How does a retailer decide on a test market? Who serves the best fish tacos? How long is the line at the bar? What shoes go best with with this dress?
Consumers have lots of questions; an endless amount of them in fact. Further to that, where do you get answers and are those answers truthful or reliable? Before the online world there were few options. You could believe in the advertising spewing through the traditional media outlets, consult a store employee, or ask friends and family. It was hard to find expert information without doing a lot of research.
The basic tool of the Internet to help you find the answers to your questions is search engines. The problem with search engines though is that they don’t answer specific questions very well. Some of the big guys have created stopgaps to fill this need. Sites like ask.com or Yahoo Answers let you ask questions about any topic, but it can sometimes be like throwing a stone into a pond and expecting it to float. The sites are full of trolls, waiting to pounce on you or people give you a half-baked answer that don’t really help.
The underlying problem is user authenticity. How can you trust one person over another and how can the average person easily weed out the noise? The companies doing it right have implemented various incentives, requirements, or game-play structures to draw people into creating useful content that will actually help you when you need it. So let’s look back at the four questions at the top of this post and the associated companies that are helping you the best.
Q: How does a retailer decide on a test market?
A: Quora – You can ask any question on Quora just like Yahoo Answers, but the difference is that instead of navigating through a sea of questions, when you sign-up with Quora you only see what’s relevant to you. The system pulls in your connections of social media linked accounts and combines that with the answers you provide in your profile about what topics you’re interested in. Users here are more reliable as you’re profile links you to social sites, groups, and topics outside of Quora which forces users to act like they would in real life.
Q: Who serves the best fish tacos?
A: Yelp - Whether you’re looking for a restaurant, a doctor, a new place to shop, or a tourist attraction in a new city, Yelp provides information written by people just like you. Yelp encourages it’s users to be real people. They want you to upload a real photo of yourself, answer some fun questions, and provide real and accurate accounts of your experiences at businesses. Sure there’s spammers like any other site but Yelp has implemented a few features to weed out the garbage. There’s a spam filter which automatically moves (not deletes) suspicious reviews to a quarantine page. Also, there is a content flagging system which allows anyone so flag a suspicious review or profile. Just flag the questionable content and Yelp headquarters will take a look at it and decide if it’s spam or not. Finally, the best way they make sure that the content is reliable is through the Yelp Elite Squad (Full disclosure: I am a Yelp Elite). These highly engaged users are people who provide large amounts of content, help build the community, and also police the content at the local level. While many business owners describe the Elites as a mafia of sorts, in the end they’re helping to make Yelp’s content reliable and useful for the 63 million unique monthly visitors.
Q: How long is the line at the bar?
A: Localmind – By linking in with Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Places check-ins you can know anything about a place in real time. When someone who is using Localmind checks into a business they pop up on the Localmind system. So if you’re wondering if a place is packed, what the nightly special is, or what might be nearby, just ask the question. Users are rewarded by how quickly they respond and can even answer your question with a photo. But what if there’s no one checked into the place you’re questioning? Not to worry. As users check into places multiple times they become experts. You can ask an expert a question at any time, whether they’re checked-in or not. While the expert might not be able to give you real-time information, they’ll at least be able to tell you what you can expect to encounter.
Q: What shoes go best with with this dress?
A: Buyosphere – This Montreal start-up has recently rebranded as a Q&A for shoppers and gained some venture capital investment to help them out. The idea here is that you can find products or deals that you might not normally. Users build their profiles and enhance them with their expertise in shopping categories. When you ask a question it gets sent out to people who understand the category you’re looking at. It’s like having a personal shopper without investing the time or cost. The reward for users is that you gain points, build credibility, and expertise. Those points can be redeemed towards rewards.
While these companies are only the tip of the iceberg, its shows that consumers are looking for better answers and want to be more informed before they invest in a product or brand.