Natural Symbiosis: Review Culture and Our Associations

Written by Ben Martin on May 17, 2018

“I know what I need, and it isn’t a salesperson.”* According to recent research from Wake Forest University, B2B decision making is increasingly being informed by customer reviews. In this customer-driven purchasing environment, in which 92% of B2B buyers are more likely to commit to a sale if they have read a reliable review, it is clear that opinions matter – and the kinds of opinions that matter point to the naturally symbiotic relationship between the association space and review culture.

Associations are understood to be impartial, unbiased organizations whose expertise is directed towards fulfilling the needs of a particular profession or industry. They are also spaces for networking, for relationship-building, and for establishing trust and community. This mixture of expert objectivity on the one hand, and mutual respect and trust on the other, makes associations incredibly well placed to leverage this trend in B2B buying habits, and offer their members trusted review sites laser-focused on their business niche.

In fact, the research around reviews tells a similar story: according to a paper published in July 2017 in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, buyers “expressed a preference for communities sponsored by industry trade associations.” In other words, your members prefer to seek out reviews from within your association, rather than venturing into the less secure and more malleable space of social media. The collective wisdom of an association can be turned into an opportunity to add value for your members, to engage them, and to help them make smarter buying decisions.

None of us are strangers to the climate of competition surrounding the association space. Online platforms for information sharing (blogs), networking (LinkedIn), and community building (Facebook) are forcing our organizations to re-consider what our value and relevance looks like in the face of competitive forces. This does not necessarily mean overhauling our offerings and radically changing our nature, so much as recalling and harnessing the unique role we play in members’ lives. Rather than letting outside review sites become the destination of choice for decision-makers, associations could be using their position to spin up their own review sites and become the service their members need.

This has been a passion of mine for a while: a passion strong enough to prompt me to set up The Review Society, a membership organization dedicated to advancing the science, business, and ethics of online reviews. From a combination of academic research and member experience, we came to realize that while this triad is foundational to a flourishing review industry, the three poles are sometimes at odds with each other.

It was actually in a car with my partner, Teri Carden, that this convergence of research and experience came to a head and sparked an idea. My partner, on the phone to a friend, was offering her insight into a software product the friend was interested in purchasing. After warning her friend about the pain she could well experience with this product, and hanging up the phone, we realized at the same time that our community needed to be better informed: we needed a trusted, community-based, user review site, positioned in the middle of the Venn diagram where the science, ethics, and business of online reviews could coexist harmoniously.

From this on-the-road revelation, 100Reviews was born, as a product of The Review Society. Having both been engrossed in the psychology of people’s interaction with reviews for the past 5 years, along with our combined 30+ years of experience working with technology systems for associations, we are convinced that associations are uniquely qualified to provide B2B review sites for the spaces they serve. We set up 100Reviews as a way for associations to create review sites for themselves, and to leverage the wealth of insight and experience percolating throughout our organizations.

A review site is also monetizable, and thus a great source of non-dues revenue. Beyond and above this, it is a way of bringing to fruition the collective wisdom, legitimacy, and community authenticity that make our associations relevant to our members. Reading reviews makes for informed buying decisions, while writing them is a way of supporting your community: for us, this makes review culture align perfectly with the broader goals of our associations.

*Michelle D. Steward, James A. Narus and Michelle L. Roehm, “An explanatory study of business-to-business online customer reviews: external online professional communities and internal vendor scorecards,” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 46:2 (July 2017).