What’s the Value of an Online Review?

Your members might post feedback on sites like Yelp, Google, and Facebook. A new study suggests that these online reviews carry value, and one expert suggests associations monitor and engage with them carefully.

Think about all the places it’s now possible to post an online review. From ride-hailing services and hotel stays to the meal or movie you just purchased, it seems people are asking for five-star reviews almost everywhere.

That’s because, in the digital age, so much of the customer experience is created and controlled through online engagement, meaning it’s easier than ever to ask, “How did we do?”

And even if your association doesn’t ask that question, there’s a new report that suggests your customers and members are likely critiquing your services already.

A few weeks ago, Womply published a study that looked at correlations between online reviews and revenue for 200,000-plus U.S. small businesses.

What the customer relationship management and marketing firm found was that organizations with more online reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, Facebook, and TripAdvisor received a revenue boost. Data from the study revealed the following:

  • Organizations with more than nine reviews posted in the past 90 days earned 52 percent more revenue than the average business.
  • Businesses with more than the average number of reviews—83—earned 82 percent more annual revenue than those with below-average counts.
  • People have good things to say. The majority of reviews, 81 percent, were positive.

For associations, there are many places where customer reviews can be posted online, and Ben Martin, CAE, executive director of The Review Society—a startup association that seeks to advance the science and business of online customer reviews—says it’s critical to monitor and engage with these spaces to identify activities and patterns.

“Where I’m seeing the most online reviews about associations is on Facebook,” Martin says. “It’s also pretty easy for an association to claim its [Facebook] page and collect reviews. Maybe, there’s even more of an incentive to do that now as a sort of social proof for why members belong.”

Meanwhile, there are other review sites, and hazards, to be aware of in the emerging digital space. Martin outlines three scenarios likely to affect associations:

Career review sites. The review site that Martin argues most associations should be monitoring carefully is Glassdoor, where both current and former staff can anonymously post reviews about their work experiences. “I say this because the talent pool is really tight right now and organizational culture matters,” Martin says.

While sites like Glassdoor obviously influence employee and talent recruitment,  Martin says they could also have trickle-down effects on staff morale and the customer-service experience for members.

Niche review sites. Review culture has given way to the “nichification of review sites,” Martin says, which means pretty much any industry has an online space where feedback is being collected and gathered. In the association and meetings industries, there are spaces like and ReviewMyAMS where professionals go to rate conference speakers and AMS vendors.

Maybe your profession or trade has these websites too. If not, Martin says it could be an opportunity to create one. “Recognizing that members already informally commiserate about the products and services that they buy at work, some associations like Veterinary Hospitals Association, Risk Management Association, and the Ohio Credit Union League have deployed online portals to help their constituents make sense of it all with more data-driven buying decisions,” he says.

Weaponized reviews. This third scenario is a bit of cautionary tale that Wired wrote about in-depth last year after Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that she was denied dinner service by the owner of The Red Hen, a restaurant located in Lexington, Virginia. She said it was because of her then-job as White House press secretary.

The situation sparked a lot of online rage and one-star Yelp reviews not only directed at The Red Hen but also to another Red Hen restaurant located in Washington, DC, which had no affiliation to the incident.

“I call that the weaponization of online reviews,” Martin says. “As a result of the media backlash, you had a whole bunch of people who blasted out disproving [online] reviews,” he says. But the fact was nobody visited or even knew which Red Hen was which, putting one small business in the crosshairs of an incident it didn’t even start.

It’s a lesson that any organization should be wary of: Online reviews can quickly cause reputational damage. Martin says organizations should work quickly and effectively to dispute any unvetted or unverified reviews. “Remember that not all reviews are going to play nice or fair,” he says. “We say that every review needs to be verified to ensure that it’s accurate and isn’t weaponized to do real harm.”

What’s your monitoring and engagement strategy for online reviews? Post your comments below.

(Tero Vesalainen/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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