Word of mouth is an interesting phenomenon because it’s inherently organic and somewhat unpredictable and impossible to turn off. If you have an online presence you’ll get word of mouth whether you want it or not. And even if you could erase your online presence, there’ll forever be ‘offline’ WOM.
And while charities aren’t purpose built as an online marketplace where buyer/user reviews are requisite, there’s probably more of it out there than you might realize – TrustPilot, Greatnonprofits, Glassdoor, Google reviews, Sitejabber and last but probably first – your social pages.
And so, it’s almost certainly better to solicit, curate and use WOM than be subjugated by it. But is all WOM equal?
Like first impressions, first reviews dominate your WOM profile. There are two features in WOM, volume and valence; how many are commenting and is it positive or negative, respectively. This data shows the exact same product (on different shopping platforms) with the only difference being whether the first review was negative or positive.
The valence and volume are interdependent and highly conditional on the first review.
Why does this happen? Availability bias in the extreme. This heuristic causes us to put undue weight on information that’s easily available in making a decision. This puts an often-unwarranted premium on recent, frequent, or particularly memorable events. In this case, the single review is staring me in the face and even if I talked to others about the product I rely heavily on the immediate and there is no counter-balancing of other, positive reviews.
Even the order of reviews matters. If the negative one comes first and you’ve got a bunch of positives below it, I’m less likely to buy if those exact same reviews are reversed in order. It’s like a really big number as your first dollar amount in an ask string, I can’t get past it even if smaller, more palatable numbers sit just to the right of it.
What does this practically mean for you?
- You can turn off comments in social, but the tree still makes a noise. Better to be responsive and attentive
- Measure supporter experiences in private and as business process. Encourage those you know had a good experience to share it publicly. Create incentives to do this and make it easy.
- Once you have existing, positive reviews consider using an app to collect more user reviews on your website and pre-load it with the positive ones.
The word ‘impact’ is used a lot but mostly in internal, charity speak. We collect hundreds of thousands of pieces of donor feedback every year and the word “impact” is rarely used. It’s not an organic, innate need and nor are third-party charity watchdogs or overhead ratios or CEO salary.
But, what all of those external things have in common is serving as proxy for the underlying, innate human need to feel psychologically competent, which translates to feeling like their $X donation was a good decision. Nobody wants to be made the fool.
Donor reviews are no different, a marker of legitimacy and credibility that serve as a competence proxy.