This Harvard Business Review blog posting by Justin Fox may require a bit of digging and thinking to contemplate — and if you are just trying to put some bread on your table, you might say: “Way too hard for me, why can’t we bring back the Yellow Pages?” But the topic is relevant, especially for contractors fending off (or reaping the rewards) of social review sites such as Angie’s List (see this issue of Remodeler Magazine for a grouping of articles on the topic.) The issue is whether peer or community power has greater effectiveness and viability long-term than price or profit/motivated activities. And it touches on both the opportunities and challenges of social media.
Social media, of course, greatly increases the volume, scope and level of interaction and communication, at a dramatically reduced cost. Social media services pull in massive amounts of data, dialogue, video, thoughts — all largely contributed for free — and then spits out the eyeballs that advertisers wish to see. Fair enough. But social media, generally, is also a business. Enough contractors have complained, for example, about Angie’s List practices to cause anyone concerned about editorial integrity to say: “This may not be fair.” It is one thing for viewers or participants to review contractors and others, but as we all know, the system can be gamed and the game-playing counter-measures (namely the effort to plant positive reviews or contain or control negative reviews) often results in other levels of unfairness. When money flows, corruption of various sorts of the social media commons ideal falters and things can go very wrong, very quickly.
The challenge is the solution to some of these problems “might” be in effective moderation — the sort of gate-keeping role traditional media has performed in the past. Simply because the cost of entry and production were so high, journalists purportedly aspired to high ethical standards, and only competent and talented writers were purportedly hired. (I’ve used “purportedly” deliberately — if you read the history, you’ll see plenty of examples of bad stuff in the past, such as the Yellow Journalism concepts.)
Of course, who are to be the moderators, and how can you sift through the mess, and what if you are nailed by a disgruntled competitor who sets up a bunch of angry “clients” who post negative reviews about your business on Angie’s List, and the only answer you can get from “Angie” is some salesperson trying to sell you some expensive services?. . . I wish I had a satisfactory answer.