Mark Shteiman’s inspiration for social reviews came from a speeding ticket. The normally law-abiding citizen found himself calling friends to find a lawyer who could help him get his license back. He realized there must be a way to take this type of friendly advice and put it on the Internet.
The result? Friendize.Me, which launched as a social review website in May of 2011. A year later, Friendize.Me developed a tool that allowed online shoppers to access the content directly from retailers’ websites. Shopify and Magento currently offer this Friendize.Me widget to their sites.
Basically, as my colleague Elizabeth explains in her recent post on social reviews on retail sites, Friendize.Me makes it easy to tap into the advice of your Facebook social circles. I recently caught up with Mark, who is CEO of Friendize.Me, and asked him about the changes he expects to see in this area of user-generated content.
“Shoppers Want Social Product Reviews”
Content Ping: What’s the problem with user reviews as they appear on most e-commerce sites?
Mark Shteiman: People these days don’t believe the majority of user reviews. You can buy reviews, you can buy “Likes,” you can buy everything. You don’t know if this reviewer is working for the vendor or the competitor and don’t know who to trust.
Even if the review is kind of legit, you don’t know the person. You don’t know their lifestyle. If I’m unemployed and in need of a car and someone suggests I buy a BMW, that wouldn’t make any sense for me.
Reviews are not authentic, not reliable, not personalized. The result of this is that people don’t find the right product.
Content Ping: But e-commerce is booming. Why would retailers want to change how they do business?
“The problem with shopping online is that the type of information offered and the general user experience haven’t changed much in the past 17 years.
Mark Shteiman: Actually, online commerce is not set up to convert. I mean, this is an industry where a 4 percent conversion rate is considered to be great. But that means that 96 out of 100 people who go into the product page don’t buy anything there. Amazon is rumored to have a 7 percent conversion rate, which is among the best out there.
The problem with shopping online is that the type of information offered and the general user experience haven’t changed much in the past 17 years. That’s definitely true for product reviews. They’re just like they used to be 10 year ago before social networking and social commerce took off. And I think it’s time to change that and bring social into the conversation.
Content Ping: How do you see Friendize.Me making user reviews more social?
Mark Shteiman: With our reviews, you know who the reviewer is. Even if you don’t know him personally, you know how you’re connected to him. Hopefully your friend won’t try to sell you some product you shouldn’t really buy.
We’re offering on-demand, personalized recommendations. Each person in your social network is knowledgeable on certain topics. And it’s not a one-way flow of information. You can message that friend whose expertise is computers. You can tell them you saw their review on the laptop and ask if they think it would work for you.
If you don’t find reviews for a topic you’re looking for, we help you define your needs. Continuing on with the laptop example: Are you a gamer? Business person? We ask you questions as you search for a product that helps you better understand your options and helps others recommend better products.
“We’re not asking people to share their political views or make public something they’re shy about. People are offering friendly advice. This is something that actually increases your social standing in eyes of your friends.
Content Ping: But how does Friendize.Me determine who the most relevant reviewer would be for any given consumer?
Mark Shteiman: We use algorithms and data mining. In Facebook, we’re looking at information such as “Likes” and interests. When they sign up, people can also tell us that they’re happy to help provide information about televisions or home appliances.
And we also ask while you’re using the system. For example, whose information was more helpful? People can vote on whose advice they trust.
Content Ping: Do you expect “traditional” user reviews to eventually disappear from Amazon and other e-commerce sites?
Mark Shteiman: We’re not going to see a revolution. It will be more of an evolutional process. E-commerce sites will begin prioritizing social reviews over all other reviews. That step will already improve the user experience. And then, over time, we’ll see a decrease in importance of “old school” reviews.
Content Ping: Do you see privacy concerns impeding the popularity of social user reviews?
Mark Shteiman: Of course there are those concerns. I believe in the past 20 years the world changed a lot. Previously, we had anonymous user names that didn’t mean anything. Those were created to protect privacy. These days, with everything people are sharing on Facebook, I think privacy has become less important.
It’s also important to remember the type of information we’re dealing with here. We’re not asking people to share their political views or make public something they’re shy about. People are offering friendly advice. This is something that actually increases your social standing in eyes of your friends.
This process of asking advice from friends already exists today, we’re just putting it online.
We recently released an infographic that looked at this issue. One of the questions we asked was whether people prefer to get product recommendations from a celebrity or a friend? I was expecting the answer to be 50-50. But we found that 85 percent of people prefer to get advice from a friend. That was really encouraging to us because that’s exactly what we’re helping people do with Friendize.Me.
A graduate of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Mark previously filled R&D and Product Management VP positions in Followap (acquired by NeuStar for approximately $140 million) and later Gigafone. Before that, Mark headed a department in one of the Israel Defense Force’s elite technology units.