With the recent boom in online viral marketing through sites such as YouTube and Facebook, many people seem to have forgotten that word-of-mouth is actually the oldest form of marketing. Sure, cavemen weren’t able to upload videos of themselves vanquishing upstart rivals at the point of a club, but you can bet your last Pterodactyl tail that eligible cave ladies heard all about it on the grapevine.
Following in the steps of popular US customer review site Yelp, Australian entrepreneurs Fiona Adler and Brad Bond have been busy building WOMOW.com.au (short for ‘Word Of Mouth On the Web’) since launching the site in July 2007.
The concept is simple enough. Users write reviews of products and services from local businesses they have used. Businesses don’t pay for listings (as they do in a business directory), users don’t benefit (directly) from writing reviews and the feedback is better organised than a web forum. The idea occurred to Adler in 1999 when renovating her home and being reluctant to hire service providers without a positive recommendation. (Interesting side note: Adler recently completed an MBA and in 2007 became just the third woman to climb Mt Everest.)
Local businesses tend to have a love-hate relationship with user-generated review sites. In the US, several businesses became so peeved by regular vitriolic customer reviews on Yelp that they fought back by launching several anti-Yelp sites.
WOMOW hasn’t reached that level of notoriety. However, the site recently surpassed 20,000 reviews hosted. That still leaves a long way to go until every business in Australia is reviewed several times. But it’s pretty good going for 12 months’ work.
To succeed, user-generated business review sites have to place the interests of the readers over the interests of businesses. Inevitably, they ruffle a few feathers. Whether you welcome WOMOW reviews or regard them with suspicion, every Australian business owner would be foolish not to keep tabs on how they and their competitors are being portrayed.