June 16, 2014 BY MJ PENCE
Isn’t it a wonder that those yellow pages still show up on doorsteps each year? I cannot remember the last time I opened the yellow book and ‘let my fingers do the walking.’ Nowadays for me, the pages go straight from porch to recycle bin. And yet they still come every year.
It may come as a shock to learn that small businesses invest $2 billion a year in YP Real Yellow Pages, and the company’s digital advertising business had seven times online review site Yelp’s revenue in 2012. To put that in perspective, in the second quarter 2013 Yelp’s (Yelp.com) revenue exceeded expectations at $55 million, yet unlike YP, Yelp has yet to turn a profit.
No matter the case for each, one thing is clear; consumers remain desperate for quick answers when they need a dentist, dry cleaner, lawyer, or the best pizza place. Is it any wonder that many people still roll the dice and flip through the yellow pages lured by the largest ad or visit reviews sites like Yelp.com and depend on complete strangers for advice and guidance. Each seems a gamble when it comes to spending hard earned money. Is this really a problem? Let’s consider the following first.
According to researchers at Columbia the average American knows about 600 people. And according to the Columbia team and a researcher at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, they estimate that most Americans know 10–25 people well enough to trust them. If you really think about it, truly trusting 10-25 people is a lot. And if each of those people trusts at least 10 people on average that becomes a pretty big network of trusted individuals. Say you trust Bob and Bob trusts Sarah, would you trust Sarah’s recommendation over a complete stranger? That is a great question and certainly thought provoking. Personally it is an emphatic yes for most.
So why is it given all of the personal contacts, especially the trusted 10-25 people, do many still rely on the YP or Yelp for finding a business. Let’s take it further and offline in a manner of speaking. Why do many rely on complete strangers for advice when choosing a business or professional? When was the last time you walked up to a complete stranger on the street or at the mall and asked them for the name of a great doctor or the best place to get an authentic meal? When we are seeking the most trusted professionals and truly great businesses we tend to throw caution to the wind and gamble with an alphabetical list of paid advertisements or hundreds of reviews by people we do not know. In fact when it comes to online reviews consumers and their advocates continue to complain of “inappropriate” or “fraudulent” reviews by “unknown” members or “paid-for-followers”.
If we all know 10–25 people we trust, shouldn’t we be asking them and collaborating with each other to find the best businesses and professionals? There really isn’t a need for us to gamble with guidance or risk getting biased advice from strangers. We often ask for referrals from friends and family offline. It begs the question, ‘why not online too?’
Maybe the challenge is a lack of focus for existing review and social media sites. By moving offline word-of-mouth conversations between friends and family to the online world, consumers and businesses could find what they are looking for amid the ever increasing printed and online clutter.
For now people’s preferred method for finding and saving information from the web hasn’t evolved much over the years. An astonishing 90 percent of the market share is still pasting into an email to share or word document to save. And social media can generally be an impressive way to reach out to a large number of people, but not necessarily the best place to ask for advice or seek guidance. Text is also a popular alternative but still remains disruptive and requires immediate action by both parties.
What if we could get the advice and guidance from trusted sources without even asking? What if businesses could automate the referral process without asking customers? Now that is something we could all use tomorrow.
It is time for a change don’t you think…