Friends Like You: Why Social Commerce Must Get Relevant

With the wealth of reviews available today – sometimes thousands of reviews are written on one product alone – it’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to quickly find the reviews that are most relevant to them.

Let’s say you’re interested in buying a new television and have narrowed it down to two models. You visit an electronics retail site and it has the two models in stock, and each has over 500 customer reviews. You could read all 1,000 reviews, but that would take hours and not necessarily give you any clearer insight into which product is better for you. Maybe you’re not very interested in the sound quality, but are very interested in which television has better picture quality and is easier to set up.

The explosion of customer-generated reviews on the Web has put the customer at the center of every shopping experience and fundamentally changed the way that brands, retailers, and consumers interact. That’s a very good thing. But, to make social commerce even more valuable to both consumers and retailers, the industry now needs to work to make reviews more sortable and searchable so consumers can find and read only the content that is most relevant to them.

TurboTax is one brand that has introduced an innovative way to help consumers filter review content. This tax season, TurboTax, a division of Intuit, launched a Web site called that allows consumers to check boxes about their particular tax situation (own or rent a home, have children or not, previous tax prep method, etc.), and then filter reviews on TurboTax products to see only those written by “people like them.” In other words, consumers can quickly filter reviews to include only those from people who have similar tax and income situations to them – helping them quickly find the right TurboTax product for their needs. (Disclosure: TurboTax is a client of our company.)

“We have a very passionate following of customers, and when we launched customer reviews on our Web site, we started getting thousands of reviews right away; quickly, the review volume became almost overwhelming,” said Seth Greenberg, director of national media and digital marketing at Intuit. “We wanted to make it easy for consumers to sort, filter, and read reviews on our tax preparation products that were relevant to their own personal situations. Innovating the reviews database and launching has made it very easy for not only customers to find people like them but also for us to organize contextually relevant reviews in online advertising. Don’t believe us marketers, believe the 4,287 people like you who bought or sold investments last year,” says Greenberg. “The mashup of social media and advertising has been an important part of the mix contributing to double-digit increase in sales units thus far for TurboTax.”

From the site, consumers can also click through to Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace to instantly read reviews on TurboTax products written by members of their social network. In addition, anyone who writes a review of a TurboTax product, whether on or on the main Web site, can also automatically publish their review to any of those three social networks – making their review available to their entire social network in one click. Greenberg calls this type of targeted publishing “friendcasting.”

TurboTax has realized one of the most important things about consumer-generated content: it becomes even more valuable when shared among like-minded communities. When consumers broadcast the content they create to friends and followers, people with similar interests immediately gain insights into the products and services their friends are buying and commenting on.

TurboTax found that people who read a Facebook-shared comment or review from a friend that showed up in their social networking feed were four times more likely to click through to TurboTax than those who saw a banner ad. What’s more, friendcasting helped TurboTax not just boost site traffic, but increase new customer acquisition. Early indications show an amazing 75 percent of TurboTax customers who clicked on a “friendcasted” link in their social networking feed were new customers.

“As a marketer, my goal is to encourage conversation among our customers and their friends and get the heck out of their way,” said Greenberg. “The future of social commerce is enabling our army of 20 million engaged customers to be our best sales force, enabling them to easily promote relevant products to their friends and family.”

As customer-generated content becomes more prevalent on the Web, smart brands are moving ahead of just amassing as many reviews as possible to find ways to help consumers filter that content. Reading customer opinions on products and services is a great way to make more informed purchase decisions, but reading highly relevant reviews makes the purchase process all the more personal, expedient, and satisfying.

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