The Power of Networks: How We Found Resources Before Online Reviews

In 2014, when we need a recommendation, most likely we turn to the Internet scrolling through countless postings by total strangers, trying to guess what’s real and what’s not. Recently, the Wyngspan team took a moment to reflect back and ask ourselves this question: What did we do to find a trustworthy professional before the Internet?

Once upon a time, way back in the 1980’s and 1990’s there was this ancient, huge, overwhelming yellow book that contained every businesses number listed alphabetically, in a specific geographic area. While it was nice to have every business listed, this format also meant that Al’s Plumbing service had the better position to rein in a new customer than Zeek’s Plumbing. Also, if Al had purchased a large advertisement, customers may have been more likely to choose his business rather than a better plumber with no ad. The Yellow Pages may have been an overabundance of information without any filters but it was a start.

In addition to the Yellow Pages, there was (and still is) the Better Business Bureau, which really started the review trend. By engaging the BBB, consumers are able to formally report a complaint and then other consumers can investigate if a business had complaints before patronizing it. It shortcomings are primarily that it narrowly focuses on only the negative experiences of consumers with businesses.

Although these two old-school outlets were available before the rise of the Internet, one type of review that has stood the test of time is word-of-mouth recommendations. These occur between our personal networks, including our friends, family members, and colleagues. We have all asked friends for the name of a trustworthy mechanic, landscaper or dry cleaner. We trust the experiences of those within our network.

Back to 2014, when there are too many untrustworthy online reviews sites to count. Wyngspan, however, is different. We are a place that brings the concept of word-of-mouth references to life on the Internet. Instead of texting ten friends to find one business, fill out a Wyngspan profile for a one-stop shop. To learn more about us visit www.wyngspan.com, Follow us on Twitter or Like us on Facebook.

News Round-Up: Calls for Transparency in Business Highlight Importance of Trust

News Round-Up: Calls for Transparency in Business Highlight Importance of Trust

Businesses are constantly making the news for being untrustworthy. Consumers feel they deserve to know the workings behind the products or services they consume. The purpose of our monthly News Round-Up series will be to analyze these events in the hope of sparking conversations about restoring trust in businesses.

Here are some recent stories that caught our eye this month:

Deidre H. Campbell, an executive with the public relations firm Edelman, contributed an article to CNBC outlining five tips for improving trust. She mentions that finance and business continually rank at the bottom of the list of most trusted industries. One of the five methods proposed by Campbell to reverse this is, what she calls, the “surround-sound effect.” In other words, companies should find new channels to echo their messages. With online search being one of the primary ways to consume information, Campbell suggests that a company is better served maximizing the value of its content by delivering tailored material to targeted audiences. She also concludes that transparency has become essential, requiring companies to adapt or lose.

The next article, from CBS MoneyWatch, takes us from Wall Street to Main Street. Journalist Aimee Picchi analyzes how advertising revenue factors in to business rankings on review sites. She quotes Consumer Reports senior editor Jeff Blyskal as saying that when consumers pay money for information, there is an expectation that the source can be trusted. Angie’s List has been facing accusations of tampering with what should be organic search results. Nonetheless, marketing firm Yodle found that a vast majority of consumers still place a high value on positive online reviews. Conversely, sixty-eight percent of small businesses say they couldn’t care less. Seems to be a disconnect here.

James Surowiecki, in his recent column for The New Yorker, warns that brands better start caring. Surowiecki has made career of covering business and financial topics. He argues that businesses face more pressure than ever before to deliver on promises, concluding that any brand is only as good as its last product. The Internet is an empowering tool for the consumer. Surowiecki maintains that a company can no longer rely on brand loyalty to generate profits. Businesses now must compete for the best online endorsements. This is a welcome change for some. Smaller players can now challenge the incumbents. Hidden gems can be discovered by a simple search. Shady business practices are exposed.

While consumers welcome platforms that allow more transparency, they are also smart enough to realize the major flaw in the system. The online review environment is a hive-mind for storytellers. Rachel Feltman, a journalist for Quartz, comments on the discrepancies of consumers’ trust in online reviews. She says, consumers’ level of distrust can be multiplied by the importance of the decision. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School, forty-three percent of participants did not trust the information provided online about physicians. Asking a family member or friend is still the preferred method for finding a doctor. The risk of facing bad consequences has always factored into decision-making, and the risk of believing a fake review invites further hesitation.

Why should consumers have to settle for reviews from strangers when it’s honest transparency they are searching for? Social proof can be a powerful convincer. Social proof complemented with endorsements from familiar faces—now that’s a solution you can trust.

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Director of Marketing Talks to WBZ-TV About Joining the Wyngspan Team

Andrew Markey, Wyngspan’s Director of Marketing, recently sat down with WBZ-TV to talk about his decision to leave the restaurant industry and join our team. He was inspired and drawn to the opportunity to help us in building our Trust Network. You can watch the full story, which is focused on the trend of people leaving jobs to find their passions, by clicking here. Andrew told WBZ-TV, “People don’t want to settle anymore.” He is right about that when it comes to both the job market and to finding online recommendations you can trust.

Unmasking the Problem with Anonymous Online Reviews

Why do robbers wear masks and spies wear disguises? The reason is simple. It’s because their true identities are protected from backlash or, in some cases, severe punishment. The same is true of online review sites. Giving reviewers the ability to hide behind a mask, or in this case, a screen name, allows them to write things they would never say face-to-face to a businesses owner. It also allows them to exercise hyperbole and, in many cases, just plain lie.

Let’s use the experience one of our executives posted on our Facebook page as an example.

“While managing a restaurant, a guest and his friend came in, one of which was clearly intoxicated. He made his way to the bathroom where he got sick, leaving a mess for staff members to clean. They were asked to leave, as clearly the man required medical attention. It was unsanitary and unsafe for him to be in the restaurant. The sober man was understandably upset, so to calm him down a bit, I explained why his friend had to leave and offered him a gift card and a free appetizer to enjoy upon his next return. He was appreciative, shook my hand and left. Two days later, the same man wrote a one star Yelp review citing he was treated disrespectfully by being asked to leave when he wasn’t even drunk and that the management showed ‘little care’. As usual with Yelp, there was no way to contact this man in an effort to rectify all harsh feelings so we simply had to deal with a very unfair one star rating.”

Face-to-face this patron accepted the gift card, but behind the mask of Yelp, he took aim and got revenge. Whether reviews being posted are accurate or over top in a positive or negative way, people using these reviews to make decisions shouldn’t have to guess.

Wyngspan’s Trust Score system unmasks whether businesses and professionals are trustworthy. No disguises no masks. Just the value of having a review system you can trust.

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Q & A with Barbara Kimmel, Founder of Trust Across America

Wyngspan is built on the idea that Trust trumps all when it comes to finding professionals to get the job done right. We also believe that the best way for businesses to succeed is to showcase their trustworthiness. When we started building our Trust Network, we found that there were a few other groups that shared our values but none more obviously than Barbara Kimmel’s. She is the founder of Trust Across America, a global program, addressing the issues of organizational trust around the world.

We have had the opportunity to get to know Barbara better over the past year and were thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed for Wynging It. Here’s what she had to say.

1. When did you first realize that “trust” is such a critical element of success, for both individual companies and economies?

We started exploring the subject in the midst of the financial crisis, in 2008. We built a quantitative model to track the trustworthiness of public companies. We now have 4 years of data that continues to point in the direction that trustworthy companies can “do good and do well” or do good without sacrificing profitability. In fact, trustworthy companies are more profitable. We explain why on our blog.

2. Every year Trust Across America conducts a review to identify The Most Trustworthy Public Companies in America, judged on five primary drivers of trustworthiness. Can you tell us a bit about those drivers and why they are all so important?

Our model is called FACTS®. It’s an acronym that encompasses 5 quantitative indicators of trust: Financial stability, Accounting conservativeness, Corporate integrity (governance), Transparency and Sustainability (both environmental and business). We weight the five equally. Our research shows that a weak link in any driver puts a company at “risk”. Think of our model like a human body. If one of the organs is diseased and left untreated, the whole body will become diseased (unsustainable) over time.

3. In the age of social media, is it harder for companies and individuals to maintain a high level of trustworthiness? Why or why not?

Social media does not drive trustworthiness. Culture does. If there is a strong corporate culture, social media should not present a threat. It’s the culturally challenged companies that find themselves with the largest social media backlash, and that’s a good thing. Let them continue to be “called out” for bad behavior. Maybe that will shame them into becoming more trustworthy.

4. If you could give one piece of advice to a company struggling to create a culture of trust in their organization what would you say?

Remember the saying “the fish rots from the head.” If there is an untrustworthy culture it is the fault of the leader and, it is imperative that the leader take responsibility for fixing it. If he/she does not have the tools to do so, they should seek training/counsel from someone who does.

To learn more check out Barbara’s book Trust Inc.: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset. You can also Follower her on Twitter or Like her organization on Facebook.

3 Ways to Make Your Company a More Trustworthy Organization

What is the most valuable characteristic of a business? Competitive pricing? An amazing website? Nice employees? While all of these factors contribute to the strength of an organization, none of them are the primary reason that customers engage a business and continue to come back for its products or services. That magic factor is actually trust.

It seems simplistic, but it actually takes a lot of work to deliver a consistent experience and maintain your customers trust day in and day out. Here are five ways to become a more trustworthy organization.

Practice what you preach internally and externally.
Your company mission should not only be embodied when dealing with customers, but also when managers are interacting with employees. A company that makes trustworthiness a central part of their culture, from the top down, will make the employees strong brand advocates. This will translate to their interactions with customers and their peers.

Engage your customers where they are.
You may have a glossy magazine spread and a full-page newspaper ad, but if your customers have traded their subscriptions for social media accounts, you should rethink how you allocate your marketing resources. Unlike traditional ads, social media provides a two-way conversation between businesses and customers. Because of this, businesses have an opportunity to communicate with their customers and address their concerns that they may share on these forums. By meeting customers where they want to engage with brands, companies can become more open, transparent and trustworthy.

Accept your shortcomings.
A company that can take some heat and accept mistakes that have been made, will be better off than those companies that point the finger back at customers. If a business can then improve on their faults quickly and communicate the changes, they will stay ahead of their competition and become an organization that customers will trust to have honest interactions with in the future.

Before any of these suggestions can be acted upon, first, organizations need to recognize trust as the most important factor when it comes to getting customers in the first place, and for keeping them in the long-term.

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The 5 Biggest Problems with Online Reviews

We all know them and, if you are a business owner, you probably fear them. We’re talking about Angie’s List, Yelp, CitySearch and all of the other online review sites out there. While millions use these sites every day to help them make decisions on where to eat, shop, get a check-up and do just about everything else, there are some serious problems everyone should know about before they consider trusting what they are reading.

1) Reviewers are not Average Joes.
Only a small percentage of the population post reviews. Typically, reviewers have to be motivated by an exceptionally good or bad experience to take the time out to write about it. So, not only are the people that post reviews not reflective of the entire population but also their experience probably isn’t representative of the typical interaction with that business. There is an inherent adverse selection problem with online reviews, which makes it tough to believe what you are reading.

2) Lack of context.
Who is the reviewer? Are they related to the doctor they are reviewing? Or did the owner of the business they are posting a negative review of just dump them? All of this data is critical to understanding the context behind the review. Without it, the review simply isn’t trustworthy.

3) Rankings are subjective.
What one reviewer considers a one-star spa might be what someone else considers a four-star business. Without clear criteria at each level there is not an accurate way of determining a scoring system that these review sites are using.

4) Most sites goals are not clear.
What specifically are users looking for in a review? TripAdvisor allows for the filtering of results by price, rankings, location etc. But ultimately for other sites the goal is to find a service or professional that is trustworthy, but the sites do not explicitly call out that goal and reviewers aren’t focused on that specific attribute.

5) The A-Word.
We’re talking about advertising in exchange for better rankings or reviews. Many of the online review sites struggle to turn a profit without having businesses pay to improve their rankings or even get on their lists to begin with. There is no way that an online review or ranking system can be trusted if there is money changing hands between the site and the businesses being reviewed.

Asking your own contacts for their feedback would get you a more accurate picture before patronizing a business or hiring a professional. Until now that wasn’t possible unless you wanted to email, chat or (gasp) call individuals in your network. But with Wyngspan a trustworthy ranking in the form of a Trust Factor is at your finger tips.

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