While Web marketers have long been tracking the growing influence of online consumer reviews, a recent study from Opinion Research reveals the influence of these reviews has reached a tipping point. Specifically, the study found an eye-opening 83% of all online shoppers responding said that the evaluations and reviews they find on the Web are now influencing their purchasing decisions.

Moreover, another 32% said they had personally posted feedback or a review on the Web after an experience with a product or service.

“Businesses today exist in an era in which it’s nearly impossible to escape the likelihood of being evaluated—there’s nowhere to hide,” says Linda Shea, a senior vice president at Opinion Research, which also does national polling for CNN. “Even a single negative review, when posted in a very public forum, can have a significant impact on a prospective buyer’s decision.”


Figure 1. At the Plastic Surgery Review Web site, users can punch in a ZIP code and read or write a review about a plastic surgeon.

Indeed, there’s already a site on the Web—Plastic Surgery Review (plasticsurgeryreview.com)—that specializes exclusively in soliciting and posting reviews of plastic surgeons for patients. Essentially, anyone can visit the site, punch in a ZIP code, and then read or write a review about a plastic surgeon. Similar review sites include Make Me Heal (www.makemeheal.com/directory/index.php) and RealSelf.com).

Meanwhile, plastic surgeons are taking the initiative at posting their own positive reviews on their own Web sites, as well as on video sharing sites, such as YouTube. Steiger Plastic Surgery, for example, has posted a glowing video testimonial from a client on the popular video site (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ygu10oKpsR4), as has Westchester New York Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (www.cosmetic-md.com/video-2).

Interestingly, the bravest of the review-site pioneers—including heavyweight online retailers Amazon, eMusic, and eBay—have decided to embrace reviews on their sites that are both positive and negative. Essentially, these companies are buying into the “brave new Web” theory that a company that demonstrates complete “transparency” on the Internet earns the greatest respect—and the most repeat business—from today’s most sophisticated online shoppers.

However, others are hedging their bets, convinced that by posting only glowing reviews of goods and services, they’ll be able to look trendy while bringing in more business to boot.

Either way, if you’re looking to take control of the review frenzy that has seized the Web—a frenzy that could negatively impact your plastic surgery practice with just a few well-placed, unflattering reviews—you may want to consider creating a review domain on your site.

Such domains can be overseen, guided, and edited by your practice. And while these review domains cannot erase a negative review posted elsewhere on the Web, you can at least control public opinion where it matters most: on your Web site, where customers do business with you.

Observes Paul Gillin, author of The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media (Linden Publishing, 2007): “Blogs, discussion boards, and other forms of interactive media are the most cost-effective customer feedback mechanism ever invented. You won’t get a representative sampling of your customers. But you will get your most passionate customers.”

Don Philabaum, CEO of Internet Strategies Group, agrees: “It’s a good time to become a niche online community and do it right,” he says. “You have millions of people who have learned the value of being a part of an online community, and they’ll bring experience, enthusiasm, content—and their network—to your online community.”

Fortunately, there are plenty of service providers ready to help you create a wide array of online review communities, which can be run on the service provider’s computers or brought in-house.


Figure 2. Make Me Heal is another online clearinghouse of plastic surgeon reviews.

Generally, these online review communities currently break out into three categories. Most popular are simple social hangouts, which offer a review domain component. These communities borrow from the MySpace and Facebook model, and attempt to offer as many community features as possible to attract as many visitors as possible.

A second breed of online review communities are completely private, invitation-only affairs. While these are generally much smaller than the public sites, many firms had discovered there’s a big payoff when they pick and choose who will belong to their review community.

Meanwhile, a third genre of review community exists solely to solicit reviews from extremely happy patients and post those reviews on plastic surgery practitioner Web sites. Many of these communities are driven by highly sophisticated review software packages, which walk visitors through every step of the review process and find all sorts of ways to encourage them to expound upon a practice.

Whatever method happens to work for you, one thing is certain: the ongoing rise of such gathering places is inevitable. If your practice is interested in going with the MySpace clone, which includes a review domain component, Web marketers say you’ll only be able to achieve that look and feel by offering a full array of community fostering amenities, including discussion boards; chat rooms; instant messaging; blogs; photo, audio and video posting; and similar community-building services.

You’ll also want to jump-start the community’s nerve center—the discussion board—by posting commentary on a dozen or so topics and then encouraging visitors to offer their own reactions and opinions to the discussions you’ve started.

Service providers who specialize in creating MySpace-type communities include Affinitive (www.beaffinitive.com), Webcrossing (www.webcrossing.com), and Capable Networks (www.capablenetworks.com).

Meanwhile, the second breed of online review communities—small, private, invitation-only affairs—are the type preferred by Communispace, an online community service provider that specializes in designing and helping companies run private meeting places.

“When a few hundred members are participating on a regular basis, the quantity and quality of the content is deeper and richer than from large public sites,” says Katrina Lerman, coauthor of the Communispace white paper titled, “The Fifth P of Marketing: Participation.” “For companies that truly want to connect with their customers, smaller may, in fact, be better,” she says.

The third genre of industry review communities—sites that limit all activity to pubic reviewing of a company’s products and services—are being used by some of the biggest names in business, including Dell, Macy’s, Petco, Sears, Charles Schwab, and PepsiCo.

One of the leading service providers in this space, Bazaarvoice (www.bazaarvoice.com), is a review community builder that urges companies to go the transparency route. Its flagship product, the “Ratings & Reviews” module, is designed to solicit unvarnished reviews about a firm’s performance, which are published on the company’s Web site (although all posted content is subject to company approval).

If you’re still a bit skittish about the concept of publishing bad reviews about your plastic surgery practice on your own Web site, you’ll probably be more interested in a solution like Genuosity’s KudoWorks (www.genuosity.com). Essentially, this is a glowing-testimonials-only approach through which extremely enthusiastic customers offer accolade-filled write-ups on a company.

On The Web!

See also “Takng the Guesswork Out of Video Marketing Your Practice,” by Cheryl Whitman in the January 2009 issue of PSP.

Genuosity solicits the testimonials with contact tools it places on your Web site, as well as in marketing e-mails. Patients who respond are directed to a post-your-own-testimonial module, which includes tips on how to write a humdinger of a fan letter about your practice. Another service provider offering the keep-it-positive route is Zuberance (www.zuberance.com).

If you’re not ready for any of these choices, but still want to monitor what’s being said about your practice on review sites, blogs, and the like, there are plenty of monitoring companies that can provide that kind of business intelligence.

Specific service providers you’ll want to evaluate for reputation monitoring include Factiva Insight: Reputation Intelligence (www.factiva.com/factivainsight/reputation), Nielsen BuzzMetrics (www.nielsenbuzzmetrics.com), BlogSquirrel (www.cyberalert.com/blogmonitoring.html), and WebClipping.com.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. He can be reached at (646) 233-4089 or at .