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How to Avoid and Minimize Fake Social Media Reviews

October 22, 2012

Introduction

I was surprised to come across a press release from the research firm Gartner, which stated that “by 2014, 10-15 Percent of Social Media Reviews to Be Fake, Paid for By Companies.” As someone who relies on reviews to make purchasing decisions (e.g. on Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor and many other sites), this concerns me.

For actions such as views, Likes and followers, the “cost” (overhead) is low, while the action can be performed somewhat anonymously. A review, on the other hand, requires more “work,” and is often associated with some sort of identity (profile) of the reviewer.

In the press release, Gartner indicated that companies will emerge to assist brands: “Gartner analysts said they expect a similar market of companies to emerge specializing in reputation defense versus reputation creation.”

I have a better solution – and that’s to “attack” the root of the problem, which is the review site itself. Thankfully, many review sites are already structured to separate the quality reviews from the fake reviews.

Let’s look at some examples and consider some related ideas.

Review the Reviews.

“Meta,” according to Wikipedia, is “a concept which is an abstraction from another concept, used to complete or add to the latter.” To determine the worthiness of reviews, there’s nothing bet-ah (better) than meta (bad pun).

Let’s consider the reviews on Amazon. First, notice that the heading is “Most Helpful Customer Reviews.” Amazon allows users to indicate whether a review was helpful and then sorts their reviews list in order of “highest number of helpful review ratings” first.

The “Most Recent” reviews are listed off to the right column, in less prominent real estate. Also note that the reviewer is an “Amazon Verified Purchase,” which means that he purchased the book on Amazon.

Granted, one can still manipulate the system, as the New York Times detailed in a piece titled “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy.” But the Amazon system is effective because it relies on its users to tell us which reviews have been helpful. It also means that to display the “verified purchase” label, a fake reviewer would need to purchase the book on Amazon.

Establish “On-Site” Reputation.

In the Amazon example, the helpful reviews rose to the top, while the “non-helpful” reviews remained at the bottom. In this way, the Amazon reviews are similar to search engines, as few people click past Page 1 of search results pages (and the cream rises to the top).

In addition to rating the reviews, sites could establish reputation ratings for end users. eBay has been an innovator on this front, with their Feedback ratings. If you’ve ever purchased something on eBay, you probably viewed the seller’s ratings and read through comments (on that seller) left by other users.

Of course, an online review is a much different than an online purchase. Reviews won’t garner as much feedback as transactions. But the concept remains: allow users to establish reputation on the site, which will influence other users’ judgment on the published reviews.

Amazon, in fact, has a program called “Hall of Fame Reviewers” and Yelp has a program called the Yelp Elite Squad. Reviews that prominently display these sorts of reputation “achievements” (next to the reviewer) emphasize the “high reputation users” over those who may have ulterior motives (i.e. fake reviews).

Integrate Third Party Reputation Data.

Services such as Klout, Kred and PeerIndex aggregate public data (about you) to calculate online reputation scores. While not quite as useful as “on-site” reputation, linking reviewers to an online influence profile could help ward off fake reviews.

Influence equals credibility. And in considering whether a review is bonafide, I’d take an online influence score over nothing (i.e. an anonymous profile).

Deeper integrations between review sites and online influence services could tie “review topics” (e.g. books on Finance) to “influence topics” (e.g. Finance).

So, for instance, a review of a Finance book could link to the reviewer’s “Finance topic” page on the online influence site. Users reading the review could then determine how much weight to place on that particular review.

Integrate Third Party Social Identities.

Blogs and web sites use services such as Livefrye to conveniently integrate social identities (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) to web site and blog comments. Tying reviews to a social identity is far better than anonymous reviews. At minimum, the reader can visit the social profile of reviewers to make a judgment on their worthiness.

Conclusion

Online reviews play an enormous role in worldwide purchasing decisions. As with any data source, effectiveness is closely tied to credibility.

If 10-15% of social media reviews are fake, then credibility suffers. And when that happens, people will look for other means of purchasing decision research. As such, web sites that provide reviews should look to successful examples from Amazon, Yelp, eBay and others to help avoid and minimize fake reviews.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

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The Biggest Virtual Events Opportunity No One Is Focusing On

January 23, 2012

Introduction

Let’s talk opportunity, by way of an analogy. Amazon.com. Consider that at this moment in time, Amazon’s users have thousands (if not millions) of items in their shopping carts. Combined, I have to believe that the aggregate (but untapped) value of Amazon users’ shopping carts is in the millions of dollars.

Now, let’s consider virtual events. For public-facing virtual events, the average attendance rate is 35-50%. If a virtual event generates 10,000 registrations, let’s be generous and say that half of those registrants (5,000) attend the live event.

E-tailers like Amazon would love for you to take the contents of your shopping cart and “check out.” Virtual event planners need to focus on the 5,000 users who didn’t attend the live event and get them to “check out” (the on-demand archive of the event).

These “no shows” are an enormous opportunity for every virtual event planner, but I don’t see enough effort around this opportunity. So here are tips to get your registrants to “check out” (your event).

The basics: a follow-up email.

Imagine that users registered for your virtual events two months prior to the live date. You’ve scheduled reminder emails, but the users missed them. When your live event comes around, users have forgotten about it. This means that they’re also not aware that an “on-demand archive” exists. Sending a “Sorry we missed you” email is easy to do and gets you immediate results. Invite your “no shows” to experience your event “any day, any time.”

Scheduled webcasts.

Plan an editorial calendar in advance, which includes a few presentations after the live date of your event. Did you covet particular speakers, but they weren’t available on your event’s date? If so, plug them in to the post-event schedule. And, make sure you invite not just the “no shows,” but folks who attended your live event as well.

Scheduled chats (Experts).

Re-feature some of your presenters and invite them back for a 2-hour, text-based chat in your environment. Invite attendees to return and promote this opportunity to “no shows” (e.g. “A great opportunity to interact directly with our featured industry expert.”)

Scheduled chats (Sponsors).

Schedule a few dates to allow sponsors to host chats in the on-demand environment. This could be a nice up-sell feature in your sponsor packages. Note that sponsors tend to generate less response (attendance) as your experts, so plan accordingly.

Email Alerts for New Content.

Did sponsors upload fresh content? Or, perhaps a featured presenter provided an updated slide deck from her webinar. Send an email out, alerting users that new content is available in the environment. Don’t do this too often, of course – and, be sure to include an opt-out link, so recipients can be removed from subsequent mailings.

Activate Social Games.

Find some prizes, then activate a few social games. The games require that users login to the environment, engage with content and engage with one another. It creates fun for the users and active engagement for you (and your sponsors).

Conclusion

Just because users took the time to complete your registration page, doesn’t mean they’re “sold” when your event comes around. Utilize your event and its content, however, to “re-sell” the event to non-attendees. If you sell it well, your users will empty their shopping carts … and buy in.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


How I Published A Virtual Events Book

December 4, 2010

Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events

For more info: New Book, Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events

Introduction

Publishing a book has never been easier. Today’s Web 2.0 tools (e.g. self publishing, wikis, crowdsourcing, etc.) completely empower the aspiring author.  If you’ve got the inspiration to create a manuscript, then the logistics of going from completed manuscript to Amazon.com has gotten a whole lot easier.  Here’s the approach I took to publish my book, “Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events“.

Self Publishing

With self-publishing, you’re in complete control.  You dictate all the details of the book (e.g. title, cover image, etc.) and you define the schedule.  At the same time, you become your own editor, producer and PR agency.  Those are some key trade-offs.  In the end, I decided self-publishing was the way to go.  Its immediacy is a huge advantage – with a completed manuscript, you can self-publish a book in as little as a day, whereas a traditional book publisher requires several months.

First, I selected my self-publishing service, FastPencil. While there are a number of services available, I had used FastPencil for a family project and found it quite intuitive and easy.  It also helped that their support team (especially Dave) was helpful and always responded to my emails sooner than I anticipated.

As you can see above, self-publishing looks a lot like blogging. And it really is that simple. For me, publishing a book was like writing a series of blog posts in Microsoft Word – and then copy/pasting them into a blog editor, with a little bit of formatting afterwards.  I then purchased the “Wide Distribution” option from FastPencil and they took care of assigning the book an ISBN and listing it for sale at Amazon, BarnesAndNoble.com, Ingram and Apple’s iBooks Store.

Community Publishing

As I was working to complete the manuscript, I posted the book’s introductory chapter here on this blog and on a PBworks wiki.  My objectives were to get some early promotion of the book (and give potential readers a taste for what I’d cover) and see if the community would want a hand in editing it.  Anyone who created a PBworks account could edit the introduction.

Copy edits were welcome – and, I invited folks to make changes to the content.  If I liked the edits or contributions, I’d apply them to the manuscript and acknowledge the contributor(s) within the printed book.  While no one made edits to the wiki, I think we’ll see a trend towards community publishing of books.

Authors will leverage the web to source spelling and grammatical corrections from a global network of copy editors.  And industry peers will participate to become co-authors.  You see it today on sites like Quora or FOCUS.com – in the near future, the collaborative discussions sourced  there will be excerpted into printed books.

Cover Image via Crowdsourcing


It doesn’t get much better than this: you name your price for a cover design and have a global network of graphic designers bid on your project.  You then receive several submissions of the actual (proposed) book cover, which you then need to whittle down to a final few.  For submissions you like, you request some adjustments or alterations.  Those updates are made by the designers and you make a final selection on the eventual book cover.  This was all made possible by a great site called 99Designs.

I’ve worked with some design shops who limited the number of iterations they’d allow on a design (i.e. since each iteration increases their cost). With the crowdsourced model at 99Designs, I received messages from designers that I had not rated their design or provided enough feedback! Such is the dynamic when the incentive model is inverted: you get paid only when your design is selected.

99Designs has done cover design projects for other books, including “The Purpose Driven Life” and “Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body”. “Crowdsourcing is a great way for book authors to see the many different ways in which artists interpret the title and subject matter of the book. They get ideas and concepts that they would have never gotten otherwise,” said Matt Mickiewicz, co-founder of 99Designs.

With a neat polling feature from 99Designs, I invited friends and family to review the submissions – they were able to rate each submission and leave comments.  The number of submissions received will correspond to the dollar value of your reward – I happened to set a moderately priced reward, but still received 67 submissions, which I thought was a fantastic amount.  The biggest challenge was in narrowing them down to a single selection.

Conclusion

Aspiring authors have more tools at their disposal than ever before.  If you’re a high frequency blogger who loves to write, then turning you expertise and passion into a printed book (or, e-book) may be the thing to do.  The power is in your hands (and fingers).


New Book: Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events

December 1, 2010

Book Cover: Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to sites on which the book is available for purchase.

“Virtual events can be a dream for marketers. They can generate leads cost effectively and they facilitate real-time interactions with sales prospects that can lead to quicker and more efficient marketing qualification.”

That’s the premise behind my new book, “Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events”.

Previously, I posted the introduction of the book – you can find it here:

Introduction: Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events

And here’s what I cover in the other chapters:

Chapter Listing

  1. Get Started
  2. Assemble a Plan
  3. Build Your Virtual Booth
  4. Use Social Networks to Generate Interest and Awareness
  5. Engage with Virtual Event Attendees
  6. Score and Follow Up with Leads
  7. Conclude Your Virtual Event Campaign

The book also includes an eloquent Foreword, written by Craig Rosenberg (@Funnelholic), a lead generation expert.

Purchase for Kindle

Purchase for Kindle

“Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events” (Kindle version) ($9.99)

Purchase for iPad, iPhone & iPod Touch

“Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events” – via iBooks ($9.99)

Purchase for NOOK (BarnesAndNoble.com)

NOOK Reader

“Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events” – NOOK ($9.99)

Purchase the Paperback

Purchase from FastPencil, the publisher of the book:

http://www.fastpencil.com/publications/818-Generate-Sales-Leads-With-Virtual-Events ($12.99)

Buy the paperback on Amazon ($11.69)

Buy the paperback at BarnesAndNoble.com ($11.69)

Praise for “Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events”

“This book should be required reading for any event producer or marketer that plans on using online events to engage with customers and prospects. Done properly, using virtual events for lead generation and lead nurturing as well as sales acceleration can yield impressive ROI and drive customer relationships. Dennis is one of the few experts with real-world experience from having produced lots of virtual events across many markets.”

— Michael Doyle, Executive Director, Virtual Edge Institute (@virtualedge)

“Interacting virtually is now a must-have marketing skill.  In Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events, Dennis Shiao shows you exactly how to run a successful virtual event from end-to-end. What’s amazing is that the opportunities to engage with leads virtually can be as productive, or more so, than attending events in person.”

— Ardath Albee, author of eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale (@Ardath421)

“Dennis is one of the pioneers when it comes to virtual events.  He certainly knows and understands the environment, and his information is right on target!”

— Susan Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach (@Tradeshowcoach)

“As interactivity becomes an increasingly important element of marketing campaigns, virtual events offer marketers a cost-efficient solution to engage with prospective buyers. Dennis’ book offers real-world examples and turnkey tactics that marketers can apply to increase their success with virtual events. Whether a marketer is just getting started with virtual events or just looking for tips on improving their metrics, Dennis provides the insight marketers need and want to know to maximize lead flow from virtual events.”

— Amanda Ferrante Batista, Associate Editor, DemandGen Report (@Amanda_Ferrante)


Book Excerpt: Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events

October 9, 2010

BUY THE BOOK: Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events (Amazon.com)

I’m finalizing a book, “Generate  Sales Leads With Virtual Events.”  I’m self-publishing the book via a neat service called FastPencil.  The book will be available for sale in a few weeks – it will be listed on Amazon in both traditional (printed) format and for the Kindle.  The book will feature a great foreword written by Craig Rosenberg (@Funnelholic), a lead generation expert.

I’m including Chapter 1 (“Introduction”) to the book below.  In addition, I’ve posted this chapter on a wiki:

http://allvirtual.pbworks.com/w/page/Chapter-1%3A-Generate-Sales-Leads-With-Virtual-Events

Feel free to edit this page, to show us how you would have written this chapter – thanks!

Chapter 1: Introduction

I can vividly recall my first experience exhibiting at a trade show.  It was the early 1990’s and I was fresh out of college.  I worked for a company that sold Internet connections to corporations.  My colleagues and I flew across the country for the conference, where we sought to generate sales leads.  We arrived at our destination a day or two prior to the conference, so that we could set up our booth, network our demo workstations and place our sales collateral in neatly organized stands on the show floor.  Undoubtedly, a colleague or two got stranded in their home airport, forcing a lucky few of us to pick up the slack and handle the booth set-up.

Then, there was the workstation monitor that wasn’t delivered to our booth.  Did our colleague forget to include it in the shipment?  Was it lost in transit?  Or was it on the conference facility’s loading dock?  It was late in the evening, so no one was available to answer these questions.  Hopefully, we’d be able to sort it out in the morning.  The workstation monitor ended up arriving a day late, but everything came together and we had a successful show.  I spent my time giving demonstrations to curious booth visitors, who wanted to know more about the “Internet”.  This was before the Mosaic and Netscape browsers hit the scene, which meant that Internet demos centered largely around character- based “telnet sessions” to services called Archie, WAIS and Gopher.

At the end of the conference, we were tired and weary, but managed to collect some 50 business cards that we’d distribute to our sales team when we returned to the office.  For particularly “hot” leads, we scribbled notes on the back of business cards, sending along important notes to the receiving sales representative.  Fast-forward to our present day era of widespread broadband, Web 2.0 and social marketing.  But now imagine a trade show that has global reach.  A trade show that requires no travel, lodging or “out of office” time.  A trade show with no physical booth set-up.  A trade show with detailed tracking of sales lead activity.  A trade show that remains available after the scheduled activities conclude.  Welcome to the virtual trade show!

Virtual trade shows are a flavor of the broader category of virtual events.  In the coming chapters, I’ll cover how virtual events can be effective in generating sales leads.

The Marketing Landscape: Where Virtual Events Fit

Marketers today face the same challenges that my colleagues and I encountered in the early 1990’s.  From their CEO or CFO, they’re tasked with generating an increasing flow of sales leads, but at lower cost.  From their VP of Sales, they’re tasked with the same flow of sales leads, with the additional condition that the leads be “marketing qualified” and “sales ready.”  Often, the two objectives can counteract one another, as lower-cost sales leads tend to be lower quality, which means that they’re less “sales ready.”

How can marketers satisfy both objectives simultaneously?  With the evolution of the web, many have turned to online lead generation.  With online lead generation, marketers can distribute content across the web – white papers, product collateral, case studies, webinars, videos, podcasts and more.  Prospects “discover” the content via the company’s web site, search engines, publisher web sites or via social networks.

Before a prospect can gain access to the content, they may be required to complete a registration profile.  When the prospect completes the profile, we call this a “generated lead” and the marketer has just gained a “sales inquiry.” Web-based, online lead generation comes with fairly low costs, since the “transactions” occur entirely on the web – the costs for shipping, print, freight, travel, etc. are from days long gone.

Once a lead is generated, marketers must qualify the lead.  Often, Marketing will perform an initial evaluation of a lead via pre-defined criteria, such as country, job level, company type, size of budget, etc.  The marketer will need to gauge the prospect’s interest, along with their position in the sales cycle.  Is the prospect engaged in preliminary research to define the solution space?  Or, has the prospect defined the solution space and is looking to narrow the list of potential products?  Or, perhaps the prospect is at the tail end of the evaluation and is looking to make a final decision on a product.

To determine the prospect’s position in the sales cycle, marketers often use a series of communications (e.g. emails, phone calls, etc.), evaluate the responses (if any) to those communications and then follow up with subsequent communications.  Marketers decipher the clues provided by the prospect and determine whether to forward the prospect to Sales – or, to continue the qualification process.

Common clues in the qualification process include:

  1. Did the prospect answer my phone calls?
  2. Did the prospect answer the questions we asked?
  3. Did the prospect open my emails?
  4. Did the prospect click on any of the links in the emails?
  5. Did the prospect download any of the documents referenced in the emails?
  6. Has the prospect requested more information – or, a meeting with us?

Marketers can develop formulas around the prospect’s interactions, to determine which combination of actions moves the prospect from a sales inquiry to a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL).  Once prospects have moved into MQL status, they can be distributed to the Sales team for further follow-up. A primary challenge in this process is the amount of qualification that occurs “post-lead.”  At the time the lead is generated, a minimal amount of information is known about the prospect, beyond the information submitted in the registration profile.  With a webinar, a marketer may know how many times it was viewed – or, the total viewing time across all views.  With a white paper or podcast download, however, the marketer only knows that a request for download was made.  The marketer may not even know whether the download completed – or, if the content was consumed!

As a result, marketing qualification depends upon ongoing touchpoints with prospects, with the hope that they continue to respond to marketers’ communications.  Now, let’s consider virtual events.  I define a virtual event as “a web and occasion-based gathering that facilitates information sharing, collaboration and interaction.”  Alternatively, consider a trade show, with its sessions, presentations, exhibitor booths, networking areas, etc. – and have it occur 100% on the web.  We call that a virtual trade show.

Conclusion

Virtual events can be a dream for marketers.  They can generate leads cost effectively and they facilitate real-time interactions with sales prospects that can lead to quicker and more efficient marketing qualification.  The “post-lead” nurturing process has been combined into the same act of generating the lead.  I call this “accelerated lead generation” and for marketers, this means more “sales ready” leads that Sales can then turn into faster bookings.

This book will show you how to create those valuable, real-time interactions – taking you from the planning process, to audience generation and engagement strategies and finally to lead qualification and follow-up.


What I’ve Been Tweeting (Edition 1.1)

August 2, 2010

Because tweets are temporal, while blog postings are permalinked…

Virtual Events

  1. Virtual Meetings and Exhibits Still Coming of Age: http://bit.ly/aFZF3B #eventprofs #virtualevents
  2. RT @CiscoIBSG: Can Virtual Experts Smooth Expat Transition? How P&G Is Successfully Using Cisco #TelePresence: http://bit.ly/afrmsS
  3. From @CiscoLive & @dveale: embed event video across the web, drive new registrations! http://bit.ly/9CWvxC #eventprofs
  4. Event Planners ‘Check In’ To Location Based Services: http://bit.ly/cFMH9A #eventprofs #wec10
  5. Getting started with #virtualevents? Download my eBook, “Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go”: http://bit.ly/asJqFs #eventprofs
  6. RT @InXpo: We’re excited: “Latest Cisco Offering: ‘Collaboration for Events’ features INXPO Virtual Platform”: http://bit.ly/apKOH6
  7. Virtual Events ROI Case Study: @virtualedge Hybrid Event: http://bit.ly/cRJt2b #eventprofs #virtualevents #ROI

Social Media

  1. RT @clickz It’s All Fun and Games for Brand Marketers: http://bit.ly/aV8H3r (by @tessawegert)
  2. Twitter time-savers by @markwschaefer: Success in just 20 minutes a day: http://bit.ly/9aHoiu via @addthis
  3. RT @mashable How Twitter in the Classroom is Boosting Student Engagement: http://bit.ly/bmgxpw #classroom #education
  4. From @MarketingSherpa: #Webinar Promotion that Delivers: Use Email, Social, Viral Referrals and Video: http://bit.ly/ddDbhY
  5. 5 tips for lively Twitter chats: http://bit.ly/dqjQlL via @addthis – great article, @leeodden
  6. RT @mashable SCVNGR Launches Sophisticated Rewards Program http://bit.ly/bEQz5l #foursquare #marketing #rewards

Product Ideas

  1. Idea for @LinkedIn: ability to add “Notes” to a Connection (e.g. “Met at SXSW”, “Ask for recommendation”, etc.)
  2. Idea for MLB: for fans’ favorite players, send mobile alerts for “check ins” from home plate, 1B, 2B, 3B
  3. Next move for Facebook: embedding “Like” capability into rich media (e.g. video, audio). Let me “Like” a song from my iPod
  4. Idea for @Facebook: use Facebook Questions (itself) to address users’ questions about the new service
  5. Idea: integrate a brand’s CRM w/their Facebook Fan page – brand mgr sees user’s likes and comments superimposed w/their CRM records
  6. Idea for Google: when search results contain an address, embed Maps functionality, so I can see driving directions right there

General

  1. Good quote from Ask.com: “Google is a verb. But don’t forget that ‘ask’ is a verb too”
  2. Excited to be working for one of Lead411’s hottest companies in the Midwest (@INXPO): http://bit.ly/b2g1Ox – we’re also hot on West Coast!
  3. Physicians confirm we’re alive by checking our pulse. Bloggers, check the ‘pulse’ of your own blog – is there a constant, steady beat?
  4. Event and meeting planners have so many tools at their disposal these days that they’ll need to start wearing Craftsman belts
  5. ESPN and Playdom now under the same parent company (Disney). Wondering (and excited) about possible tie-ups…
  6. Interesting POV from @kimmaicutler: “Why the Facebook/Amazon integration is bigger than you think”: http://bit.ly/bVwz5J

Previously, I posted “What I’ve Been Tweeting” Edition 1.0.

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