Saturday, June 14, 2008

Consumer power in numbers

Word of mouth is a force to be reckoned with. Businesses crave it; there's even a Word of Mouth Marketing Association. But it's generated by consumers, and that can't be faked—at least, not for long. And now that the internet is such an inextricable part of all our lives, word of mouth is even more powerful.

Earlier this year when my dishwasher broke, instead of combing through the Yellow Pages to find a repair service, I did something I'd never done before: I used Yelp, a user-generated review site I'd heard about from friends. That way, I didn't have to smudge my hands with newsprint and, most important, I got access to something the phone book would never tell me: what others think about appliance-repair shops in my neck of the woods.

Recently I've learned about other, similar sites that have taken social responsibility and sustainability as their unifying theme. IzzitGreen, in Boston, encourages users to rate brick-and-mortar businesses on both how good (as in effective) they are and how green they are. It's only in beta now, so not all of the buttons work (the discussion forums, for example), but already there are inklings (as in this review) of how a tool like this can not only provide sustainability-minded consumers with good information but also help business owners get greener.

Then there's SustainLane, which features reviews, green ratings based on six categories (Good for Me, Good for the Planet, etc.), and lively discussions. In both cases, the ratings are, of course, subjective, but if you believe in the wisdom of crowds, sites like these have the potential to be gold mines of eco-wisdom.

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