Using the wisdom of crowds

Let's talk about the power of collective online feedback.

— by Susan on 02 July 2015 #digital #feedback #labs #participation #platform #product #wisdom

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The wisdom of the crowds - the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than that of a single expert – is not a new concept. It’s been around since Aristotle.

In recent years, technology has changed our ability to aggregate collective opinions, and this in turn has changed our behaviour - most notably for how we make purchasing decisions.

Whether it’s Amazon, eBay, TripAdvisor or any other site with feedback and ratings, most people now check out reviews before purchasing or booking something.

A recent BBC article quoted some fascinating statistics:

62% of British consumers say they are likely to be affected by positive online reviews - with negative ones, that soars to 89%.

One in sixteen of the people online across the world visited TripAdvisor last July. The website gains 139 reviews each minute

Reviews and ratings have become big business. Apparently there is a new industry of writing fake reviews positively and negatively about organisations and services.

Even crowd-sourced encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, has had its integrity called into question with fake data. Earlier this year Tory MP Grant Shapps was accused of creating a fake identity to edit his own Wikipedia page.

Even though I know there are some fake reviews, I still read them. It’s become part of my decision making process before purchasing goods, even when I am not buying online. There is a certain amount of conscious and subconscious filtering but reviews most definitely influence my behaviour. And research shows I am not alone.

Restaurants which increase their ranking on TripAdvisor by one star raise revenue by 5-9%

Giving feedback online on products and services I have purchased has also become part of my psyche. I love the fact the openness of the internet and fast feedback through public reviews influences retailers and service providers to improve and change behaviour.

In fact, organisations often have little choice but to be responsive to feedback and be seen to learn from it promptly, because complaints can quickly go viral. (Even feedback using traditional media like letters can go viral - one of my favourite examples is the 2008 complaint letter to Richard Branson which was still appearing in full in mainstream newspaper articles last year.)

Open feedback is now part of so many aspects of our lives. I feel a kind of duty to participate when I have something to say, so I add my wisdom to the crowd to help others.

And it leaves me wondering: is this part of the participation revolution? And how could we better harness the power of feedback for charities and voluntary organisations?