Well-known "voice of the consumer" social software player believes in making community fit between the cracks, not building "community cul-de-sacs."
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How does Bazaarvoice build community? A piece at a time.
Though the advisory firm Gartner Inc. classifies Bazaarvoice as a "niche player" in the world of social customer relationship management, it's influential enough that competitors often describe their products (or new features they are introducing) as "kind of like Bazaarvoice" when what they are describing is some sort of plug-in social component. Niche or not, Bazaarvoice is one of the top choices of retailers and consumer products brands that use its social widgets to gather consumer feedback.
"Our first product is still our core product--our Ratings & Reviews," Brant Barton, co-founder and chief innovation officer, said in an interview. "It's what lets shoppers see reviews of products from peer consumers and gives them the opportunity to add reviews themselves."
Major customers include Best Buy, Costco, Dell, Proctor & Gamble, and Panasonic. Where some other social software vendors like Lithium, Jive, and Telligent build consumer communities through tools like discussion and support forums, Bazaarvoice serves up community in discrete chunks.
"Our approach is that there is already a community of active customers and buyers frequenting a brand's website, so we want to build community into the fabric of the brand website itself, rather than creating what we call community cul-de-sacs," Barton said.
From ratings and reviews, Bazaarvoice has branched out to offer other customer feedback and sharing widgets such as Ask and Answer for Q&A discussions and Stories, which prompts users to share the reasons they love a product--in hopes of substituting compelling and convincing experiences for marketing pabulum. With the right cooperation between the retailer and the manufacturer, the creator of a product can syndicate these widgets as part of its product listings, getting feedback and sharing information such as reviews across multiple retail websites.
Consumer comments are moderated, with the aim of filtering out spam and offensive material. "If you post a critical review and point out a specific flaw in the product, then fine, it is going to be published," Barton said. In most cases, moderation is handled by Bazaarvoice employees, he said. Self-moderation by the retailer or manufacturer is an option, but less than 1% of clients take advantage of it.
Bazaarvoice also offers integration with brand and retail profiles on Facebook and Twitter, through its SocialConnect product. As retailers explore the possibilities embedding e-commerce storefronts within Facebook, Bazaarvoice wants to be a component of those experiences--but doesn't see itself as a company that should be providing the storefront apps themselves, Barton said. At this stage, those retailers experimenting with Facebook commerce "don't have high expectations--it's really about planting the flag, having that presence, then over time seeing how consumers interact with it and adapting as necessary," he said.
Then again, the nature of social media and its relationship to e-commerce has already changed a lot since Bazaarvoice was founded in 2005, he pointed out. That's the year Business Week published its Blogs Will Change Your Business cover story, which seemed to suggest that consumer blogs would take on the role that was eventually taken over by social media profiles. At the time, Facebook was only starting to expand beyond college campuses to high school students and ended the year with 5.5 million users. MySpace topped 20 million users that year and got acquired year by News Corp.
While those revolutions were going on, Bazaarvoice continued to build its own network of social profiles within the bazaar of the commercial Web. This fall, it plans to introduce a Customer Intelligence product that will effectively be its version of social media monitoring and analytics--the analytics of its own social media, specifically captured at the level of the retail SKU.
"Today at least, we are not scraping Twitter, Facebook, or blog posts," Barton said. Bazaarvoice doesn't need to troll through that messy data, he said, because "we think there's so much value in the structured data we collect."
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