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Hmm… possible problem with social media peer reviews

Go look at the reviews for a popular item on Amazon.com. Compare the volume of people voting on the “most helpful favorable review” and the “most helpful critical review”. In most cases, the number of “helpful” votes on the “favorable” reviews will swamp the “critical” numbers. My hypothesis:  people reading these reviews mostly want to support their own positive impression because they’ve already decided to buy the item.

Some time ago, I accepted an invitation to be a “Vine” reviewer on Amazon. This honor came to me because I had written a couple of reviews on the site that got a high number of “helpful” ratings. Now I get a monthly email offering me some products for free as long as I agree to review them. This is not a boondoggle: if you regard your time as worth anywhere close to minimum wage, the hours you spend in reviewing the items are going to be far more than the value of the goods received.

But here’s the thing. Most of my Vine reviews have been negative and POSSIBLY as a result I’m getting less attractive Vine offers now. I have no ideas how this algorithm works. Maybe Amazon merchants are subsidizing this effort in some way? I’m certainly not suggesting that there has been any pressure to give a positive review but maybe Amazon is able to say “we’ll offer your product to a certain number of our top reviewers, they’ll likely review it favorably because they’re getting it for free etc.” In any case the net result is that fewer people are giving me a “helpful” nod now and I’m less well-rated as a reviewer since I started to write more negative reviews.

I love peer reviews and am a frequent contributor to Yelp, as well as Amazon. I read and use these reviews in my own buying decisions. If I want to know how to do some trick with a kitchen gadget that came with a poor instruction manual, I can bet that an Amazon reviewer will have filled in the gaps. But Amazon and other social media outlets need to make sure they provide a venue for intelligent negative opinions to express themselves, even if those reviews are not beloved by the readership. Maybe a helpful negative review gets extra weight, if it’s of a certain length and not a rant?

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