I Give It Four Stars: The Pleasures (and Uses) of Online Reviews
I’m Eastcoaster36 and I’m big on Tripadvisor. Not Elvis big, or even Bieber big, but I do have 45 reviews in 33 cities, covering 210,333 miles traveled. Tripadvisor sent me a sticker when I reached my Senior Contributor status (It Says: “I Travel with Tripadvisor”), and I squealed with delight when I realized the star icon next to my name gained a yellow glow with my status upgrade. I have 73 helpful votes, and I crave more. Like a crazed Gallup pollster, I love to look at the rundown of helpful votes I’ve earned, and try to guess what makes something “helpful” and how I can earn more. (If people message me with questions, I respond quickly… and then ask them to repay me by clicking the “Was this post helpful” button.)
When I step back, I know this is a strange addiction. I have a career and a family and no shortage of work to do or errands to run. You can’t eat “helpful votes.” So why do I devote so much time to craft my reviews, and why does it feel so rewarding to do so? I’m not alone in this obsession, though we all pick our own poison. I have friends who religiously write Yelp reviews, others who, without-fail, review every new product they use on Amazon.com, while still others craft posts on Goodreads worthy of The New York Times Book Review. I think we do it because there is, actually, something in it for us. Perhaps our collective reviewing is not a needless diversion, but something that is productive both personally and professionally.
Here are some reasons to keep doling out the stars:
- Reviews force you to write: Whether your job involves the written word or not, we all need to be able to express ourselves in writing to advance in our careers. Online reviews are the perfect opportunity to flex the writing muscle. The short posts are low stakes – they have no deadline and none of the pressure of a pitch, a grant application or a client brief Crafting a review text helps you cultivate a unique voice and writing style. The more you do, the better you get and this experience can build your confidence in your ability to write more in professional contexts.
- It feels great to be part of a “new” community: We have no shortage of online communities. But our social networks are overrun with people we actually know including friends, co-workers, significant others and parents. I love the opportunity to write reviews that may be of interest to people outside my circle. In turn, I am able reach out to people whose reviews I appreciate to ask their advice and opinion. It feels good to “meet” people, I’ve never encountered and to connect simply over shared interests. Tripadvisor, and many other review-based sites heighten the community experience with their badges and accolades that accrue to your account.
- Reviews increase your own self-perception: I find that taking the time to articulate why I liked (or absolutely hated) something actually helps me understand my opinion better. If you are complaining about a restaurant’s terrible service in your review, you are giving yourself the time to stop and reflect on your values. Often in writing review posts, I’m able to be more thoughtful about my experience than I would have otherwise been. This helps me make future choices, and better know what I am looking for.
- Reviews allow you to play the expert: You have a wealth of expertise in all kinds of topics and content areas. Writing reviews empowers you to share your opinion with confidence and to know that it is valued by others. Whether or not your career offers you the opportunity to impart your expertise, we could all use more platforms that allow us to play the part of the expert. By sharing your knowledge you help others make informed decisions, and you bolster your own confidence.
- Reviews can serve as personal journal: There are times that my reviews function for me as kind of ongoing diary. Always pressed for time, I’m just not going to sit down and write 500 words about my travel memories for my own use. However, the review format pushes me to collect my thoughts and reactions. As the years pass, I do find myself returning to reviews I have written, simply, in order to remember the experience.
- Reviews build up a public body of work: You are most likely not going to get hired for your exquisite and poetic Yelp reviews of late night taco joints…. But I have heard of it happening. I’ve definitely known people who were asked by interviewers to share links of sites and forums to which they contribute. No matter what industry we are in, we are all in the business of marketing ourselves. Our reviews are part of the overall picture of who we are online. A collection of well-reasoned and insightful reviews can shed a positive light back on us if we ever choose to point others toward them.