believe that by building a trustworthy community of advice sharers and seekers, we get the best consensus on local business and service providers.

Getting help from our “online friends” is more important than ever because of information overload. Bottom line, we still purchase based on our friends’ recommendations. That’s why at WhoDoYou, we’ve built a community site of real people sharing the best, most genuine information. Why not come on by and try it today?