Review Unto Others

There are many reasons to write online reviews. For instance, because you can – remember how many online reviews you wrote fifteen years ago? And it’s an easy way to practice writing. I wrote a bunch of reviews on Epinions several years ago while I was trying to get back into a writing groove (I use the term “back” loosely – it’s not like I was resurrecting a screenwriting career). You can write to show off your expertise (I noticed on Epinions the book-critic community was noticeably snobbier than the vacuum cleaner or even movie critic groups). You can review to show your displeasure or to express appreciation. You can review to help out your friends (I have a couple of friends with albums on iTunes – if you think selling apps is tough, try selling music). And you can review because someone asked you to.

That last one is tricky. I started reviewing on TripAdvisor because a pretty hotel clerk asked me to, and then I figured since I wrote one, I might as well review every other hotel I’ve stayed at. But usually review requests don’t go over so well. I don’t mind seeing my dentist award a free teeth cleaning for a Yelp review, but then are you encouraging people to write false reviews? Or what if the review is honest, but unfavorable? Awkward (and I’d be nervous if I was collecting on that teeth cleaning).

Those review requests are easy to ignore. The ones that pop up in apps are a little bit annoying. I admit I have one in HyperBowl but that’s only if you click on the About HyperBowl button (and I only have it there because I wanted to try out that function in the Prime31 Etcetera plugin – otherwise the button would just go to the App Store description anyway).

These impersonal review requests are really a variation of the automated “please fill out this survey” emails you get after staying at a hotel, attending a conference, and sometimes buying a product. Besides the impersonal, automated (i.e. spam) feeling they impart, they conclude your customer experience with paperwork. Thanks for buying our product! Now fill out this form.

But it’s the personal review requests that drive me crazy. As opposed to Facebook, where I try to stick with real friends, or at least people I’ve met, on my friends list, on Goodreads I’ll accept friend requests from just about anyone, figuring it’s more of a like-minded interest group type of thing. But one “friend” kept pestering me to write a review for his book on Amazon. He wanted that review so much he offered some consulting time for any of my “real” friends who might be interested. First of all, I don’t like reviewing on Amazon because they reserve the right to edit your review (and I’m under the impression they exercise that right frequently – they’ve changed all my app descriptions on their app store), I read that guy’s book when I borrowed it from the public library, so I didn’t remember and couldn’t access it. And some friend he turned out to be – now I feel like he friended me just to get that review.

I don’t know why he wanted the review that badly anyway (he already had many complimentary reviews – one more couldn’t make that much of a difference). But I empathize – the Long Tail smells of desperation. The key though, is empathy. With rank and file customers, sure, you can’t do much beyond say, hey, if you like it, please write a review. But if you’re asking me for a review, take a look at what I’m doing, check it out, even if just the free stuff, write a review (unless you don’t have anything nice to say), and then you can say to me, hey, love your stuff (hmm, sounding a bit Hollywood there), I wrote a review, if you’ve got the time, check out my new app/book/product, here’s a promo code, please write a review if you like it.

So that’s another reason to write reviews. Write them if you want them.